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Does the US Have Nothing Better to do Than Pick a Fight With Iceland Right Now?

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As the run-up to Debt Limit Tuesday gets closer and closer to, well, Tuesday, knuckles among those who make a career of following such things are whitening.

Jeanne McManus, Washington Post:

What is the point of hammering heads to get a House bill that’s got no chance in the Senate? What is the twisted logic of dooming a House bill to death in the Senate before it has even arrived? So this increasingly unmanaged chaos can play out a little longer? So that we can watch big clocks tick down the days, hours and minutes until Aug. 2, or 4, as the stock market surges and dips?

Robert Kuttner, The American Prospect:

Like most American spectators watching this slow-motion train wreck of a budget disaster, I have assumed that at the last minute the damsel would be pulled off the track of the oncoming train. Somehow, the Republicans would appreciate the stakes, a compromise (albeit on sickeningly Republican terms) would be reached, and the nation would be spared the catastrophe of default—a gratuitous deepening of an already dire economic mess.

Now I am not so sure.

Professor John Pitney, political scientist:

"Members of Congress are juggling with hydrogen bombs."

Will Congress be able to stave off catastrophe within the next 70-odd hours? It'll require all hands on deck, and the discipline to refrain from the ugly partisan slapfighting we've seen thus far. So, let's hunker down and get -- hey, here's an idea! Let's pick a fight with Iceland!

As PlanetSave eco-blogger Michael Ricciardi first reported, the US Department of Commerce "has formally declared the nation of Iceland to be in violation of the IWC global commercial whaling ban, and, in a first, the Obama administration may impose economic sanctions against the whaling nation."

Explains Ricciardi:

The US had previously deemed Iceland and other whaling nations (primarily Norway and Japan) to be illegally conducting whaling operations in defiance of the IWC ban. However, if Obama was to take action, this would be the first time trade sanctions would be imposed on another nation for this reason, setting a conservation precedent that nearly every conservation society would heartily welcome.

Controversially, under current IWC rules, three nations (Japan, Iceland, Norway) are “allowed” a yearly quota of whale captures (though, non-endangered ones), as, historically, these nations have been heavily invested — commercially and culturally — in whaling. However, said quotas are supposed to decrease each year (as the goal is to phase out the industry) according to a specific, agreed upon system. The system, however, has many loopholes


The NRDC further asserts that as of late 2010, Iceland’s quotas and exports of whale products reach “record levels.” As a result, 19 U.S.-based NGO’s filed a “Pelly petition” asking the Secretary to certify Iceland’s violation of the whaling ban (pursuant to the Pelly Amendment) and to urge the imposition of trade sanctions. The petition specifically advocated targeting Iceland’s “fisheries-related businesses linked to its whaling industry”.

While the FAA remains largely shut down and unable to collect the taxes that fund its very existence thanks to congressional squabbling, the matter of whether or not whale kabobs will remain on Reykjavik menus is being diligently tended to in Washington.

"Iceland's harvest of whales and export of fin whale meat threaten an endangered species and undermine worldwide efforts to protect whales," said Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, who oversees the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in a statement. "It's critical that the government of Iceland take immediate action to comply with the moratorium."

Flickr: RGriffin

The news has obviously been welcomed warmly by the environmental community. Karen Vale of the World Society for the Protection of Animals tells Agence France Presse that the group is "excited that the US has taken this first really important step in ending Iceland's commercial whaling for fin whales and minke whales." "However," she cautions, "it is just a first step, so we are hopeful that the White House will decide to put forth the sanctions."

The chances of that happening have been heightened greatly, now that Scream 4 actress (and former paramour of Ukrainian heavyweight boxing champ Wladimir Klitschko) Hayden Panettiere has, according to Ecorazzi, "voiced her support for President Obama’s stance on Iceland’s whaling."

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“We commend President Obama and his administration for taking this strong action against Iceland and its barbaric whaling industry...and we urge the President to take similar action against Japan and Norway as well!” she said.

Panettiere, who has also used her instant recognizability and extensive oceanographic expertise to improve the dolphin's lot in life, says, “because I am in the public eye I feel the need to be a voice of worthy and important causes whose efforts impact the lives of every person on Earth." has long agreed. As the site declared three years ago, "Who doesn't love Hayden Panettiere? She is hot, she is a great actress, and she is an active supporter of the Whaleman Foundation."

The world will be watching.
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