Daily Archives: February 17, 2009

Global Cooling Continues

Heartland Institute | March 2009 Issue

By James M. Taylor

Continuing a decade-long trend of declining global temperatures, the year 2008 was significantly colder than 2007, and global temperatures for the year were below the average over the past 30 years.

The global temperature data, reported by NASA satellite-based temperature measurements, refuted predictions 2008 would be one of the warmest on record.

nasa_cooling_graph

Data show 2008 ranked 14th coldest of the 30 years measured by NASA satellite instruments since they were first launched in 1979. It was the coldest year since 2000. (See accompanying figure.)

Satellite Precision

NASA satellites uniformly monitor the Earth’s lower atmosphere, which greenhouse gas theory predicts will show the first and most significant effects of human-caused global warming.

The satellite-based measurements are uncorrupted by urban heat islands and localized land-use changes that often taint records from surface temperature stations, giving false indications of warming.

The uncorrupted satellite-based temperature measurements refute surface temperature station data finding 2008 to be one of the top 10 warmest years on record.

“How can an ‘average year’ in one database appear to be a [top 10] warmest year in another?” asked meteorologist Joe D’Aleo on his International Climate and Environmental Change Assessment Project Web site.

“Well, the global databases of [surface station reports] are all contaminated by urbanization, major station dropout, missing data, bad siting, instruments with known warm biases being introduced without adjustment, and black-box and man-made adjustments designed to maximize [reported] warming,” explained D’Aleo.

Warming Trend Overstated

“The substantial and continuing La Niña cooled the Earth quite a bit in 2008, to the point that it was slightly below the 30-year average [1979-2008] but slightly above the 20-year average [1979-1998],” said John Christy, distinguished professor of atmospheric science and director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH).

“From research we have published, and more to come soon, we find that land surface air temperatures misrepresent the actual temperature changes in the deep atmosphere—where the greenhouse effect is anticipated to have its easiest impact to measure. Surface thermometers are affected by many influences, especially surface development, so the bulk atmospheric measurements from satellites offer a straightforward indicator of how much heat is or is not accumulating in the air, for whatever reason,” Christy explained.

“Recent published evidence also supports the long-term trends of UAH as being fairly precise, so the observed rate of warming is noticeably less than that projected by the IPCC ‘Best Estimate’ model simulations which, we hypothesize, are too sensitive to CO2 increases,” Christy added.

James M. Taylor (jtaylor@heartland.org) is a senior fellow of The Heartland Institute and managing editor of Environment & Climate News.

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Chavez wins bid for chance to remain in power indefinitely

VENEZUELA-CHAVEZ/

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, his family and cabinet members celebrate at Miraflores Palace after the electoral court announced his victory in a national referendum to decide whether to allow him to stay in power for as long as he keeps winning elections, in Caracas February 15, 2009. The boy next to Chavez is his grandson, Manuel. Reuters Pictures

Opponents had warned that a Chavez triumph would give him virtually unchecked power in Venezuela.

McClatchy | Feb 15, 2009

By Tyler Bridges

CARACAS Venezuela _ President Hugo Chavez won a major victory Sunday when Venezuelans lifted term limits, which will permit him to run for re-election in 2012 and perhaps beyond.

Chavez’s measure won 54.3 percent of the vote, according to the national election board.

Televised images showed Chavez supporters celebrating while fireworks boomed in the Caracas sky.

“Chavez, friend, the people are with you,” the president’s adoring supporters, wearing their trademark red t-shirts, chanted outside the presidential palace. Standing on a balcony, Chavez led the festive crowd in singing Venezuela’s national anthem.

“It is a clear victory for the people!” an exultant Chavez said. “It is a clear victory for the Revolution!”

The result is expected to give fresh impetus to Chavez’s decade-long effort to remake Venezuela as a socialist state. It also will fortify his role as the undisputed leader of a resurgent left in Latin America that seeks to check free trade, capitalism and Washington’s political and economic reach in the region. Chavez said he got his first congratulatory message came Fidel Castro, the long-time Cuban leader and U.S. nemesis.

The victory in the national referendum also guarantees continued political tumult in Venezuela and wherever else Chavez injects himself in Latin America. He leads an anti-U.S. bloc that includes Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Honduras.

“Venezuela is in the vanguard of change in Latin America,” Chavez said Sunday.

During a heated campaign, opponents had warned that a Chavez triumph would give him virtually unchecked power in Venezuela.

VENEZUELA-CHAVEZ/
Opposition supporters react after learning the results of a referendum in Caracas February 15, 2009. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez won a refendum vote on Sunday that scraps term limits and allows him to stay in power indefinitely if he keeps winning elections. Reuters Pictures

“He is a narcissist who thinks he is the only one who can solve the country’s problems, this is false,” law professor Henrique Iribarren said after voting Sunday. Chavez and his allies already control the Congress, the judiciary, a majority of the state governorships and the state oil company, which produces half of the country’s wealth and 94 percent of its exports.

Sunday’s result gives Chavez political momentum that he lost when Venezuelans defeated his first attempt to scrap term limits in December 2007 and again when opposition candidates were elected governors of the country’s three biggest states in November 2008.

Chavez had repeatedly outsmarted his political opponents before the December 2007 election, winning five national elections in a row, beginning with his 1998 election as president.

His next move is anyone’s guess, although he’s expected to devalue Venezuela’s currency, the bolivar, as a way of increasing the cost of imports and boosting the value of its oil exports despite plummeting oil prices. Economists warn that the sudden drop in oil prices will mark 2009 as the end of several years of rapid growth.

Facing the referendum, Chavez has refused to heed calls that he begin to conserve the country’s foreign reserves in the face of Venezuela earning perhaps only half as much in oil income in 2009 as it did in 2008.

Polls by Datanalisis, a Caracas-based survey firm, found that Chavez made up a 17-point deficit in the campaign’s final six weeks.

He did it, Datanalisis said, by targeting the 20 percent of the electorate who said Chavez had been a good president but who were reluctant to allow him to remain in power indefinitely.

Chavez pitched himself to these voters by predicting calamity for Venezuela without him as president.

It worked with voters such as Fernando Gomez, a 48-year-old carpenter.

“Venezuela would descend into chaos without Chavez,” Gomez said Sunday in explaining why he voted for Sunday’s amendment to the constitution.

A one-time soldier who catapulted to prominence in 1992, when he led a failed coup against Venezuela’s democratically elected president, the 54-year-old Chavez said in the weeks before Sunday’s referendum that he needs at least 20 years in power to create Venezuela in his own image.

By 2012, when he’ll run for re-election for another six-year term, he’ll have been in office for 14 years.

With Sunday’s victory, Chavez joins two leftist allies, Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, in winning the right to seek re-election during the past year.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, a conservative who’s been elected twice, has maneuvered, so far without success, to win congressional and public approval to seek a third term.

Chavez was elected president in 1998 in the midst of an economic downturn, and has worked tirelessly to demonize Venezuela’s traditional ruling elite while showering billions of dollars on programs for the poor.

He’s succeeded in halving poverty in Venezuela during his 10 years in office.

Pedro Siolo, a 41-year-old taxi driver, said he voted for Chavez’s proposal on Sunday because the government gave him an apartment for free and lent him $25,000 at low interest rates to buy a taxi.

“Chavez is doing a good job,” Siolo said.

So-called “missions,” often taught by Cuban teachers, allow adults to get high school and college degrees for free.

Another popular program provides free health care by Cuban doctors for the poor.

Dayana Ramirez, a 19-year-old studying business at a government institute, said her father was operated on for free under this program. Yet another program sells packaged goods below cost in poor neighborhoods.

Erica Zapata said she saves 40 percent when she makes her monthly trip to the subsidized market.

“I like the things the president has done,” Zapata said on Sunday.

Chavez’s opponents had feared that government supporters would engage in vote fraud as the polling stations closed. That didn’t happen at Jose de Jesus Arocha school in the populous working-class district of Petare in Caracas.

Lt. Col. Carlos Osorio, in charge of guarding the vote there, took his megaphone and at 6 p.m. precisely announced to the street that anyone wishing to vote should come forward.

When no one did, the polling station closed in an orderly fashion. A rowdy group of a dozen people, some in Chavista t-shirts, showed up five minutes later and angrily demanded to be allowed to vote.

“It’s only 6:20,” complained 22-year-old Yenifer Palomino. “They always wait for us, but this time they didn’t.”

In this deeply polarized country, the climate of fear was evident in the answer of Nestor Moreno, a 58-year-old construction worker, when he was asked how he’d voted.

“I voted yes because I didn’t want to face reprisals for voting no,” said Moreno. “People lose jobs because they don’t agree with the Chavez regime.

“Chavez is very authoritarian,” Moreno said. “He needs to be more democratic. Things have to be done his way or the highway.”

Ex-MI5 chief: Ministers scare public to pass terrorism laws

This is London | Feb 17, 2009

By Paul Waugh

A FORMER MI5 chief today accused the Government of exploiting fears of terrorism to pass draconian laws as fresh allegations emerged of Britain’s complicity in torture.

Dame Stella Rimington declared that ministers were playing into the hands of terrorists by curbing civil liberties. In an interview with a Spanish newspaper published today, Dame Stella said that the Government was “frightening people in order to be able to pass laws which restrict civil liberties, precisely one of the objects of terrorism: that we live in fear and under a police state”.

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Dame Stella, the first woman director general of MI5, has criticised Labour’s plans for ID cards and for the detention of terrorism suspects without charge for 42 days.

She told La Vanguardia: “The US has gone too far with Guantanamo and the tortures. MI5 does not do that. Furthermore it has achieved the opposite effect: there are more and more suicide terrorists finding a greater justification”. She said British agents were “no angels” but insisted they did not kill people.

Her remarks came amid new claims that senior Whitehall figures devised an interrogation policy for British secret service agents that allowed complicity with torture by other states.

Evidence of the existence of the secret policy emerged during a High Court case into allegations that British resident Binyam Mohamed had been tortured in Pakistan.

Mohamed, who is expected to return to Britain after ending a five-week hunger strike in Guantanamo Bay, alleges that an MI5 officer colluded in his mistreatment. Before being questioned by the officer, Mohamed claims he had been hung from leather straps, beaten and threatened with a firearm by Pakistani intelligence officers.

A British agent, known only as Witness B, acknowledged that Mohamed was in an “extremely vulnerable position” when he questioned him in Karachi in 2002. The terror suspect was then transferred by the US to a secret prison camp in Morocco where he says he endured 18 months of torture. Some of the questions put to him were based on information passed by MI5 to the US.

In court last year, the MI5 officer conceded that he did not ask whether Mohamed had been mistreated or tortured and did not consider whether his detention without trial was illegal.

He admitted telling Mohamed that “he would get more lenient treatment if he co-operated” and said that he knew he would be transferred to US custody.

Evidence on the existence of a Whitehall interrogation policy may emerge from 42 undisclosed documents seen by the High Court and sent to MPs on the Intelligence and Security Committee.

British anti-terrorism law could bar photographers from taking pictures of police officers

police_stateA police officer watches as photographers take pictures at an event to protest a new law, in front of the Metropolitan Police headquarters at New Scotland Yard in London, Monday Feb. 16, 2009. A new counter terrorism law leaves photographers open to arrest from police for taking pictures of public demonstrations. The 2000 Terrorism Act already makes to easy for police to charge photographers if they ‘make a record of information that may be useful ..to terrorism.’ The new act makes it illegal to take a photo or even search for information on, the police force or armed services. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Think twice before snapping pix of British bobbies

AP | Feb 17, 2009

By MEERA SELVA

LONDON (AP) — Tourists better think twice now before snapping pictures of the iconic British bobby.

A new British anti-terrorism law went into effect Monday that could effectively bar photographers from taking pictures of police or military personnel — a move that prompted some 200 photographers to protest outside of Scotland Yard’s headquarters.

Although the measure aims to prevent terrorists from taking reconnaissance shots, photographers say it could be misused at a whim to stop any pictures from being taken — especially images involving police abuse and demonstrations.

Freelance photographer Jess Hurd said she was stopped by police when photographing a December wedding of Irish travelers. Part of the story was about how the travelers — who often roam from site to site — face harassment from police.

“The police stopped me and ordered me to stop filming them, saying I could be carrying out hostile reconnaissance,” Hurd said. “I had no idea what they were talking about until I realized we were vaguely in the vicinity of City Airport.”

Britain has come under fire in recent years for several measures that civil liberties groups say erode people’s freedoms. In 2005, another law prohibited demonstrations around Parliament.

Marc Vallee, a photographer who specializes in photographing protests and gatherings, said police often see photographers as a nuisance to get out of the way. “The press is seen as an annoyance and under the terrorism acts they (the police) can deal with that,” he said.

The new act makes it a crime to “elicit, publish or communicate information” about British police or military personnel.

Britain’s Home Office said in a statement that the law is designed to protect police officers on counterterrorism operations. In many cases, officers could allow photographers to keep taking pictures. In other cases, they could ask them to stop or threaten them with arrest.

Photographers who refuse to stop taking pictures after a warning face arrest, up to 10 years in prison or unspecified fines.

It is legal to take photographs in any public space, but photographers complain they have been harassed by police while taking photographs near airports, government buildings or train tracks under the Terrorism Act 2000, which gives police the right to stop, search and question anyone taking photographs.

“We’ve seen more and more limits being placed in this country on photographers and this new legislation will make things even more difficult for them,” said Padraig Reidy of Index on Censorship, a group that monitors civil liberties.

Neil Turner, of the trade body the British Press Photographers Association, said the industry has tried to cooperate with police, to come up with a code of conduct setting out rights and obligations on both sides. But he said the message is often not passed on to junior officers.

“This is a hard fought document that took a long time to get together,” he said. “I carry a copy in my camera bag all the time, but I’ve not yet met a (junior) officer who has ever seen it.”

Former British Intelligence chief warns of ‘police state’

The Home Office has hit back against a warning by the former head of MI5, Dame Stella Rimington, that the Government risks creating a police state by eroding civil liberties to combat terrorism.

Telegraph | Feb 17, 2009

Dame Stella Rimington: Home Office hits back at ex-MI5 chief’s ‘police state’ warning

By Tom Whitehead and John Bingham

Dame Stella accused ministers of interfering with people’s privacy and playing straight into the hands of terrorists by “frightening people” in order to be able to pass new laws.

Her comments in an interview with a Spanish newspaper came as the Home Office prepares to publish plans to expand state surveillance, with powers for the police and security services to monitor email, telephone and internet activity.

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“Since I have retired I feel more at liberty to be against certain decisions of the Government, especially the attempt to pass laws which interfere with people’s privacy,” Dame Stella said.

“It would be better that the Government recognised that there are risks, rather than frightening people in order to be able to pass laws which restrict civil liberties, precisely one of the objects of terrorism: that we live in fear and under a police state.”

But the Home Office said that any new surveillance measures would be “proportionate”.

“The Government has been clear that, where surveillance or data collection will impact on privacy, they should only be used where it is necessary and proportionate,” a spokesman said.

“The key is to strike the right balance between privacy, protection and sharing of personal data.

“This provides law enforcement agencies with the tools to protect the public as well as ensuring Government has the ability to provide effective public services while ensuring there are effective safeguards and a solid legal framework that protects civil liberties.”

Dame Stella, 73, who became the first woman director general of MI5 in 1992, also used the interview with La Vanguardia to criticise the United States.

“The US has gone too far with Guantánamo and the tortures,” she said.

“MI5 does not do that. Furthermore it has achieved the opposite effect: there are more and more suicide terrorists finding a greater justification.”

She said the British security services were “no angels” but insisted they did not kill people.

Since stepping down as head of the security agency in 1996 Same Stella has been a fierce critic of some of the Government’s counter-terrorism and security measures, especially those affecting civil liberties.

In 2005, she said the Government’s plans for ID cards were “absolutely useless” and would not make the public any safer.

Last year she criticised attempts to extend the period of detention without charge for terrorism suspects to 42 days as excessive, shortly before the plan was rejected by Parliament.

Her latest comments will be seen as a criticism of new Home Office plans for new powers to monitor communications.

Despite considerable opposition, the document will say that the fast changing pace of communication technology means the security services will not be able to properly protect the public without the new powers.

Local councils have been criticised for using anti-terrorism laws to snoop on residents suspected of littering and dog fouling offences.

David Davis, the Tory MP and former shadow home secretary, said: “Like so many of those who have had involvement in the battle against terrorism, Stella Rimington cares deeply about our historic rights and rightly raises the alarm about a Government whose first interest appears to be to use the threat of terrorism to frighten people and undermine those rights rather than defend them.”

State Secrets and Deceit: Obama Embraces CIA Torture

Global Research | Feb 13, 2009

by Tom Burghardt

As predictably as night follows day, the Obama regime defended the CIA’s practice of “extraordinary rendition” (kidnapping) of suspected “terrorists” to third countries where they are subject to “enhanced interrogation” (torture) by allied security services.

Binyam Mohamed and four other victims have charged that they were brutalized after being “disappeared” by CIA operatives and secretly flown to Egypt, Morocco, Afghanistan and eastern European CIA “black sites.”

On Monday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas N. Letter argued before a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco that the “change” administration would press ahead with the Bush regime’s odious invocation of the state secrets privilege to suppress a lawsuit brought by torture victims against Boeing subsidiary, San Jose, California-based Jeppesen DataPlan.

In a thinly-veiled threat to the Ninth Circuit, Letter told the Court according to the San Francisco Chronicle, “Judges shouldn’t play with fire.”

Claiming that allowing the suit to go forward would irreparably harm “national security,” Letter argued that once they examine the government’s classified evidence “you will see that this case cannot be litigated.”

In a truly Orwellian twist that further compromises American credibility and the Obama administration, The Guardian reported February 11 that “US defence officials are preventing Barack Obama from seeing evidence that a former British resident held in Guantánamo Bay has been tortured.”

Full Story

World Health Organization sets ‘tolerable’ levels for toxic melamine in food

Reuters | Feb 14, 2009

OTTAWA – International experts said on Friday they had set a tolerable daily intake for melamine, an industrial chemical found in tainted Chinese milk, soy and pet food products and linked to the deaths of at least six babies.

It is not yet possible to set a “safe” level of the chemical, the experts told a meeting in Ottawa sponsored by the World Health Organization.

But it is possible to say people can eat or drink 0.2 milligrams per kilograms of body weight, they said.

Based on this, a 50-kilogram person could tolerate up to 10 milligrams of melamine per day.

CNBC’s Erin Burnett: We Need China’s Toxic Food And Lead

“We expect this could better guide the authorities in protecting the health of their public,” WHO Director for Food Safety Jorgen Schlundt said in a statement.

Melamine-tainted Chinese milk has killed at least six infants and made close to 300,000 sick.

Melamine, an industrial compound used to make plastics and pesticides, was added to watered-down milk because it mimics protein in quality tests.

The tolerable daily intake of cyanuric acid, a related chemical, is 1.5 mg per kilogram of body weight. The groups said when both chemicals are in food the effect seems to be more than merely additive.

In November the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found that levels of melamine below one part per million, as found in baby formula in the United States, were safe.

Schlundt agreed these levels provided a sufficient margin of safety.

Melamine-contaminated pet food that surfaced last year in the Unites States caused harmful crystals that either damaged or shut down the kidneys of dogs and cats, and the FDA assumes that is the same issue with the infant cases in China.

European Union regulators banned imports of Chinese soy-based food products for infants and young children this week after melamine was found in Chinese soybean meal.