Australian news, and some related international items

UK Should Reject Extraditing Julian Assange to USA  Faces Possible Indictment under Outdated Espionage Act  Dinah PoKempner General Counsel

It has been six years since Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks, fled to the Ecuadorean Embassy in London to seek asylum from possible extradition to the United States to face indictment under the US Espionage Act.

At the time, Assange, an Australian national, was wanted by Sweden for questioning over sexual offense allegations. Assange had also broken the terms of his UK bail. Since then, he has become even more controversial, having published US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails and internal emails from Democratic Party officials.

While some admire and others despise Assange, no one should be prosecuted under the antiquated Espionage Act for publishing leaked government documents. That 1917 statute was designed to punish people who leaked secrets to a foreign government, not to the media, and allows no defense or mitigation of punishment on the basis that public interest served by some leaks may outweigh any harm to national security.

The US grand jury investigation of Assange under the Espionage Act was apparently based on his publishing the leaks for which Chelsea Manning, a former US army soldier, was convicted. Her sentence was commuted.

The publication of leaks—particularly leaks that show potential government wrongdoing or human rights abuse—is a critical function of a free press in a democratic society. The vague and sweeping provisions of the Espionage Act remain ready to be used against other publishers and journalists, whether they be Wikileaks or the New York Times.

Assange has agreed to surrender himself to the British police – but only if he were granted assurances against extradition to the US, where he could face life in prison. He also offered to appear in Sweden if Sweden would offer similar assurances.

In 2016, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found Assange’s stay in the Ecuadorean embassy, enforced by the alternative of his potential extradition to the US, to be an arbitrary deprivation of liberty.  Ecuador, offended by Assange’s political comments, this year has denied him internet access and visitors, other than occasional contact with his lawyers. Ecuador denied Human Rights Watch permission to visit him this May. Concern is growing over his access to medical care.  His asylum is growing more difficult to distinguish from detention.

The UK has the power to resolve concerns over his isolation, health, and confinement by removing the threat of extradition for publishing newsworthy leaks. It should do so before another year passes.

June 22, 2018 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, civil liberties | Leave a comment

UK nuclear waste canisters decaying faster than expected – (could this happen in South Australia?)

Telegraph 19th June 2018 , Highly dangerous plutonium canisters are “decaying faster than anticipated”at the Sellafield nuclear plant and present an “intolerable risk” if they started to leak, the spending watchdog has warned.

Government scientists have now agreed to spend an extra £1billion to make them safe by wrapping them in packaging, the National Audit Office said today. Britain has the largest amount of civil plutonium – a bi-product of nuclear fuel reprocessing – in the world, around 40 per cent of the global total.

Most of the plutonium is stored at Sellafield in Cumbria, where it is managed by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA). The problems have occurred because some of the plutonium canisters are judged to be “unsuitable” for storage in a new facility which only opened in 2012, the NAO said.

Staff are now racing against the clock to build a new £1.5billion facility – and are having to make contingency plans for the next two years while the new depot is constructed. The NAO report – titled ‘Progress with reducing risk at Sellafield’ – said: “Some canisters that have already been transferred into modern storage will have to be repackaged through the SRP [the residue store retreatment plant] facility to ensure they do not degrade.”

The report adds: “A leak from any package would lead to an ‘intolerable’ risk as defined by the Office for Nuclear Regulation. “The NDA has therefore decided to place the canisters more at risk in extra layers of packaging until SRP is operational. It has not yet submitted a new business case to support these contingency arrangements.”

Dr Doug Parr, chief scientist for Greenpeace UK, said: “In some ways it is fortunate that this failure was detected whilst the plutonium was still accessible, and the cost of patching the canisters is only £1billion. If an inaccessible deep waste dump were to fail in a similar way, who knows what the full cost might be?”

June 22, 2018 Posted by | General News | Leave a comment

The ignored refugees – the growing numbers displaced by climate change

TIM MCDONNELL , This month, diplomats from around the world met in New York and Geneva to hash out a pair of new global agreements that aim to lay out new guidelines for how countries should deal with an unprecedented surge in the number of displaced people, which has now reached 65.6 million worldwide.

But there’s one emerging category that seems to be getting short shrift in the conversation: so-called “climate refugees,” who currently lack any formal definition, recognition or protection under international law even as the scope of their predicament becomes more clear.

Since 2008, an average of 24 million people have been displaced by catastrophic weather disasters each year. As climate change worsens storms and droughts, climate scientists and migration experts expect that number to rise.

Meanwhile, climate impacts that unravel over time, like desert expansion and sea level rise, are also forcing people from their homes: A World Bank report in March projects that within three of the most vulnerable regions — sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America — 143 million people could be displaced by these impacts by 2050.

In Bangladesh, hundreds of thousands of people are routinely uprooted by coastal flooding, many making a treacherous journey to the slums of the capital, Dhaka. In West Africa, the almost total disappearance of Lake Chad because of desertification has empowered terrorists and forced more than four million people into camps.

It’s a problem in the United States as well. An estimated 2,300 Puerto Rican familiesdisplaced by Hurricane Maria are still looking for permanent housing, while government officials have spent years working to preemptively relocate more than a dozen small coastal communities in Alaska and Louisiana that are disappearing into the rising sea.

A December study by Columbia University climate researchers in the peer-reviewed journal Science projected that if global temperatures continue their upward march, applications for asylum to the European Union could increase 28 percent to nearly 450,000 per year by 2100.

But so far, there’s no international agreement on who should qualify as a climate refugee — much less a plan to manage the growing crisis………

Yayboke believes that development agencies need to step up funding for climate adaptation programs, which can help prevent displacement and reduce government spending on recovery from predictable natural disasters later on.

“We are spending so much money on this stuff, but we’re being totally reactive,” he says. “There are proactive things we can do that we’re just not doing.”

Few places are more illustrative of that problem than Bangladesh. According to the CSIS report, up to 70 percent of the five million people living in Dhaka’s slums were displaced from their original home by environmental disasters.

“The situation and scope of this problem is entirely new, and of biblical proportions,” says Steve Trent, executive director of the Environmental Justice Foundation, which released its own report on Bangladesh in 2017. “It demands an entirely new legal convention. The global compacts are a start, but it’s clear that they’re not enough.”

Tim McDonnell is a journalist covering the environment, conflict and related issues in sub-Saharan Africa. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram

June 22, 2018 Posted by | General News | Leave a comment

Data ethics heavily influenced by the biases of well-off white males

Data ethics is more than just what we do with data, it’s also about who’s doing it,  James ArvanitakisProfessor in Cultural and Social Analysis, Western Sydney University, Andrew Francis, Professor of Mathematics, Western Sydney University Oliver Obst, Associate Professor in Data Science, Western Sydney University

If the recent Cambridge Analytica data scandal has taught us anything, it’s that the ethical cultures of our largest tech firms need tougher scrutiny.

But moral questions about what data should be collected and how it should be used are only the beginning. They raise broader questions about who gets to make those decisions in the first place.

We currently have a system in which power over the judicious and ethical use of data is overwhelmingly concentrated among white men. Research shows that the unconscious biases that emerge from a person’s upbringing and experiences can be baked into technology, resulting in negative consequences for minority groups.

These biases are difficult to shed, which makes workplace diversity a powerful and necessary tool for catching unsuspected bias before it has a chance to cause damage. As the impact of data-driven algorithms and decisions grows more profound, we need to ask: how is this going to change in the future?

Unfortunately, the indicators suggest the answer is: not much.

What consequences are we talking about?

Algorithmic bias is now a widely studied problem that refers to how human biases creep into the decisions made by computers.

The problem has led to gendered language translations, biased criminal sentencing recommendations, and racially skewed facial recognition systems.

For example, when an automated translation tool such as Google Translate is required to translate a gender-neutral language (such as Turkish) into a gender-specific one (such as English) it makes a guess as to which gender to assign to the translated text.

People noticed that Google Translate showed a tendency to assign feminine gender pronouns to certain jobs and masculine pronouns to others – “she is a babysitter” or “he is a doctor” – in a manner that reeked of sexism. Google Translate bases its decision about which gender to assign to a particular job on the training data it learns from. In this case, it’s picking up the gender bias that already exists in the world and feeding it back to us.

If we want to ensure that algorithms don’t perpetuate and reinforce existing biases, we need to be careful about the data we use to train algorithms. But if we hold the view that women are more likely to be babysitters and men are more likely to be doctors, then we might not even notice – and correct for – biased data in the tools we build.

So it matters who is writing the code because the code defines the algorithm, which makes the judgement on the basis of the data.

Who holds the power?

Only ten years ago the first smartphones were making their mark. Today some of the most powerful people on the planet are those who control data gathered through mobile technologies.

Data is central to the functioning of the modern world. And power over business, democracy and education will likely continue to lie with data and data-dependent tools, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Currently, the people who have the power to make ethical decisions about the use of data are typically white males from high-earning, well-educated families.

One research company, Open MIC, which describes itself as “investing in racial diversity in the tech world”, reviewed data from some of the biggest tech firms and found a consistent pattern: disproportionate percentages of white employees compared with the wider working population.

Adobe’s workforce is 69% white, Apple’s is 56% white, Google is 59% white and Microsoft is 58% white. The list goes on:

Black people, Latinos, and Native Americans are underrepresented in tech by 16 to 18 percentage points compared with their presence in the US labour force overall.

This is made far worse by a crippling lack of gender diversity.

In a 2017 Microsoft report, a survey of UK IT and tech leaders found that on average, the gender mix among their teams was 80% male and 20% female. A staggering 35% of respondents had no plans in place to change this imbalance.

The numbers are similar in Australia, according to a study of Australian professional profiles on the social network LinkedIn.

It revealed that just 14% of executive roles in the local tech industry were held by women. Of the 435,000 people in IT listed on LinkedIn in Australia, only 31% were women. Even these numbers may be optimistic, according to Australia’s Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel, who noted that women make up less than one-fifth of Australians qualified in science, technology, engineering and maths.

Will this change?

Those likely to be in charge of developing the algorithms of the future are those who are studying computer science and mathematical sciences right now. Sadly, the groups dominating those subjects at schools and universities largely reflect the current workforce.

Australian domestic students enrolled in tertiary level information technology dropped from a peak of 46,945 in 2002 to 27,547 in 2013. While the numbers have improved slightly according to AEN University Rankings, females in engineering and IT still represent less than one in five students.

Meanwhile, the number of girls at the senior high school level taking the advanced computing and mathematics subjects needed to enter these roles remains resolutely low.

This ship is taking a long time to turn around.

What can we do about it?

If the coders of the future are today’s middle-class boys, how are we preparing them to make unbiased ethical choices when they become the Zuckerbergs of tomorrow? And how can we steer the ship so that the wealth and power that will continue to flow from mastery of such technical skills is not denied to those who are not white and male?

Read more: Unconscious bias is keeping women out of senior roles, but we can get around it

Our education system is unwittingly allowing boys to train as technical people without the skills to put their work in a social context, and allowing girls to do the reverse.

Indeed, while many of the smartest young women are choosing to go into medicine or law, these professions are vulnerable to the advance of artificial intelligence – paralegals, radiologists, and those making preliminary diagnoses.

We are in a structure in which the same old imbalances are strengthening and look to persist. But this is not the way it should be. Unless we confront the culture through big shifts in educational trends, nothing will change.

June 22, 2018 Posted by | art and culture, AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL | Leave a comment

“Radium girls”won their legal case on radioactive poisoning; their graves still radioactive!

Glowing Girls and Poisonous Paint   

June 22, 2018 Posted by | General News | Leave a comment

Launch of film “protecting Country”

Protecting Country


Alexander Hayes   After three years of listening, a huge trip across country, countless hours spent editing and many community consultations we are thankful to be releasing today the Protecting Country film which was produced by Bruce Hammond and features Aboriginal leaders in their stand against the continued genocide of uranium mining, testing and dumping in Australia –

“…Protecting Country is an independently produced film bringing the voices of the contemporary Adnyamathanha, Gurindji, Tanganekald, Yankunytjatjara Anunga, Mirning, Narunnga Aboriginal Australian people forward who are united in their stand AGAINST the present and planned uranium mining and nuclear dump activities in South Australia. Bruce Hammond, an Aboriginal Tanganekald man with ties to the coast in the lower South East of South Australia and the central desert regions of Finke and Alice Springs in conjunction with Alexander Hayes & Magali McDuffie from Ngikalikarra Media brought the ‘Protecting Country’ documentary film on a screening road trip across Australia –

June 22, 2018 Posted by | aboriginal issues, AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, Opposition to nuclear | Leave a comment

Is space for wonder or for war? — Beyond Nuclear International

Trump Space Force could mean nuclear war above our heads

via Is space for wonder or for war? — Beyond Nuclear International

June 22, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Coalition climate deniers play havoc again with energy — RenewEconomy

You’d think they’d be grateful: Malcolm Turnbull and Josh Frydenberg went to the effort of designing a climate and energy policy that does nothing, and Tony Abbott and friends are still complaining that it does too much.

via Coalition climate deniers play havoc again with energy — RenewEconomy

June 22, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Small solar installs pass 3 million mark in Australia — RenewEconomy

Small-scale solar systems installed by Australian homes and businesses have passed the three million-mark, with one in five homes now generating their own power.

via Small solar installs pass 3 million mark in Australia — RenewEconomy

June 22, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Thinking about battery storage? Five things you should do first — RenewEconomy

There is a lot you should do before getting battery storage for you home. Here are 5 steps households should take before making the leap.

via Thinking about battery storage? Five things you should do first — RenewEconomy

June 22, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How Arctic Sea Ice Loss Could Make the Hot Pacific Blob Permanent — robertscribbler

From the North Pacific to the tropics, loss of sea ice will result in a vastly heated Pacific Ocean in which events like the recent Hot Blob become far more common. Those were the conclusions of a new model study conducted by Wang, Deser, Sun and Tomas and recently published in Geophysical Research Letters. (Understanding […]

via How Arctic Sea Ice Loss Could Make the Hot Pacific Blob Permanent  — robertscribbler

June 22, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Record renewables roll-out eases gas crisis, says AEMO — RenewEconomy

AEMO says record rollout of wind and solar has eased the dependence on gas, freeing up more supplies and reducing prices.

via Record renewables roll-out eases gas crisis, says AEMO — RenewEconomy

June 22, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

June 21 Energy News — geoharvey

World: ¶ Global law firm Hogan Lovells published a report showing the challenges posed by producing and accessing renewable energy in Africa, and how these can be overcome to achieve potential and scale. The analysis also highlights the potential for renewable energy production to revolutionize access to energy throughout the continent. [ESI Africa] ¶ Exhibitors […]

via June 21 Energy News — geoharvey

June 22, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How rapidly can we transition to 100% renewable electricity? — RenewEconomy

Science tells us that, to avoid devastating climate change, we must rapidly cut greenhouse gas emissions to zero. How fast is possible?

via How rapidly can we transition to 100% renewable electricity? — RenewEconomy

June 22, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Tasmania may double size of hydro plant, in first step of big battery plans — RenewEconomy

ARENA backs feasibility study in Hydro Tasmania’s plan to double capacity of 104MW Tarraleah Hydro Scheme – a “start” for bigger “battery of the nation” plans.

via Tasmania may double size of hydro plant, in first step of big battery plans — RenewEconomy

June 22, 2018 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment