Plan B: Obama allows morning-after pill for under-17s

From The Guardian UK:

President’s reversal means emergency contraception drug will be available to women of all ages without a prescription

Reuters in New York, Monday 10 June 2013

The Obama administration will stop trying to limit sales of emergency contraception pills, making the morning-after pill available to women of all ages without a prescription.

The US justice department said in a letter on Monday that it planned to comply with a court’s ruling to allow unrestricted sales of Plan B One-Step and that it would withdraw its appeal on the matter.

The move is the latest in a lengthy legal fight over the morning-after pill, which was until recently only available without a prescription to women 17 and older who presented proof of age at a pharmacist’s counter.

Plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit against the FDA said the limit unfairly kept women and girls from accessing the drug, which is most effective when taken within 72 hours of intercourse.

On 5 April US district Judge Edward Korman said the US Food and Drug Administration had been “arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable” in rejecting a citizen petition to make emergency contraception available over the counter to girls of all ages.

Korman ordered the FDA to make emergency contraception available without age and point-of-sale restrictions but said the agency could lift restrictions on only the one-pill version of the drug, Plan B One-Step, if the FDA believed there was a significant difference between that and the two-pill version.

The justice department will not seek to lift restrictions on the two-pill Plan B product, which it says is significantly different from the one-pill version.

The FDA in April granted a petition from Plan B One-Step’s maker, Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, to make the pill available without a prescription to girls as young as 15.

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American Exceptionalism: Alibi of a Nation

From Truth Out:

By Mike Lofgren
Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Whenever a public figure bloviates about American Exceptionalism and the country’s purported heavenly mission, one is reminded of the quip attributed to Bismarck: that divine providence looks after drunkards, fools and the United States of America. Accordingly, one is always on the lookout for anyone willing to debunk America’s collective personality cult. It was therefore with hopeful expectation that I perused Patrick Smith’s Time No Longer: Americans After the American Century. This hope was not fulfilled. While the author makes many valid points, the book suffers from an incomplete understanding of history, and, more irritatingly, with a prose style as leaden and sententious as the architecture of Washington, D.C.’s World War II Memorial, which he describes as a metaphor for American myth-making about the past (the relevant excerpt is online here).

What is American Exceptionalism, anyway? It is the notion that Americans are somehow special because a deity saw fit to entrust us with his work on Earth; accordingly we are exempt from the usual operations of history and the rise and fall of nations (1). Smith makes heavy weather about where this syndrome comes from and what it would take to cure it with his overwrought pondering on the Freudian upwelling of the national id, the search for what he calls a usable past, and the alleged necessity for a revolution in spirit. But a usable past is simply one that is factually accurate, and it is there that we find less ethereal and more substantive causes for our national behavioral tics. There is no spirit of an age but that which has been laid upon a foundation of available resources, modes of production, and material interests.

What is often claimed to be the result of heavenly dispensation we actually owe, at the time of European settlement, to being one of the last lightly populated continent-sized territories on Earth with a temperate climate, millions of acres of arable land, and abundant resources. The native population was sparse and not technologically advanced (i.e., lacking firearms), and suffered the usual fate of indigenous peoples. Everything was in limitless supply except labor, and if one was not a chattel slave or indentured servant, America was probably an easier place to scratch a living than most of the heavily settled parts of the globe – details the Exceptionalism crowd tends to gloss over.

There is no doubt an element of satire in H.L. Mencken’s claim that America was the last refuge of the incompetent who could not make a go of it in their own countries, but America undoubtedly held more promise, at least for free white labor, than starving in a ditch in Ireland or living a 13th century existence as a peasant in Galicia. It is a natural quirk of human psychology that large numbers of Americans would begin to attribute their good fortune not to geographical accident, historical contingency, or a bit of luck, but to divine guidance – just as John D. Rockefeller Sr., the first dollar billionaire, credited his windfall not to his own sharp business practices but to the inscrutable will of the Almighty.

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Sensible Security vs Dystopia – is it Too Late to Choose?

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Daniel Ellsberg Blazed the Path for Manning & Snowden

From World News Trust:

Mickey Z. — World News Trust
June 11, 2013

“The Pentagon Papers are mesmerizing, not as documentation of the history of the U.S. war in Indochina, but as insight into the minds of the men who planned and executed it.”

– Arundhati Roy

June 13, 2013 marks 42 years since the New York Times published an article by Neil Sheehan called, “Vietnam Archive: Pentagon Study Traces 3 Decades of Growing U.S. Involvement.”

It was the first installment of a 7,000-page document that came to be known as the “Pentagon Papers.” How important was the public airing of a secret government study of decision-making about the Vietnam War? None other than Henry Kissinger labeled the man who leaked that study — Daniel Ellsberg — “the most dangerous man in America.”

Author H. Bruce Franklin called Ellsberg, “That young man with boundless promise who graduated third in his Harvard class of 1,147 in 1952, when America too seemed boundlessly promising.”

An officer in the U.S. Marines, a Cold War theoretician for the Pentagon, Ellsberg was “not content with planning wars for others to fight and defending the Vietnam War on college campuses, (so he) volunteered in 1965 to go to Vietnam” where he “displayed such personal bravery in combat that some, such as his present biographer, claim he must have been suicidal.”

All that changed in 1969 when Ellsberg discovered that President Richard Nixon was “the fifth president in a row now … choosing to prolong the war in vain hopes that he might get a better outcome than he could achieve if he’d just negotiated his way out.” Nixon, like those who came before him, would not accept anything that even looked like defeat and nothing would change his or his handlers’ minds.

“That meant that if his decision was going to be changed — and because I cared about Vietnam and this country, I felt quite urgently that I wanted the United States to stop bombing them and stop killing Vietnamese — the pressure would have to come from outside the executive branch,” explained Ellsberg. “Reading the Pentagon Papers and reflecting on Vietnam revealed to me (that) you could do more for the country outside the executive branch.”

Knowing full well his actions might result in his spending the rest of his days behind bars, Ellsberg leaked the document to the Times. The Nixon administration knew what the impact of this leak might be.

“To the ordinary guy, all this is a bunch of gobbledygook,” White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman told Nixon on June 14. “But out of the gobbledygook comes a very clear thing: you can’t trust the government; you can’t believe what they say; and you can’t rely on their judgment. And the implicit infallibility of presidents, which has been an accepted thing in America, is badly hurt by this, because it shows that people do things the president wants to do even though it’s wrong, and the president can be wrong.”

Further demonstrating just how wrong a president can be, Nixon ordered the Times to halt publication. This was done through a temporary restraining order from federal district court.

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Big Money and the NSA Scandal … How Dangerous is the “Security/Digital Complex”?

From Truth Out:

By Richard Eskow
Tuesday, 11 June 2013

It should be self-evident that recent NSA revelations bring up some grave concerns about civil liberties. But they also raise other profound and troubling questions – about the privatization of our military, our culture’s inflated expectations for digital technology, and the increasingly cozy relationship between Big Corporations (including Wall Street) and Big Defense.

Are these corporations perverting our political process? The campaign war chest for Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who today said NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden committed “treason,” is heavily subsidized by defense and intelligence contractors that include General Dynamics, General Atomic, BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman, and Bechtel.

One might argue that a politician with that kind of backing is in no moral position to lecture others about “treason.”

But Feinstein’s funders are decidedly old-school Military/Industrial Complex types. What about the new crowd? This confluence of forces hasn’t been named yet, so for the time being we’ll use a cumbersome label: the “Security/Digital Complex.”

With computers and communications encompassing an ever-larger portion of human activity, we may someday learn that this new force dwarfs even its predecessors in the Feinstein camp when it comes to its impact on our democracy, our economy and our values.

There’s much we don’t know yet, so it’s wise to be cautious in describing this new force. But Edward Snowden’s revelations, and the reactions to them, are offering us a glimpse into rarely-seen intersections of Wall Street wealth, information technology, and the national security state.

Revolving doors.

Reports say that Snowden left government and joined the private sector as part of the massive privatization of government functions, including national security. His recent employer, Booz Allen Hamilton, earns more than 98 percent of its revenue from the government.

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Prior NSA Whistleblower Warns Edward Snowden: Government Will Seek “Revenge and Retaliation”

From Mother Jones:

Thomas Drake, who was prosecuted for allegedly leaking NSA secrets to the press, predicts what will happen to the source of the PRISM leak.

By Sun Jun. 9, 2013

Thomas Drake, a National Security Agency whistleblower who several years ago provided information to the press about fraud, waste, and privacy abuses at the super-secret spy agency and who was prosecuted for doing so, has a warning for Edward Snowden, the 29-year-old whistleblower who on Sunday outed himself as the source of the blockbuster leaks revealing two sweeping NSA surveillance programs. (The programs, as the Guardian and the Washington Post stories based on Snowden’s leaks revealed, collected records of phone calls made by Americans and intercepted internet communications made by foreigners via US tech companies.) Drake says Snowden can expect to be targeted by the full force of the United States government. And Drake should know. The Justice Department pursued Drake fiercely, charging him with violating the Espionage Act—as if he had been a spy for a foreign power. Drake maintained that he had only conveyed unclassified information to a reporter. The government’s case eventually fell apart, and it dropped the most serious charges. Drake accepted a deal, pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of misusing a computer. He served no prison time, but his career as a high-tech intelligence professional was over. Recently, he was working at an Apple store.

On Friday, before the identity of the newest NSA whistleblower was publicly known, I asked Drake what this person could expect. Both the Guardian and the Washington Post had revealed the existence of the internet-interception program called PRISM, and the Post referred to its source this way:

Firsthand experience with these systems, and horror at their capabilities, is what drove a career intelligence officer to provide PowerPoint slides about PRISM and supporting materials to The Washington Post in order to expose what he believes to be a gross intrusion on privacy. “They quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type,” the officer said.

When I asked Drake what he thought would happen to the person who had revealed information on these surveillance programs, he focused on the Post‘s account and not surprisingly, noted in an email that the leaker would feel the full wrath of the US government:

What will happen to w’blower who handed over Prism program info to WP, given the unprecedented reprisals & prosecutions with this Admin to w’blowing?

Gov’t is no doubt apoplectic behind the scenes – not just with w’blower but also with reporter and have already launched a major criminal investigation.

The info from Prism was increasingly showing up in the PDB [the President’s Daily Brief, the top-secret and selective intelligence report he receives each morning].

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Silicon Valley Doesn’t Just Help the Surveillance State—It Built It

From The Atlantic:

Jun 10 2013

Some of America’s biggest social media and tech companies have been denying in recent days that they were aware of the National Security Agency’s recently-exposed “PRISM” and telephone monitoring programs. But these denials obscure a larger truth: The government’s massive data collection and surveillance system was largely built not by professional spies or Washington bureaucrats but by Silicon Valley and private defense contractors.

So says Michael V. Hayden, the retired Air Force general who as director of the NSA from 1999 to 2006 was a primary mover behind the agency’s rebirth from Cold War dinosaur into a post-9/11 terror-detection leviathan with sometimes frightening technical and legal powers.

After many false starts, that transformation was achieved largely by drafting private-sector companies that had far more technical know-how than did the NSA, and contracting with them to set up and administer the technical aspects of these surveillance programs, Hayden told National Journal in an interview Sunday.

“There isn’t a phone or computer at Fort Meade [NSA headquarters] that the government owns” today, he says.

That doesn’t quite square with the popular image of the NSA as a shadowy confection of Big Brother and Big Government. Nor with the description of PRISM as merely “an internal government computer system,” as Director of National Intelligence James Clapper called it over the weekend.

Among these contributing companies reportedly is Palantir Technologies, the Palo Alto, Calif., company that several news outlets have identified as a close associate of the NSA’s. Another is Eagle Alliance, a joint venture of Computer Sciences Corp. and Northrup Grumman that runs the NSA’s IT program and describes itself on its website as “the Intelligence Community’s premier Information Technology Managed Services provider.” (“We made them part of the team,” says Hayden.) Another is Booz Allen Hamilton, the international consultancy for which the reported whistleblower in the NSA stories, contractor Edward Snowden, began working three months ago. In 2002, Booz Allen Hamilton won a $63 million contract for an early and controversial version of the current data-mining program, called Total Information Awareness, which was later cancelled after congressional Democrats raised questions about invasion of privacy in the early 2000s. The firm’s current vice-chairman, Mike McConnell, was DNI in the George W. Bush administration and, before that, director of the NSA. Clapper is also a former Booz Allen executive.

In its outreach to private industry, the NSA occasionally overreached. The most notorious example was the $1.2 billion “Trailblazer” program developed in the early-to-mid-2000s by SAIC and other companies, which led to the notorious attempted prosecution of another whistleblower, an NSA career employee, who sought to expose the program as a wasteful failure. “One of the things we tried to do with Trailblazer was to hire out a solution to our problems,” Hayden says. “It was kind of a moonshot.”

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Digital Blackwater: How the NSA Gives Private Contractors Control of the Surveillance State

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IEA warns global temperature rise set to double target

From Capital FM:

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Once in a century floods due every ten years

From Climate News Network:

by June 10, 2013

Some parts of the world face frequent catastrophic floods by the end of this century while other regions could get less hazardous.

LONDON, 10 June – Floods during the 21st century are expected to get worse. Really calamitous floods that, during the 20th century were considered once-in-a-century events could come round ever 10 years or so by the end of the 21st century, according to Japanese scientists.

Yukiko Hirabayashi of the University of Tokyo and colleagues report in Nature Climate Change that they looked at the likely pattern of hazard in 29 of the world’s great river basins. They considered the risk in those places where greater numbers of people were settled, and used 11 global climate models to project flood dangers by the end of this century.

They warn that the frequency of floods will increase in Southeast Asia, Peninsular India, eastern Africa and the northern half of the Andes of South America.

More at stake

Conditions in northern and eastern Europe – the scene of recent and current calamitous flooding – could get less hazardous, along with Anatolia, central Asia, North America and southern South America.

The predictions, of course, come with the usual caveat: that the real exposure to flooding will depend to a great extent on what governments finally decide to do about greenhouse emissions, how much the world warms, what water management or flood control plans are put in place and on population growth in the regions at risk.

But those lower latitude countries where both population and economic investment are on the increase will have more at stake in the decades to come, and should prepare for greater flood risks.

 Floods in the last three decades have claimed 200,000 lives and caused around $400 billion in economic damage: they have also cost an estimated three billion people their homes, farms, businesses and livestock.

Great river basins

The most recent assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that overall, there was a “low confidence in projections of changes in fluvial floods. Confidence is low due to limited evidence and because the causes of regional changes are complex.”

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“Back Burner” Policies Push Carbon Emissions to Record Levels: Report

From Common Dreams:

IEA study says global average temperature increase will likely double international target of 2C

Lauren McCauley

Carbon emissions and government policies which have pushed climate change to the “back burner” have put the world on track for a temperature increase between 3.6º and 5.3º C, according to a new report by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

  The annual World Energy Outlook report, Redrawing the Energy Climate Map (pdf), estimates that global average temperature rise is likely to double the target of 2ºC above pre-industrial levels, which was set by the United Nations and has been internationally agreed upon as the limit to avoid worst-case-scenario increases in droughts, storms, floods and sea level rises.

According to climate scientists, such changes could have catastrophic consequences with widespread displacement of populations, disruptions to agriculture and drinking water, the spread of diseases and the extinction of species.

Further, the world’s energy-related carbon dioxide emissions rose 1.4 percent in 2012 to a record high of 31.6 billion tons.

“Climate change has quite frankly slipped to the back burner of policy priorities. But the problem is not going away – quite the opposite,” said IEA chief Maria van der Hoeven. “The path we are currently on is more likely to result in a temperature increase of between 3.6 and 5.3 C (6.5-9.5F).”

The report comes as climate negotiators are meeting in Bonn, Germany to “haggle over” the content of a global climate pact, reports AP.

“The main sticking point,” they continue, “is how best to divide the burden of emissions cuts between developed and developing countries,” who say the bulk of the responsibility lay with “long-time carbon polluters” Europe and the United States.

Focusing specifically on making reductions “without harming economic growth,” the industry-friendly IEA soft pedals their recommendations, advocating for increased investment in energy efficiency for buildings, industry and transport, limiting the construction of coal-fired power stations, cutting the escape of methane gas when extracting oil and gas, and a partial phasing-out of fossil fuel subsidies—rather than promoting a more dramatic shift to renewable forms of energy and closing oil and gas fields currently in production.

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