Friday, May 20, 2011

What the WikiLeaks cables say about NZ

Published: 12:26PM Monday December 20, 2010 Source: ONE News/NZPA
The whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks has in the past month published a trove of 250,000 US diplomatic cables, many including sensitive and classified information on New Zealand.
Below is some of the more significant information released in the leaked cables concerning New Zealand.
Defence staff leaks
Senior Defence Ministry staff told the United States Embassy that former Prime Minister Helen Clark had decided to send soldiers to Iraq to stop Fonterra losing lucrative Oil for Food contracts.
One of hundreds of leaked diplomatic cables, the information from the US Embassy in Wellington said the identities of the unnamed defence staff should be "strictly protected", after they briefed embassy staff on a cabinet meeting in which Clark's government did an about turn on sending troops to Iraq.
"Senior MOD officials (strictly protect) tell us it was not until Finance Minister Michael Cullen pointed out in a subsequent cabinet meeting that New Zealand's absence from Iraq might cost NZ dairy conglomerate Fonterra the lucrative dairy supply contract it enjoyed under the United Nations Oil for Food program," the cable said.
It said the Prime Minister "found a face-saving compromise" by sending non-combat engineers to be embedded with British forces.
Another cable from 2005 said the embassy had no information to indicate any Muslim terrorist cell was operating in New Zealand but that police were monitoring some New Zealand Muslims who may have fought in Afghanistan, Bosnia and possibly Chechnya.

Hushed up
The US government quietly approved eight new areas for military co-operation with New Zealand in 2007.
The cables give some insights into the dramatic about-face by the Americans towards New Zealand's anti-nuclear policy between 2005 to 2007.
Their revelations are all the more important because of the US' insistence on no fanfare around closer defence relation.
One of the more recent cables shows the US was anxious that Prime Minister John Key did not have a "media strategy" in place on the US review of the bilateral military relationship - the implication being that the US did not expect him to reveal any details and that he would fob off any questions about it.
Cables also point to the decision by the US government in 2007 approving eight areas of co-operation between the two countries.
None of the areas of co-operation in themselves were top secret but the fact that such a decision on military co-operation had been made at all would have been more than noteworthy.
Time not 'ripe' for US trade deal
A cable revealed that the government understands the time isn't "ripe" for a free trade deal with the United States .
In a memo just last year United States deputy chief of mission Robert Clarke wrote that Trade Minister Tim Groser discussed the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a multi-country trade deal which the US has agreed to negotiate into.
"(Mr Groser) emphasised he understood that the time was not yet ripe for Washington to move forward. He added that he had cautioned his Vietnamese and Peruvian counterparts that it would be 'foolish and even counterproductive' to apply diplomatic pressure on the USG (United States Government) in an attempt to accelerate the time schedule beyond that dictated by the White House's internal process."
The memo said Groser expressed his confidence that the US administration wanted to progress multilateral trade at the right time.
"However, he said it is essential for the United States to eventually join the TPP for the agreement to be useful - 'a TPP without the US is like a meal of steak and potatoes without the meat dish'."
In March 2006 then US Ambassador William McCormick talks about how Goff, then Trade Minister, implied that while New Zealand wanted a FTA with the US it probably wouldn't get one.
"It is perhaps the first time that the government has shared with the public a realistic appraisal of its chance for FTA talks with Washington."
The memo says the FTA was almost more important diplomatically than economically as failure to achieve one reflected on the government. It also says a trade economist said then Prime Minister Helen Clark had an "innate discomfort" with free trade as she preferred government interventionist approaches to the economy.
In September the same year a memo details former New Zealand Ambassador to the US John Wood's comments criticising how the government had handled the trade issue and the nuclear row which led to the ANZUS split.
NZ asked to take US prisoners
A 2005 cable from the US Embassy in Wellington shows the US wanted to send a group of Guantanamo Bay inmates to New Zealand.
The classified cable, sent on August 31 2005, reveals the US wanted to transfer Uighur refugees, from Central Asia and the Xinjiang province in western China, to New Zealand.
The US has had a detention centre for terror suspects at its Guantanamo Bay base in Cuba since 2002.
Dalai Lama meeting
Prime Minister John Key assured Chinese premier Wen Jiabao no ministers would meet the Dalai Lama - despite a pre-election commitment to hold a meeting with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, cables between Wellington and Washington show.
The cables from the United States embassy in Wellington reveal that in April last year, Key told the Chinese premier neither he nor his Cabinet would meet the Dalai Lama when he visited New Zealand last December.
That was despite give a pre-election commitment to Friends of Tibet chairman Thuten Kesan that he would meet the exiled leader, and despite Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully telling Parliament there was no boycott.
However, a cable from Wellington to Washington quoted Ministry of Foreign Affairs diplomat Grahame Morton as saying: "PM Key had earlier conversed with Premier Wen Jiabao concerning the Dalai Lama's December 4-7 visit to Auckland, saying that neither he nor any of his ministers would meet with the Dalai Lama.
"Morton said the Chinese 'obviously registered' this. Morton added that the PM ... made this decision without any consultation, but others in the government are still obliged to respect it."
Clinton's gaffe
Leaked United States diplomatic cables explain why officials appear to have been caught on the hop last year when American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the resumption of intelligence sharing between the two countries - the deal was supposed to be top secret.
The cables obtained by The Sunday Star Times confirmed that it had been the intention of both countries to keep the news that intelligence collaboration had been "fully restored" secret. A classified American embassy cable sent to Clinton on January 6 warned her not to acknowledge the position in public ahead of a visit to New Zealand, which was later postponed.
But Clinton had, in fact, already lifted the lid on the news, announcing the decision to restore intelligence sharing at a press conference with Foreign Minister Murray McCully in Washington in October last year.
New Zealand's government refused to comment at the time despite Clinton labelling the decision to resume intelligence sharing cooperation as "very significant".
Anti-nuclear stance
A 2004 cable between Washington and Wellington said that the country's anti-nuclear stance was influenced as much by wanting to cut defence costs as by ideology.
It was headed "What we could not say in the mission programme plan", the Dominion Post reported.
"We have been told by retired government of New Zealand officials who were in senior positions in the Lange government at the time the anti-nuclear policy was instituted that one of the considerations favouring the policy was that it would lead to New Zealand withdrawing or being pushed out of Anzus, thereby lessening the country's defence spending requirements at a time of fiscal and economic crisis," the cable from the United States embassy in Wellington says.
New Zealand adopted nuclear-free legislation in 1984 when David Lange's Labour government swept into power - effectively blocking visits by US warships.
The cable also notes an attempt by the Labour government of the 2000s to move away from the traditional American and Australian influence in the Pacific by favouring China and France.
"In laying groundwork for the visit of Chinese President Hu, the Clark government privately mooted that it was necessary for New Zealand to work more closely with other powers such as China and France to curtail US and Australian influence in the region," it said.
"During the visit of the Chinese Vice-Minister for Trade, New Zealand Trade Minister Jim Sutton publicly claimed that China was New Zealand's most important and valued trading partner, a claim that left Australian officials here scratching their heads in wonder."
New Zealand's defence spending was also criticised as being too inadequate to cover even "replacement costs for basic coastal defence hardware" and the defence force as having not enough troops to for effective peacekeeping operations.
Spying on Fiji
New Zealand's intelligence agencies spied on Fiji's military before and after the 2006 coup, cables reveal.
NZ used signals intelligence to listen in to Fijian mobile phone calls. The cable does not detail what information was intercepted.
It said that former Prime Minister Helen Clark realised after the coup that New Zealand had become "too reliant" on Australia for intelligence.
Auckland beaches labelled vital
The Southern Cross undersea cable landings at two Auckland beaches were labelled critical infrastructure and key resources by the United States government, a cable released in early December revealed.
They are the landings for the fibre optic link at Whenuapai and Takapuna.
The memo from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was titled critical foreign dependencies (critical infrastructure and key resources located abroad) dated February 18 last year and is classified secret.
It said it is not for internet distribution.
Concern over Michael Moore film
Concern was raised about a New Zealand government minister attending the screening of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, a cable revealed.
Moore's 2004 documentary film looked critically at George W Bush's presidency and the war on terror.
He commented about the New Zealand cable on a television show.
The 2004 cable reveals US deputy chief of mission to New Zealand David Burnett called Environment Minister Marian Hobbs, concerned she was hosting an event where Moore's film would be screened and he also rang Prime Minister Helen Clark about it.
Moore said that level of micro-managing raised questions about raised questions about the reach and influence of the United States.
Hobbs, who retired from politics in 2008, told the Guardian newspaper she did not recall the event.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Proposed law seeks to ban sex for divorcing couples

A proposal by local Massachusetts lawmaker Robert Leclair would ban parents who are getting divorced from having any sexual relationships within the home until the divorce is finalized.
According to Leclair the goal is to protect children during the divorce process from having to deal with their parents engaging in new sexual relationships.
Opponents however argue the bill restricts the rights of individual adults to engage in their own activities.
Leclair is a divorcee himself and also the former president of Fathers United for Equal Justice. His proposed law would disallow sex between adults of divorce until all proceedings are concluded and any custody issues are settled.
In divorce, separation, or 209A( restraining order)proceedings involving children and a marital home, the party remaining in the home shall not conduct a dating or sexual relationship within the home until a divorce is final and all financial and custody issues are resolved, unless the express permission is granted by the courts," the law states.
The bill is currently written, but no discussion has taken official debate has taken place. It would have to be approved in committee before going before the full legislature. IF it passed there the governor would have to sign it into law for it to be put into force.
There is no way of knowing how authorities would go about enforcing it.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Smoke-Related Chemical Discovered in the Atmosphere Could Have Health Implications

ScienceDaily (May 17, 2011) — Cigarette smoking, forest fires and woodburning can release a chemical that may be at least partly responsible for human health problems related to smoke exposure, according to a new study by NOAA researchers and their colleagues.
Using a custom mass spectrometer designed by the researchers, the NOAA-led team was able get the first look at levels of the chemical, isocyanic acid, in the atmosphere. Isocyanic acid has been difficult to detect with conventional measurement techniques.
"We found isocyanic acid in a number of places, from air in downtown Los Angeles and air downwind of a Colorado wildfire, to cigarette smoke," said Jim Roberts, lead author of the new paper and a chemist with NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo. "We also demonstrated that it dissolves readily in water, which means that humans can be exposed directly if it gets into eyes or lungs."
The health effects of such exposure are not fully known. In the body isocyanic acid, described by the chemical formula HNCO, is part of a biochemical pathway linked with cataracts and inflammation that can trigger cardiovascular disease and rheumatoid arthritis. Until now, the acid had not been measured in air outdoors or in tobacco smoke.
The research team made four separate measurements of HNCO: in the air in urban Los Angeles; in the air in Boulder downwind of the fall 2010 Fourmile Canyon wildfire; in laboratory burning experiments at high concentrations; and in cigarette smoke. The team also made the first measurements of the acid's ability to dissolve in water, which determines the chemical's tendency to dissolve into moist tissues in the body.
"There are literally billions of people in the world who burn biomass for cooking and heating," Roberts said. "If these indoor fires release similar levels of isocyanic acid as the fires we studied in the laboratory, families could be exposed to high levels of the chemical."
Roberts and colleagues from NOAA and University of Colorado at Boulder's Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, the, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and the University of Montana published their paper in the May 17 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The research project started in the Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory, where scientists burned brush, tree branches and other vegetation, to better understand the air quality effects of wildfires. They used a new, specialized instrument -- a mass spectrometer built by Roberts and several colleagues -- to measure the amounts of a suite of organic acids, which are emitted by burning vegetation. Such acids are involved in chemistry that can degrade air quality.
During simulated wildfires in the Montana laboratory, levels of HNCO approached 600 parts per billion volume (ppbv). The HNCO was a few thousand times less concentrated in both the air in Los Angeles during a time without recent fires, and in the air in Boulder when the Fourmile Canyon fire was burning upwind.
At about 1 ppbv, the research team calculated that enough HNCO would dissolve into exposed tissues -- lungs and eyes -- that those tissues could be vulnerable to "carbamylation," part of the chemical process triggering inflammation and cataract development. People could experience higher exposure to HNCO near wildfires or in indoor environments where coal, wood or other biomass is burned for heating or cooking. The health effects of chronic exposure to lower-level amounts isocyanic acid, such as those found in the California and Colorado air are not known.
The extreme sensitivity of the new instrument to low concentrations of HNCO made it impossible to quantify the very high levels of isocyanic acid in cigarette smoke.
"We conclude that tobacco-derived HNCO needs to be measured more extensively and potential exposure to it quantified," the scientists wrote, adding that the acid is not currently listed as a "harmful" or "potentially harmful" constituent in tobacco products or smoke.
In their paper, researchers noted other sources of atmospheric HNCO, including pollution-control equipment that is being introduced in California and Europe to reduce emissions by diesel trucks. The systems are designed to reduce nitrogen oxides, which contribute to air quality problems, but they emit HNCO as a by-product. This new source could increase human exposure to the chemical in urban areas.
Moreover, climate change is expected to bring hotter temperatures and drier conditions to some regions of the world, with accompanying increases in biomass burning, including wildfire. "We may be facing a future of higher amounts of HNCO in the atmosphere," said Roberts. "It is fortunate that now we can measure it."

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Experimental AIDS vaccine showing promise in monkeys

CHICAGO/LONDON (Reuters) - An experimental vaccine helped monkeys with a form of the AIDS virus control the infection for more than a year, suggesting it may lead to a vaccine for people, U.S. researchers said on Wednesday.
They said the vaccine works by priming the immune system to quickly attack the HIV virus when it first enters the body, a point at which the virus is most vulnerable.
Dr. Louis Picker of the Oregon National Primate Research Center, whose study appear in the journal Nature, said he thinks it will be possible to have a vaccine ready to test in people within three years.
Tests of the vaccine with a primate version of the virus called simian immunodeficiency virus showed more than half were able to keep the virus from replicating so that even the most sensitive tests could not detect any traces of the virus.
So far, the vast majority of the vaccinated monkeys have maintained control over the virus for more than a year, gradually losing any signs that they had ever been infected.
Macaques in the unvaccinated group have since developed the monkey form of AIDS.
"We feel it has a possibility of keeping the virus under complete control or clearing the virus," Picker said.

Picker and colleagues use a relatively harmless virus called cytomegalovirus (CMV) as a transport system to take the experimental vaccine into the body.
They chose it because scientists think most people are already infected with CMV -- a virus that remains in the body for life but causes little or no symptoms for most people.
Picker said because the virus is persistently present, it keeps the immune system on alert, ready to attack the virus as it first enters the body, when the virus is thought to be less impervious to the immune system.
"The virus comes in and can be basically stopped in its tracks," Picker said in a telephone interview.
"What's exciting about these findings is that for the first time a vaccine candidate has been able to fully control the virus in some animals," said Dr Wayne Koff, chief scientific officer at the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), which helped fund the research.
Koff said the findings also suggested the possibility that the immune system may eventually eliminate the virus altogether.
"This research gives us potential clues as to how we might design an HIV vaccine for humans that would provide the same type of control," he said.
There is no cure for AIDS, but cocktails of drugs can keep the disease at bay for many years.
The human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS infects 33.3 million people globally, according to the United Nations agency UNAIDS. It has killed more than 25 million people.
Because it is spread in so many ways -- during sex, on needles shared by drug users, in breast milk and in blood -- there is no single easy way to prevent infection.
A vaccine is the best hope, and many drug companies and scientific research groups are working on various ways to try to develop one.
"The breakthrough here is in using a viral-delivered vaccine that persists -- essentially using an engineered virus to thwart a pathogenic virus," said Robin Shattock, a professor of mucosal infection and immunity at Britain's Imperial College, who was not involved in the research.
"Before this ... scientists had pretty much given up on the idea of a vaccine that could control HIV replication (but) this puts it firmly back on the agenda."
Efforts so far to make an AIDS vaccine have not been successful, but a 2009 study in Thailand involving 16,000 people showed for the first time that a vaccine could safely prevent HIV infection in a small number of volunteers.
Picker said the next step is to make a weaker version of the CMV virus to make sure it does not cause any problems in people.
"The concern would be if we move a virus that is not modified that in some small number it might cause disease," he said.

Straight-A College Student Faces 125 Years In Jail For Producing Fake IDs

"I never saw this type of case unless it was somehow connected to terrorists"

Chris | InformationLiberation
Should a young entrepreneur who helped students get around the government's retarded 21st century prohibition laws spend life in prison for providing his friends with a voluntary public service? That's the question we're faced with in the case of 20-year-old Theodore Stephen Michaels, a straight-A student at the University of Maryland, who is now facing a maximum sentence of 125 years in jail for the "crime" of producing fake IDs. In a just world, this young entrepreneur would be celebrated for his entrepreneurial spirit, in our world, he's facing a virtual death sentence.

The Baltimore Sun reports:

While some college students consider fake IDs a rite of passage, the Maryland U.S. attorney underscored their illegality Thursday, announcing federal charges against a scholarship winner accused of making and selling phony driver's licenses from his College Park dorm for a few months in 2009.

Theodore Stephen Michaels — a straight-A, triple major at the University of Maryland who goes by "Teddy" — could face decades in prison if he's convicted of the 16 counts returned against him. [...]

"I'm frankly surprised [by the indictment]," Kupferberg said. "I don't see how this particular case is any more or less significant than what you find in College Park every day or on any college campus, for that matter." [...]

"I never saw this type of case unless it was somehow connected to terrorists or illegal immigrants," said Steven H. Levin, a former assistant U.S. attorney under Rosenstein who's now in private practice in Baltimore. [...]

Kupferberg described Michaels as an unsophisticated, straight-A student throughout both high school and college who, as a university junior, has already earned enough credits to graduate.

He's a member of a biofuels group dedicated to solving the energy crisis, according to online records; is a triple major (accounting, finance and economics) according to a university spokesperson; and he won a scholarship this school year from the Ernst & Young Education Excellence Fund.

"This kid is extraordinary," said Kupferberg, who was hired by Michaels' parents. "His background is exemplary and virtually unblemished."

Getting around idiotic government laws is a public service. This young man has the exact type of entrepreneurial spirit from which the greatest in humanity are made of, this could be the next Mark Zuckerberg, yet our stupid government would rather he be rotting in a cage.