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Becky Jones, GAP
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The Government Accountability
Project (GAP) and a coalition of public interest organizations are proud
this year's National Whistleblower Assembly, taking place this Monday
Tuesday on Capitol Hill. This year's conference is chalked full of noted
politicians, key government officials, and an all-star line up of famous
whistleblowers. Cosponsors of the event include the American Federation
Government Employees, Federal Law Enforcement Officer's Association,
Treasury Employees Union, Project On Government Oversight, Semmelweis
International, and the Make It Safe Coalition.
The aim of this year's
conference is to raise
awareness and build public support for the passing of the Whistleblower
Protection Enhancement Act, currently stalled in the Senate.
All events will take
place at either the Capitol Visitors
Center, Rayburn House Office
congressional rooms, or the Stewart R. Mott House (two minutes walking
Visitors Center). Prominent guests that will
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participants and a working schedule
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Whistleblower Assembly is open to the
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The Government Accountability Project (GAP) is a 30-year-old nonprofit public interest group that promotes government and corporate accountability by advancing occupational free speech, defending whistleblowers, and empowering citizen activists. We pursue this mission through our Nuclear Safety, International Reform, Corporate Accountability, Food & Drug Safety, and Federal Employee/National Security programs. GAP is the nation's leading whistleblower protection organization.
"Congress must pass a clean debt ceiling bill. This is the only moral and just path forward for lawmakers."
With a vote to raise the U.S. debt limit expected as early as Wednesday, 175 environmental groups on Tuesday demanded Democrats in Congress reject President Joe Biden's deal with Republican lawmakers over "polluter giveaways" and other policies "that have no place in legislation addressing the country’s financial debt obligation."
"We urge Congress to pass a clean debt ceiling bill free of unnecessary poison pill riders that would harm disadvantaged communities, tribal nations and Indigenous Peoples, working families, and the physical environment," says the coalition's letter.
Addressed to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), the letter lays out specific reasons why the coalition opposes the negotiated package. The so-called Fiscal Responsibility Act would:
"Congress must pass a clean debt ceiling bill," argues the letter, signed by groups including the Center for Biological Diversity, People's Justice Council, Zero Hour, and 7 Directions of Service. "This is the only moral and just path forward for lawmakers."
Representatives from the organizations echoed that argument and called out the president for caving to the demands of Republicans who are willing to risk the nation's first-ever economically devastating default to attack crucial programs.
"The fact is that the proposed cuts in the debt ceiling negotiations are a moral failure. Why is it that our most vulnerable communities are always the ones to be sacrificed?" said the Rev. Michael Malcom, founder and executive director of People's Justice Council. "Biden made commitments to our most vulnerable communities. We have yet to see this commitment realized."
Zero Hour policy director Aaditi Lele also stressed that Congress can't pass a bill which "circumvents community demands to appease polluter profits," and asked, "Would a 'climate president' concede our health and safety as a bargaining chip?"
"What is Biden doing? By fast-tracking the Mountain Valley Pipeline in his debt ceiling proposal, he is sacrificing Indigenous and Appalachian communities like mine and fueling global climate catastrophe."
Crystal Cavalier, co-founder of 7 Directions of Service, a local Indigenous-led group opposed to the MVP, similarly said: "What is Biden doing? By fast-tracking the Mountain Valley Pipeline in his debt ceiling proposal, he is sacrificing Indigenous and Appalachian communities like mine and fueling global climate catastrophe."
"Congress needs to reject this dirtier-than-ever deal, pass a clean debt ceiling bill and protect people, not a handful of corrupt fossil fuel profiteers," Cavalier added, nodding to U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin's (D-W.Va.) "dirty deal" on the MVP and permitting reform.
Manchin, a top recipient of fossil fuel industry campaign cash, only supported the Inflation Reduction Act last year in exchange for Schumer promising to push through energy permitting reforms desired by polluters. Despite the senators' backroom agreement, frontline communities and progressives in Congress defeated versions of Manchin's dirty deal three times last year.
Opponents of the partially built-fracked gas pipeline in Virginia and West Virginia warn that completing it would require complex construction involving "incredibly complex and fragile" water crossings, and operating the MVP would threaten "the well-being of people, endangered species, streams, rivers, farms, national forests, and the planet."
On Tuesday, six Virginia Democrats—U.S. Reps. Don Beyer, Gerry Connolly, Jennifer McClellan, Bobby Scott, Abigail Spanberger, and Jennifer Wexton—said they were "incredibly disappointed the Mountain Valley Pipeline was included in the bipartisan budget agreement" and submitted to the House Rules Committee an amendment to remove the permitting provision.
\u201cYES!! There\u2019s now an amendment in the House that would strip the Mountain Valley Pipeline from the #DirtyDeal. \n\nWe can still stop this. Call your members of Congress and tell them to support this amendment now: (202) 224-3121\u201d— Jamie Henn (@Jamie Henn) 1685462195
"This provision is a free pass for the pipeline and sidesteps our nation's environmental laws and judicial review processes," said the lawmakers, highlighting climate and environmental justice concerns. "This project would disproportionately impact the most vulnerable among us, including low-income, elderly, and tribal and Indigenous communities throughout Virginia."
The House proposal is led by McClellan and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) plans to introduce an identical amendment in the Senate. While some Democrats aim to tweak the Fiscal Responsibility Act, campaigners are urging them to go even further.
"It's outrageous that the country's debt has been co-opted by Sen. Joe Manchin and Republicans so they can ram through fossil fuel projects and gut bedrock environmental laws that give voice to the public," the Center for Biological Diversity's Jean Su said Tuesday. "Any member of Congress who cares about environmental and social justice should reject this dangerous deal and demand a clean bill."
It "should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war," says a new statement signed by dozens of artificial intelligence critics and boosters.
On Tuesday, 80 artificial intelligence scientists and more than 200 "other notable figures" signed a statement that says "mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war."
The one-sentence warning from the diverse group of scientists, engineers, corporate executives, academics, and other concerned individuals doesn't go into detail about the existential threats posed by AI. Instead, it seeks to "open up discussion" and "create common knowledge of the growing number of experts and public figures who also take some of advanced AI’s most severe risks seriously," according to the Center for AI Safety, a U.S.-based nonprofit whose website hosts the statement.
Lead signatory Geoffrey Hinton, often called "the godfather of AI," has been sounding the alarm for weeks. Earlier this month, the 75-year-old professor emeritus of computer science at the University of Toronto announced that he had resigned from his job at Google in order to speak more freely about the dangers associated with AI.
Before he quit Google, Hinton toldCBS News in March that the rapidly advancing technology's potential impacts are comparable to "the Industrial Revolution, or electricity, or maybe the wheel."
Asked about the chances of the technology "wiping out humanity," Hinton warned that "it's not inconceivable."
That frightening potential doesn't necessarily lie with currently existing AI tools such as ChatGPT, but rather with what is called "artificial general intelligence" (AGI), which would encompass computers developing and acting on their own ideas.
"Until quite recently, I thought it was going to be like 20 to 50 years before we have general-purpose AI," Hinton told CBS News. "Now I think it may be 20 years or less."
Pressed by the outlet if it could happen sooner, Hinton conceded that he wouldn't rule out the possibility of AGI arriving within five years, a significant change from a few years ago when he "would have said, 'No way.'"
"We have to think hard about how to control that," said Hinton. Asked if that's possible, Hinton said, "We don't know, we haven't been there yet, but we can try."
The AI pioneer is far from alone. According to the 2023 AI Index Report, an annual assessment of the fast-growing industry published last month by the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence, 57% of computer scientists surveyed said that "recent progress is moving us toward AGI," and 58% agreed that "AGI is an important concern."
Although its findings were released in mid-April, Stanford's survey of 327 experts in natural language processing—a branch of computer science essential to the development of chatbots—was conducted last May and June, months before OpenAI's ChatGPT burst onto the scene in November.
OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, who signed the statement shared Tuesday by the Center for AI Safety, wrote in a February blog post: "The risks could be extraordinary. A misaligned superintelligent AGI could cause grievous harm to the world."
The following month, however, Altman declined to sign an open letter calling for a half-year moratorium on training AI systems beyond the level of OpenAI's latest chatbot, GPT-4.
The letter, published in March, states that "powerful AI systems should be developed only once we are confident that their effects will be positive and their risks will be manageable."
Tesla and Twitter CEO Elon Musk was among those who called for a pause two months ago, but he is "developing plans to launch a new artificial intelligence start-up to compete with" OpenAI, according toThe Financial Times, begging the question of whether his stated concern about the technology's "profound risks to society and humanity" is sincere or an expression of self-interest.
That Altman and several other AI boosters signed Tuesday's statement raises the possibility that insiders with billions of dollars at stake are attempting to showcase their awareness of the risks posed by their products in a bid to persuade officials of their capacity for self-regulation.
Demands from outside the industry for robust government regulation of AI are growing. While ever-more dangerous forms of AGI may still be years away, there is already mounting evidence that existing AI tools are exacerbating the spread of disinformation, from chatbots spouting lies and face-swapping apps generating fake videos to cloned voices committing fraud. Current, untested AI is hurting people in other ways, including when automated technologies deployed by Medicare Advantage insurers unilaterally decide to end payments, resulting in the premature termination of coverage for vulnerable seniors.
Critics have warned that in the absence of swift interventions from policymakers, unregulated AI could harm additional healthcare patients, undermine fact-based journalism, hasten the destruction of democracy, and lead to an unintended nuclear war. Other common worries include widespread worker layoffs and worsening inequality as well as a massive uptick in carbon pollution.
A report published last month by Public Citizenargues that "until meaningful government safeguards are in place to protect the public from the harms of generative AI, we need a pause."
"Businesses are deploying potentially dangerous AI tools faster than their harms can be understood or mitigated," the progressive advocacy group warned in a statement.
"History offers no reason to believe that corporations can self-regulate away the known risks—especially since many of these risks are as much a part of generative AI as they are of corporate greed," the watchdog continued. "Businesses rushing to introduce these new technologies are gambling with peoples' lives and livelihoods, and arguably with the very foundations of a free society and livable world."
Earlier this month, Public Citizen president Robert Weissman welcomed the Biden administration's new plan to "promote responsible American innovation in artificial intelligence and protect people's rights and safety," but he also stressed the need for "more aggressive measures" to "address the threats of runaway corporate AI."
Echoing Public Citizen, an international group of doctors warned three weeks ago in the peer-reviewed journal BMJ Open Health that AI "could pose an existential threat to humanity" and demanded a moratorium on the development of such technology pending strong government oversight.
AI "poses a number of threats to human health and well-being," the physicians and related experts wrote. "With exponential growth in AI research and development, the window of opportunity to avoid serious and potentially existential harms is closing."
"With a warming climate and some drier seasons," said one ecology expert, "this is going to become more common in Nova Scotia."
Officials and climate experts in Nova Scotia, Canada on Tuesday pointed to numerous climate-related factors that have contributed to the wildfires that are raging in the province this week, forcing the evacuation of more than 16,000 people and destroying roughly 200 homes and other structures.
The Tantallon fire in the Halifax area and the Barrington Lake fire in the southwestern county of Shelburne have burned through a combined 25,000 acres in the Maritime province, which, as one firefighter told the Canadian newspaper SaltWire, has historically been far less likely to experience such blazes than landlocked western provinces.
"This the worst fire I've ever been on," volunteer firefighter Capt. Brett Tetanish toldSaltWire. "I've been on other large fires in Nova Scotia, Porters Lake, we lost structures there, but you don't see fires like this in Nova Scotia. You see these in Alberta."
Tetanish described a "surreal" scene as he drove toward the Tantallon fire on Sunday evening.
"We're driving on Hammonds Plains Road with fire on both sides of the road, structures on fire, cars abandoned and burnt in the middle of the road," he toldSaltWire.
Other witnesses, including a filmmaker, posted videos on social media of "apocalyptic scenes" showing fires destroying homes and huge plumes of smoke rendering highways nearly invisible to drivers.
"I almost died," said the filmmaker. "The fire is spreading, it's very serious. We couldn't see anything."
\u201c"Guys, we... I almost died."\n\nA filmmaker in Canada has captured the intensity and spread of wildfires raging in Nova Scotia, as he drove down a highway \u2935\ufe0f\u201d— Al Jazeera English (@Al Jazeera English) 1685412001
Halfway through 2023, Nova Scotia has already experienced more wildfires than it did in all of 2022, according to the National Observer.
Karen McKendry, a wilderness outreach coordinator at the Ecology Action Center in Nova Scotia's capital, Halifax, told the Observer the province has experienced hotter dryer weather than normal this spring, making it easier for fires to spread.
"People haven't always, on a national scale, been thinking about Nova Scotia and wildfires," McKendry said. "What dominates the consciousness, rightly so in Canada, is what's happening out West. But with a warming climate and some drier seasons, this is going to become more common in Nova Scotia. So more fires, more widespread fires, more destructive fires from a human perspective as well."
The province's Department of Natural Resources and Renewables (DNRR) also warned last Friday that the wildfires were taking hold in the region less than a year after Hurricane Fiona downed what Premier Tim Houston called a "significant" number of trees across Nova Scotia.
"Fires in areas where Hurricane Fiona downed trees have the potential to move faster and burn more intensely, making them potentially more difficult to contain and control," said the DNRR. "At this time, needles, twigs, leaves, etc., support fire ignition and spread. With high winds, the spread can be rapid and intense."
Scientists last year linked warming oceans, fueled by the continued extraction of fossil fuels and emissions of planet-heating greenhouse gases, to Fiona's destruction in Eastern Canada.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned Monday that the situation in Nova Scotia is "incredibly serious," prompting Saman Tabasinejad, acting executive director of Progress Toronto, to point to Trudeau's support for fossil fuel projects like the Trans Mountain Pipeline.
"This would be a great time to end fossil fuel subsidies and invest in a Green New Deal!" Tabasinejad said on Twitter.
\u201cIt's only May and the wildfire situation is out of control. Alberta is on fire. Nova Scotia is on fire. This would be a great time to end fossil fuel subsidies and invest in a green new deal!\u201d— Saman Tabasinejad (@Saman Tabasinejad) 1685372018
More than 200 crews have been sent by government agencies from across the province, and Nova Scotia officials said Tuesday that both the Tantallon and Barrington Lake fires were still "out of control" two days after they began and were "rapidly moving."
Halifax Fire and the DNRR are investigating the cause of the fires.
McKendry pointed out that a number of anti-conservation activities may be linked to increased wildfires.
Roads being built "deep into our forests" have allowed more people opportunities to accidentally set fires, while the government has been "emptying our urban areas of wetlands," making it easier for blazes to spread widely.
"Do not delude yourself into thinking this is a one-off," journalist John Vaillant toldSaltWire on Monday. "The world is more flammable than it has ever been."