The Navy’s sea mammal program started in the late 1950s. Now, about 75 dolphins and 25 sea lions are housed at Naval Base Point Loma in San Diego Harbor as part of a Navy program to teach them to detect terrorists and mines underwater. The base briefly opened its doors to the media for the first time since the start of the war in Iraq. The display came a few weeks after the Navy announced plans to send up to 30 dolphins and sea lions to patrol the waters of Washington state’s Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor, which is home to nuclear submarines, ships and laboratories. Both species can find mines and spot swimmers in murky waters. Working in unison, the dolphins can drop a flashing light near a mine or a swimmer. The sea lions carry in their mouths a cable and a handcuff-like device that clamps onto a terrorist’s leg and then sailors can then use the cable to reel in the terrorist.
Archive for November, 2008
A handful of the world’s largest agricultural biotechnology companies are seeking hundreds of patents on gene-altered crops designed to withstand drought and other environmental stresses, part of a race for dominance in the potentially lucrative market for crops that can handle global warming. Three companies — BASF of Germany, Syngenta of Switzerland and Monsanto of St. Louis — have filed applications to control nearly two-thirds of the climate-related gene families submitted to patent offices worldwide. Many of the world’s poorest countries, destined to be hit hardest by climate change, have rejected biotech crops, citing environmental and economic concerns.
A group of 1,700 leading scientists called on the US government last June to take the lead in fighting global warming. Citing the unprecedented and unanticipated effects of global warming, the scientists, including six Nobel prizewinners, presented a letter calling for an immediate reduction in US carbon emissions. The letter warns if emissions continue unabated, the nation and the world will face more sea level rise, heatwaves, droughts, wildfires, snowmelt, flood risk, and public health threats, as well as increased rates of plant and animal species extinctions. The scientists call on the government to reduce emissions on the order of 80% below 2000 levels by 2050; but as a first step, the scientists call for a 15-20% reduction on 2000 levels by 2020.
An investigation by the NASA inspector general found that political appointees in the space agency’s public affairs office worked to control and distort public accounts of its researchers’ findings about climate change for at least two years. The probe came at the request of 14 senators after The Washington Post and other news outlets reported in 2006 that Bush administration officials had monitored and impeded communications between NASA climate scientists and reporters. From the fall of 2004 through 2006, the report said that NASA’s public affairs office “managed the topic of climate change in a manner that reduced, marginalized, or mischaracterized climate change science made available to the general public. News releases suffered from inaccuracy, factual insufficiency and scientific dilution.”
For nearly seven years, scientist Bruce E. Ivins and a small circle of fellow anthrax specialists at Fort Detrick’s Army medical lab, in tactics that the researchers considered heavy-handed and often threatening, were interviewed and polygraphed as early as 2002, and reinterviewed numerous times. Their labs were searched, and their computers and equipment carted away. The FBI eventually focused on Ivins, whom federal prosecutors were planning to indict when he committed suicide. Colleagues and friends of Ivins remained convinced that he was innocent; he had neither the motive nor the means to create the lethal powder that was sent by mail to new outlets and congressional offices in 2001. They contend that the FBI has no evidence and that a lot of the tactics that they used were designed to isolate him from his support. The FBI just continued to push his buttons.
Former President Gerald Ford secretly advised the FBI that two of his fellow members on the Warren Commission doubted the FBI’s conclusion that John F. Kennedy was shot from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas. The new details were included in 500 pages of the FBI’s large file on Ford, released in part last August in response to requests under the Freedom of Information Act that the Associated Press and others made on the day Ford died in December 2006. Apparently, the fact that Ford served as the FBI’s eyes and ears inside the commission has been known for years. Long ago, the government released a 1963 FBI memo that said Ford had volunteered to keep the FBI informed about the panel’s private deliberations, but only if that relationship remained confidential. The FBI agreed. It was also well-known that Ford was an outspoken proponent of the bureau’s conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald killed Kennedy while acting alone.
Most of us accept the need for a more sustainable way to live, by reducing carbon emissions, developing renewable technology and increasing energy efficiency. But a growing band of experts think that these efforts to save the planet are doomed and futile as long as our economic system is built on the assumption of growth; that is, if we are serious about saving Earth, we must reshape our economy. To most economists, however, economic growth is as essential as the air we breathe. They see no limits to that growth. In recent weeks it has become clear just how terrified governments are of anything that threatens growth, as they pour billions of public money into a failing financial system. So the question is: how do we square Earth’s finite resources with the fact that as the economy grows, the amount of natural resources needed to sustain that activity must grow too?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention failed to act for at least a year on warnings that trailers housing refugees from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita contained dangerous levels of formaldehyde, according to a House subcommittee report released on October 6. Instead, the CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry demoted the scientist who questioned its initial assessment that the trailers were safe as long as residents opened a window or another vent, the report said. That appraisal was produced in February 2007 at the request of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which had received thousands of complaints about fumes since providing the trailers to families left homeless by the devastating 2005 hurricanes. Formaldehyde is known to cause cancer, chronic bronchitis, eye irritation and other ailments. The subcommittee’s report came three days after a federal judge in New Orleans ruled that FEMA can be sued by hurricane victims who claim they were exposed to toxic fumes.
According to current and former bureau officials, the FBI is struggling to find enough agents and resources to investigate criminal wrongdoing tied to the country’s economic crisis. The bureau slashed its criminal investigative work force to expand its national security role after the Sept. 11 attacks, shifting more than 1,800 agents, or nearly one-third of all agents in criminal programs, to terrorism and intelligence duties. The cutbacks have left the bureau seriously exposed in investigating areas like white-collar crime, which has taken on urgent importance in recent weeks because of the nation’s economic woes. The cutbacks have been particularly severe in staffing for investigations into white-collar crimes like mortgage fraud, with a loss of 625 agents, or 36 percent of its 2001 levels.
Global warming is disrupting wildlife and the environment on every continent, according to an unprecedented study that reveals the extent to which climate change is already affecting the world’s ecosystems. Scientists examined published reports dating back to 1970 and found that at least 90% of environmental damage and disruption around the world could be explained by rising temperatures. Big falls in Antarctic penguin populations, fewer fish in African lakes, shifts in American river flows and earlier flowering and bird migrations in Europe are all likely to be driven by global warming, the study found. This is the first to formally link some of the most dramatic changes to the world’s wildlife and habitats with human-induced climate change.
Hundreds of US citizens overseas have been eavesdropped on as they called friends and family back home, according to two former military intercept operators who worked at the National Security Agency (NSA) center in Fort Gordon, Georgia. As one of the intercept operators said, these were just really everyday, average, ordinary Americans who happened to be in the Middle East, in the area of intercept and happened to be making these phone calls on satellite phones. US military officers, American journalists and American aid workers were routinely intercepted as they called their offices or homes in the United States. Intercept operators listened into hundreds of Americans using phones in Baghdad’s Green Zone from late 2003 to November 2007.
Civil liberties groups started a legal challenge to the new federal law designed to dismiss their wiretapping suits against telecommunications companies, saying the statute violates phone customers’ constitutional rights and tramples on judicial authority. The law granted retroactive protection to AT&T, Verizon and other companies against lawsuits accusing them of illegally sharing their telephone and e-mail networks and millions of customer records with the National Security Agency. The law requires judges to dismiss the cases if the Justice Department tells them the companies had cooperated in a surveillance program authorized by President Bush. The ACLU maintains that Congress and President Bush lack authority to order courts to whitewash constitutional violations.
The Navy is refusing to detail its sonar use for a federal court in a case involving potential harm to whales, saying the information could jeopardize national security. The Natural Resources Defense Council is suing the Navy to ensure sailors use sonar in a way that doesn’t harm whales and other marine mammals. Critics say active sonar, which sailors use by pumping sound through water and listening for objects the sound bounces off of, can strand and even kill marine mammals. A U.S. Congressional Research Service report last year found Navy sonar exercises had been responsible for at least six mass deaths and unusual behavior among whales. Many of the beached or dead animals had damaged hearing organs.
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The American Human Development Index has issued a report measuring well-being in America. A 30-year gap now exists in the average life expectancy between Mississippi, in the Deep South, and Connecticut, in prosperous New England. Huge disparities have also opened up in income, health and education depending on where people live in the US, according to a report published yesterday. The US finds itself ranked 42nd in global life expectancy and 34th in survival of infants to age. Suicide and murder are among the top15 causes of death and although the US is home to just 5% of the global population, it accounts for 24% of the world’s prisoners. The report points to a rigged system that does little to lessen inequalities.