December 18, 2009
By Steve Watson
Internet censorship bills currently working their way into law in the UK, Australia and the U.S. legislate for government powers to restrict and filter any website that it deems to be undesirable for public consumption.
In the UK, legislation slated as the “Digital Economy Bill“, currently being debated in the House of Lords, would allow the Home Secretary to place “a technical obligation on internet service providers” to block whichever sites it wishes.
Under clause 11 of the proposed legislation “technical obligation” is defined as follows:
A “technical obligation”, in relation to an internet service provider, is an obligation for the provider to take a technical measure against particular subscribers to its service.
A “technical measure” is a measure that — (a) limits the speed or other capacity of the service provided to a subscriber; (b) prevents a subscriber from using the service to gain access to particular material, or limits such use; (c) suspends the service provided to a subscriber; or (d) limits the service provided to a subscriber in another way.
In other words, the government will have the power to force ISPs to downgrade and even block your internet access to certain websites or altogether if it wishes.
The legislation comes in the wake of amplified UK government efforts to seize more power over the internet and those who use it.
For months now unelected “Secretary of State” Lord Mandelson has overseen government efforts to challenge the independence of the of UK’s internet infrastructure.
Mandelson also wants to impose harsh policies, via the Digital Economy Bill, that would see users’ broadband access cut off indefinitely, in addition to a fine of up to £50,000 without evidence or trial, if they download copyrighted music and films. The plan has been identified as “potentially illegal” by experts.
The legislation would impose a duty on ISPs to effectively spy on all their customers by keeping records of the websites they have visited and the material they have downloaded. ISPs who refuse to cooperate could be fined £250,000.
As Journalist and copyright law expert Cory Doctrow has noted, the bill also gives the Secretary of State the power to make up as many new penalties and enforcement systems as he likes, without Parliamentary oversight or debate.
December 18, 2009
President Obama’s mission to save the planet from global warming could end up trampling on the U.S. Constitution, critics say.
When Obama arrives in Copenhagen Friday, he is hoping to cut a deal on a new global-warming agreement. Even though the conference is not likely to produce a legally binding deal, critics say if the president signs an international climate treaty pledging reductions in carbon emissions, he will violate the Constitution.
“President Obama cannot bind the American people to job killing international agreements on climate change without the advice and consent of the United States Senate,” former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich wrote Wednesday at the conservative Web site Human Events.
The Constitution states that the president cannot sign treaties without the approval of two-thirds of the Senate.
But with climate change legislation stuck in the Senate after the House passed its version earlier this year, the White House is flirting with the possibility of taking action without Congress.
Last week, on the day the climate summit opened in Denmark, the EPA formally declared that greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide are a danger to human health — a finding that could pave the way for massive new regulations under the Clean Air Act for cars, power plants, crude-oil refineries and chemical plants.
While administration officials have said they would prefer Congress take action on regulating greenhouse gas emissions, Republicans fear the EPA, buoyed by its latest finding, is prepared to act unilaterally.
Democratic Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, co-author of the House climate change bill, told Fox News that the Obama administration has the power to act without Congress through the EPA.
“It’s no longer a question of legislation or no legislation,” he told Fox News’ Chris Wallace. “It is now a question of legislation or regulation. The EPA can act.
December 18, 2009
By Erica Werner
A moderate Democrat whose vote could be crucial said Thursday an attempted Senate compromise on abortion is unsatisfactory, raising doubts about whether the chamber can pass President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul by Christmas.
“As it is, without modifications, the language concerning abortion is not sufficient,” Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson, a key holdout on the health care bill, said in a statement after first making his concerns known to Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Nelson said there were positive improvements dealing with teen pregnancy and adoption, and that he was open to further negotiations. But in a radio interview earlier in the day with KLIN in Lincoln, Nebraska, Nelson also said that abortion wasn’t his only concern and he didn’t see how the Christmas deadline was achievable.
The development came with Senate leaders working round the clock trying to finalize their 10-year, nearly $1 trillion bill in time for a final vote on Christmas Eve. Nelson is emerging as a major obstacle – perhaps the only remaining one – since Democrats need his vote to have the 60 necessary to overcome Republican stalling tactics.
“Senator Reid will continue to work with Senator Nelson and other senators as we work to get 60 votes,” said Reid spokesman Jim Manley.
At the same time, liberals were criticizing the Senate bill for lacking a government-run insurance option, with former Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean calling the measure a boon for insurance companies. Andrew Stern, head of the 2.1 million-member Service Employees International Union, said he was deeply disappointed in the bill but stopped short of urging rejection.
The Obama administration and its allies – including former President Bill Clinton – pushed back on the criticism. Clinton said that while the bill isn’t perfect, inaction would be a mistake.
“Allowing this effort to fall short now would be a colossal blunder, both politically for our party and, far more important, for the physical, fiscal, and economic health of our country,” he said in a statement in which he alluded to his own failed effort to remake health care in the 1990s.
The attempted abortion compromise offered to Nelson was written by another anti-abortion Democrat, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, among others, and was an attempt to secure Nelson’s support for the health care bill while also keeping liberals on board. It’s the Democrats’ latest attempt to strictly separate public and private money that could pay for abortion coverage under a remade health care system in which many lower-income people would be using new federal subsidies to buy health insurance.
Several previous attempts have been dismissed by Roman Catholic bishops and anti-abortion groups as accounting gimmicks, and this one looks like it may fare no better. The language has not been made public but is already drawing criticism from outside groups.
Speaking to reporters, Casey declined to directly address Nelson’s objections but said he would keep trying for a compromise.
“We’re trying to get this right,” Casey said. “I’ve had ideas on the table for a while now, I’m still working through them and we’ll keep talking to anyone who wants to discuss it.”
According to Casey, the proposed compromise included a two-year increase, from $10,000 to $11,000, in an adoption tax credit; $250 million over 10 years in new funding to help pregnant teens and others with alternatives to abortion and stronger “conscience clause” language to give protections to health care providers who don’t want to perform abortions. Casey declined to go into additional detail, but according to anti-abortion groups and others briefed on the language, another element would allow individuals opposed to abortion to seek assurances that none of their premium dollars would pay for that service.
That provision, in particular, angered anti-abortion activists.
Julie Schmit-Albin, executive director of Nebraska Right to Life, said that in her understanding the new language “still allows federal subsidies for plans that cover abortion on demand, which is entirely unacceptable.”
“The proposed opt-out clause is particularly offensive,” Schmit-Albin said. “The federal government would treat abortion on demand as if it was really health care, and then allow people to apply for status as conscientious objectors? Give me a break.”
The abortion issue also threatened to derail health care legislation in the House, before Speaker Nancy Pelosi agreed to the demands of anti-abortion Democrats, who added stringent restrictions to the bill that infuriated liberals.
In the House bill, any health plan that receives any federal subsidies could not offer abortion coverage. The Senate language as filed – and apparently under the attempted compromise – would allow federal subsidies to go to health plans that offer abortion coverage but would attempt to ensure that only private money went for the procedures.
December 18, 2009
By Christian Wienberg
World leaders flying into Copenhagen today to discuss a solution to global warming will first face freezing weather as a blizzard dumped 10 centimeters (4 inches) of snow on the Danish capital overnight.
“Temperatures will stay low at least the next three days,” Henning Gisseloe, an official at Denmark’s Meteorological Institute, said today by telephone, forecasting more snow in coming days. “There’s a good chance of a white Christmas.”
Delegates from 193 countries have been in Copenhagen since Dec. 7 to discuss how to fund global greenhouse gas emission cuts. U.S. President Barack Obama will arrive before the summit is scheduled to end tomorrow.
Denmark has a maritime climate and milder winters than its Scandinavian neighbors. It hasn’t had a white Christmas for 14 years, under the DMI’s definition, and only had seven last century. Temperatures today fell as low as minus 4 Celsius (25 Fahrenheit).
DMI defines a white Christmas as 90 percent of the country being covered by at least 2 centimeters of snow on the afternoon of Dec. 24.
December 18, 2009
The Wall Street Journal
By Siobhan Gorman
Militants in Iraq have used $26 off-the-shelf software to intercept live video feeds from U.S. Predator drones, potentially providing them with information they need to evade or monitor U.S. military operations.
Senior defense and intelligence officials said Iranian-backed insurgents intercepted the video feeds by taking advantage of an unprotected communications link in some of the remotely flown planes’ systems. Shiite fighters in Iraq used software programs such as SkyGrabber — available for as little as $25.95 on the Internet — to regularly capture drone video feeds, according to a person familiar with reports on the matter.
U.S. officials say there is no evidence that militants were able to take control of the drones or otherwise interfere with their flights. Still, the intercepts could give America’s enemies battlefield advantages by removing the element of surprise from certain missions and making it easier for insurgents to determine which roads and buildings are under U.S. surveillance.
The drone intercepts mark the emergence of a shadow cyber war within the U.S.-led conflicts overseas. They also point to a potentially serious vulnerability in Washington’s growing network of unmanned drones, which have become the American weapon of choice in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The Obama administration has come to rely heavily on the unmanned drones because they allow the U.S. to safely monitor and stalk insurgent targets in areas where sending American troops would be either politically untenable or too risky.
The stolen video feeds also indicate that U.S. adversaries continue to find simple ways of counteracting sophisticated American military technologies.
U.S. military personnel in Iraq discovered the problem late last year when they apprehended a Shiite militant whose laptop contained files of intercepted drone video feeds. In July, the U.S. military found pirated drone video feeds on other militant laptops, leading some officials to conclude that militant groups trained and funded by Iran were regularly intercepting feeds.
In the summer 2009 incident, the military found “days and days and hours and hours of proof” that the feeds were being intercepted and shared with multiple extremist groups, the person said. “It is part of their kit now.”
A senior defense official said that James Clapper, the Pentagon’s intelligence chief, assessed the Iraq intercepts at the direction of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and concluded they represented a shortcoming to the security of the drone network.
“There did appear to be a vulnerability,” the defense official said. “There’s been no harm done to troops or missions compromised as a result of it, but there’s an issue that we can take care of and we’re doing so.”
Senior military and intelligence officials said the U.S. was working to encrypt all of its drone video feeds from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, but said it wasn’t yet clear if the problem had been completely resolved.
December 18, 2009
By Lester Haines
The body – dubbed GJ1214b – is circling dim host star GJ1214 every 38 hours at a distance of just 1.3 million miles. The star’s modest surface temperature of 2,700°C, though, means that GJ1214b itself is a balmy 200°C.
The planet has a mass and radius of 6.5 and 2.7 times that of Earth, respectively. The density obtained from these figures “suggests that GJ1214b is composed of about three-fourths water and other ices, and one-fourth rock”.
CfA graduate student Zachory Berta, who first identified the planet, said: “Despite its hot temperature, this appears to be a waterworld. It is much smaller, cooler, and more Earthlike than any other known exoplanet.”
The discovery was made as part of the ground-based MEarth Project, which uses “an array of eight identical 16-inch-diameter RC Optical Systems telescopes that monitor a pre-selected list of 2,000 red dwarf stars”.
CfA elaborates: “Each telescope perches on a highly accurate Software Bisque Paramount and funnels light to an Apogee Alta U42 camera containing a charge-coupled device (CCD) chip, which many amateurs also use.”
The ‘scopes keep an eye out for dips in brightness where an exoplanet transits its host star. Whereas super-Earths (between five 5 and 10 Earth masses) transiting bright stars such as our Sun are impossible to spot from Earth, those like GJ1214b which transit a dim host are within the capability of ground-based technology.
In this case, GJ1214 is around one-fifth the size of the Sun with a luminosity “only three-thousandths as bright”.
Having made their discovery, the CfA team then used the High Accuracy Radial Velocity Planet Searcher (HARPS) spectrograph at the European Southern Observatory “to measure the companion’s mass and confirm it is a planet”.
The exact nature of GJ1214b is unknown, but Berta suggested “some of the planet’s water should be in the form of exotic materials like Ice VII”, described as “a crystalline form of water that exists at pressures greater than 20,000 times Earth’s sea-level atmosphere”.
The CfA also has tantalising evidence of an atmosphere surrounding the planet, since when the team “compared the measured radius of GJ1214b to theoretical models, they found that the observed radius exceeds the model’s prediction, even assuming a pure water planet”.
This anomaly could be explained by an inhospitable atmosphere which is “gradually boiling off”, although it will fall to space-based instruments such as the Hubble Space Telescope to determine the facts.
MEarth project head David Charbonneau concluded: “Since this planet is so close to Earth, Hubble should be able to detect the atmosphere and determine what it’s made of. That will make it the first super-Earth with a confirmed atmosphere – even though that atmosphere probably won’t be hospitable to life as we know it.”
December 18, 2009
222 economists have signed on to the following statement:
The country’s economic future depends on Congress’ ability to rein in the growth of federal spending. Failing to restrict spending growth will further balloon the national debt, impede economic growth, and threaten the long-term economic health of our Nation. Controlling spending growth to reverse our dangerous debt accumulation can be done without endangering the near-term economic recovery, and will prove beneficial over the longer horizon.
The 2009 near-term “stimulus” has proven to be an inefficient spur to job creation and does not merit repeating. Any further policy efforts should be focused on opening borders to free trade, cutting burdensome regulations, and providing necessary tax relief to employers and employees.
December 18, 2009
By Katherin Hille
China has banned individuals from registering internet domain names in Beijing’s toughest move so far to tighten online censorship.
From Monday, people registering a domain name in China would have to present a company seal and a business licence, the China Internet Network Information Center, a government-backed body, said in a statement.
Service providers said they had started to review their clients for potentially fraudulent or “harmful” individually-owned sites.
“We have started to review domain names registered by individuals, as requested by CNNIC,” said an official at HiNet, one of China’s largest internet service providers.
Officials said the measure was part of a campaign to rein in pornographic content, but bloggers and internet activists interpreted it as a broader attempt to enforce internet censorship more heavily. “If they really enforce this, we will have to register our sites outside China,” said one blogger.
The move follows a string of measures to crack down on internet and media content as China shows growing nervousness over user-generated content, which it struggles to control.
Last week, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television closed down a number of video- sharing sites, citing copyright violations and lewd content, while Beijing said that more than 3,000 people had been arrested nationwide for alleged involvement in posting pornographic content online.
This year, the authorities blocked a number of social media including YouTube, Facebook and Twitter and some of their local clones.
Individuals are estimated to account for the majority of global domain names.
According to CNNIC, China had 16.3m domain names as of June this year, 80 per cent of which had the ending “.cn”. The rest used “.org”, “.net” or “.com”.
December 18, 2009
Mayor Gavin Newsom is endorsing a proposal that would make San Francisco the first city in the country to require radiation labels for cell phones.
The legislation would require cell phone retailers to post radiation levels next to each phone in a font at least as large as the price.
The retailers also would have to inform customers about what the radiation levels mean.
Scientists do not agree on whether radiation from cell phones poses any health hazard.
The federal government has established limits for safe exposure. The Federal Communications Commission says all phones legally sold in the U.S. are safe.
Newsom spokesman Joe Arellano says a bill to enact the rules likely will go before the Board of Supervisors within the next few months.
December 18, 2009
By Phil Han
The entire genetic codes of two common types of cancer have been cracked, according to scientists, who say the breakthrough could unlock a new era in the treatment of deadly diseases.
Scientists at the UK-based Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute catalogued the genetic maps of skin and lung cancer and have pinpointed the specific mutations within DNA that can lead to dangerous tumors.
Researchers predict these maps will offer patients a personalized treatment option that ranges from earlier detection to the types of medication used to treat cancer.
The genetic maps will also allow cancer researchers to study cells with defective DNA and produce more powerful drugs to fight the errors, according to the the study’s scientists.
“The knowledge we extract over the next few years will have major implications for treatment,” Peter Campbell from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute said.
“By identifying all the cancer genes we will be able to develop new drugs that target the specific mutated genes and work out which patients will benefit from these novel treatments.”
Scientists found that the DNA code for skin cancer contained nearly 30,000 errors and lung cancer DNA contained more than 23,000.
“These are the two main cancers in the developed world for which we know the primary exposure,” Mike Stratton, from the Cancer Genome Project said.
“For lung cancer, it is cigarette smoke and for malignant melanoma it is exposure to sunlight.
“With these genome sequences, we have been able to explore deep into the past of each tumor, uncovering with remarkable clarity the imprints of these environmental mutagens on DNA, which occurred years before the tumor became apparent.”
The study suggests that an error occurs for every 15 cigarettes that are smoked.
Scientists as part of the International Cancer Genome Consortium in other countries around the world are completing similar studies — the UK is looking at breast cancer, the U.S. at brain, ovary and pancreatic cancer, and Japan at the liver.
Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide and claims more than seven million lives each year according to the World Health Organization.