The week at a glance...United States
Fuel for frozen town: A Russian tanker braved ice-choked Arctic seas this week to deliver more than a million gallons of fuel to the frozen town of Nome. Without the delivery, Nome’s 3,500 residents would have run out of fuel to heat their homes and power their vehicles by March or April, long before the summer thaw would allow the next barge delivery. The tanker Renda was escorted by a U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker, and the two vessels cut through hundreds of miles of sea ice to reach the waters off Nome. It was the first ever sea mission to deliver fuel to Alaska’s western coast in winter; if it had failed, emergency deliveries by air would have been necessary. Nome’s last scheduled pre-winter fuel delivery, in November, was canceled because of a massive storm, and the winter since has been one of the most severe in decades.
Mandatory condoms: Porn actors must now wear condoms when filming within city limits, said the Los Angeles City Council, which this week approved a first-of-its-kind law designed to save lives in the $1 billion adult-film industry. By acting now instead of waiting for the results of a ballot initiative scheduled for June, the council said it would save the taxpayers roughly $4 million. “The issue itself is so commonsense and intuitive, why put the city through the costs and ordeal when the outcome is really preordained?” said Councilman Paul Koretz. Some adult-film makers said the law was unnecessary, since actors are required to get tested for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases on a regular basis. “Clearly this is about the government overreaching and intruding into consenting adults’ decisions,” said Diane Duke of the Free Speech Coalition, a trade group for the pornography business.
Recall battle expands: Barely a year into his first term, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is facing the wrath of a highly organized recall effort, whose leaders say they have collected more than a million signatures, twice as many as needed to force a special election. Organizers from United Wisconsin, the group behind the recall effort, have vowed to recall Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, and four state senators for cutting school budgets and health benefits and ending the collective-bargaining rights of public workers. Last summer, six recall elections of GOP state senators were held, resulting in only two Democratic victories. This week, state GOP leaders said their base was fired up to scour the petitions for fraudulent signatures. Jim Geldreich, the Washington County GOP chair, said volunteer enthusiasm was “off the charts.” Barring a legal challenge, Walker will face an election in the spring or late summer.
Anti-piracy backlash: Protests by bloggers and the tech industry turned the tide this week against controversial legislation designed to stop online piracy of music, movies, and television. Facing organized protests from Google and Twitter and a 24-hour Wikipedia blackout, several advocates of the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House and the Protect Intellectual Property Act in the Senate have withdrawn their support. Republican Sen. Mark Rubio of Florida, a sponsor of PIPA, pulled his support this week, as did Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, a co-sponsor. Sources on Capitol Hill say they expect more lawmakers to back away from the bills, which recently lost White House backing. The proposed legislation has pitted the entertainment industry against Internet companies, which say media companies would get too much power to shut down websites they believe are abusing copyrights. “The voice of the Internet community has been heard,” said Rep. Darrell Issa.
Holder on voting rights: Standing beneath a Confederate flag on the steps of the South Carolina Statehouse, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder used the occasion of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday celebration to denounce states’ efforts to restrict voting rights for minorities. Holder spoke at a rally protesting South Carolina’s newly passed voter-identification law, which the Justice Department blocked in December, arguing that it placed an unfair burden on minority voters by requiring a government photo ID. Speaking just days before the state’s GOP presidential primary, Holder said, “A growing number of citizens are worried about the same disparities, divisions, and problems that Dr. King fought throughout his life to address and overcome.” State and national Republicans say voter-ID laws are not discriminatory, and are necessary to prevent voter fraud.
U.S. bans giant snakes: Fighting an invasion of giant Burmese pythons, which have infested the Everglades and in one case strangled a toddler, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar this week banned the importation of that snake species and three other species of giant constrictors. Pythons compete with native predators, biologists said, consuming birds, raccoons, alligators, and full-grown deer. Salazar was joined by Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, who in 2009 shocked his colleagues by placing the skin of a 17-foot python on the table at a Capitol Hill hearing held shortly after a Burmese python broke out of a terrarium and strangled a 2-year-old Florida girl in her bedroom. The ban has received bipartisan congressional support, though Republican Rep. Tom Rooney called it a “half measure” that fails to protect the state from other species of “invasive predators that pose a severe threat to our native wildlife.”