Tom Toles: One nation in[finitely] divisible


From the editorial cartoonist of the Washington Post:

BLOG Toles

Street Seens: A remarkable Berkeley building


The run-down building at the northeast corner of the intersection of 65th Street and San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley has been transformed into what is perhaps the city’s most remarkable display of street art. We dodged traffic to grab a few shots.

And, as usual, click on the images to enlarge:

We begin with the fence to the north of the building facing San Pablo Avenue:

27 July 2014, Panasonic DMZ-ZS19, ISO 100, 6.9 mm, 1/1300 sec, f3.9

27 July 2014, Panasonic DMZ-ZS19, ISO 100, 6.9 mm, 1/1300 sec, f3.9

Next up, the building’s northern wall, which largely escapes the attention of passers-by:

27 July 2014, Panasonic DMZ-ZS19, ISO 100, 6.9 mm, 1/1300 sec, f3.9

27 July 2014, Panasonic DMZ-ZS19, ISO 100, 6.9 mm, 1/1300 sec, f3.9

The next four shots feature two scenes from the building’s San Pablo Avenue footage, first with this strange critter:

27 July 2014, Panasonic DMZ-ZS19, ISO 100, 4.3 mm, 1/320 sec, f4

27 July 2014, Panasonic DMZ-ZS19, ISO 100, 4.3 mm, 1/320 sec, f4

Next, more of the frontage:

27 July 2014, Panasonic DMZ-ZS19, ISO 100, 13.3 mm, 1/400 sec, f5

27 July 2014, Panasonic DMZ-ZS19, ISO 100, 13.3 mm, 1/400 sec, f5

And a detail of a door critter with a Freudian nose:

27 July 2014, Panasonic DMZ-ZS19, ISO 100, 5.4 mm, 1/400 sec, f3.6

27 July 2014, Panasonic DMZ-ZS19, ISO 100, 5.4 mm, 1/400 sec, f3.6

And this hidden detail, on the side of column, may explain the nasal condition:

27 July 2014, Panasonic DMZ-ZS19, ISO 100, 5.4 mm, 1/400 sec, f4

27 July 2014, Panasonic DMZ-ZS19, ISO 100, 5.4 mm, 1/400 sec, f4

Next, the western half of the building’s southern wall:

27 July 2014, Panasonic DMZ-ZS19, ISO 100, 6.9 mm, 1/800 sec, f3.9

27 July 2014, Panasonic DMZ-ZS19, ISO 100, 6.9 mm, 1/800 sec, f3.9

And the eastern half:

27 July 2014, Panasonic DMZ-ZS19, ISO 100, 4.8 mm, 1/1000 sec, f4

27 July 2014, Panasonic DMZ-ZS19, ISO 100, 4.8 mm, 1/1000 sec, f4

A detail:

27 July 2014, Panasonic DMZ-ZS19, ISO 100, 41.3 mm, 1/500 sec, f5.6

27 July 2014, Panasonic DMZ-ZS19, ISO 100, 41.3 mm, 1/500 sec, f5.6

And, finally, the fence to the southeast:

27 July 2014, Panasonic DMZ-ZS19, ISO 100, 41.3 mm, 1/500 sec, f5.6

27 July 2014, Panasonic DMZ-ZS19, ISO 100, 41.3 mm, 1/500 sec, f5.6

EnviroWatch: Loans, drought, laws, radiation


Today’s first item, via the Guardian, covers the sad but not so surprising:

Leaked World Bank lending policies ‘environmentally disastrous’

  • New ‘light touch’ rules on bank’s $50bn annual lending have been gutted to remove protections, watchdogs claim

Radical plans by the World Bank to relax the conditions on which it lends up to $50bn (£29bn) a year to developing countries have been condemned as potentially disastrous for the environment and likely to weaken protection of indigenous peoples and the poor.

A leaked draft of the bank’s proposed new “safeguard policies”, seen by the Guardian, suggests that existing environmental and social protection will be gutted to allow logging and mining in even the most ecologically sensitive areas, and that indigenous peoples will not have to be consulted before major projects like palm oil plantations or large dams palm go ahead on land which they traditionally occupy.

Under the proposed new “light touch” rules, the result of a two year consultation within the bank, borrowers will be allowed to opt out of signing up to employment safeguards, existing protection for biodiversity will be shredded, countries will be allowed to assess themselves, and harmful projects are much more likely to occur, according to World Bank watchdog groups including the Bank Information Centre (BIC), the Ulu Foundation and the International Trade Union Confederation.

And on to our ongoing coverage of the drought parching the Golden State and the West, first with a scorcher from BBC News:

Two California wildfires destroy 10 homes

Two fast-moving wildfires in California have destroyed 10 homes and have forced the evacuation of hundreds more, US officials say.

In the Sacramento region, a fire has spread to cover an area of about 4,000 acres, while another blaze threatens homes around Yosemite National Park.

The Sacramento fire is around 35% contained, officials told local media.

Months of drought have caused more fires in California this year – some 1,400, twice the usual number.

The Los Angeles Times digs down:

Farmers drilling deeper for water as drought drags on

California’s three-year drought has sparked a surge in demand for wells in the state’s agricultural heartland. With federal and state allocations of surface water reduced to a trickle, growers are searching deeper underground for sources of water to keep their farms from ruin.

The clamor has overwhelmed California drillers and pump installers, forcing some farms to hire contractors from neighboring states.

It’s also setting the stage for more problems later as groundwater supplies are shrinking faster than they can be replenished. In parts of the Central Valley, the water table has plummeted, drying up old wells and sinking the land above, a phenomenon called subsidence.

That’s resulted in even deeper wells that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to build and require more energy to pump water to the surface. As recently as two decades ago, a well several hundred feet would suffice. Today, large farms are drilling to depths of 2,000 feet in anticipation of falling water levels.

“We’re going bigger horsepower every year,” said Charles Barber, president of Caruthers Pump south of Fresno, who has customers on a three-month waiting list. “We’ve lost 30 feet of groundwater in a year in some places. We keep that up for 10 years and we won’t be farming like this anymore.”

From Al Jazeera America, a crackdown:

Cali water cops: What you gonna do when they come for you?

  • State resources officials are aggressively policing the dire shortage by imposing fines on drought rule violators

But the Los Angeles Times covers the scofflaws:

California officials admit they have incomplete water usage data

When state regulators tried to tally water use across California recently, they didn’t exactly get a flood of cooperation.

Of the 440 water agencies in the state, only 276 provided water consumption data. And officials in San Diego made a point of formally refusing the request, saying the state’s method for measuring water use in California’s second-largest city was “misleading and technically inappropriate.”

The State Water Resources Control Board released the result of its survey earlier this month, showing an 8% increase in water use in Southern California in May while most of the rest of the state was using less water.

And what water there in the Midwest, is increasingly likely to be toxic, reports Common Dreams:

Notorious ‘Neonics’ Pervasive in Midwest Waters: Study

Researchers from the USGS found the insecticides in waterways of nation’s corn, soy region.

A new study has added to mounting evidence against a class of insecticides called neonicotinoids, or “neonics.”

Linked in numerous studies to bee declines, the new research looks at neonics’ impacts on surface water.

Researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey looked at 9 rivers and streams in the U.S. Midwest—home to vast plantings of corn and soybeans as well as widespread use of neonics—in the 2013 growing season.

On to the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!, starting with this bit of ominous news from the Asahi Shimbun:

Water leaks continue to plague No. 5 reactor at Fukushima plant

A leak of radioactive water was found in the piping of water used to cool the spent fuel pool in the undamaged No. 5 reactor building of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, its operator said on July 19, a sign of possible deterioration in the system.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said water from the cooling pond leaked, citing comparable levels of the concentration of radioactive substances in the leak and the pool.

A TEPCO employee found a pool of water in each of two boxes–75 centimeters by 50 cm–that house a control valve in the cooling water piping system on the fifth floor of the No. 5 reactor building at 1:25 a.m. on July 19.

From the Asahi Shimbun again, why are we not surprised?:

Restarts of reactors in Ehime delayed due to insufficient safety standards

Restarts of reactors at the Ikata nuclear power plant in Ehime Prefecture will be delayed until at least next year because the site does not meet safety standards.

Its operator, Shikoku Electric Power Co., is being forced to construct a new emergency headquarters building at the facility as the current one, which was completed after the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, fails to meet the new criteria.

The new building is scheduled to be completed in January 2015 at the earliest. Given that procedures for safety screening take time, the utility said it was doubtful the reactors could be reactivated this fiscal year, which ends in March 2015.

From Kyodo News, a measure sure to inspire confidence — or not:

Local gov’ts give iodine tablets to residents as reactor restart looms

Local governments started Sunday handing out iodine tablets to residents living within 5 kilometers of an offline nuclear power plant in Kagoshima Prefecture, southwestern Japan, that may restart in the fall.

It is the first time iodine tablets have been distributed under Nuclear Regulation Authority guidelines instituted following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. Iodine tablets help protect thyroids from radiation.

The move by the Kagoshima prefectural and Satsumasendai city governments came after Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai plant cleared a safety hurdle key to its restart earlier this month.

The Asahi Shimbun withdraws:

Plan dropped for land purchases to host nuclear debris storage sites

In the face of strong opposition, the government has abandoned its plan to purchase all of the land needed to build temporary storage sites for radioactive debris, sources said.

The idea was dropped after some landowners at prospective sites refused to sell, fearing the storage facilities located near the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant would end up being permanent.

Instead of purchasing all of the plots, the government now plans on leasing some of the land from landowners.

And from the Japan Times, looking across the Pacific:

Problems dog plans for U.S. nuclear plants

The U.S. nuclear industry has started building its first new plants in decades using prefabricated Lego-like blocks meant to save time and money and revive the once promising energy source.

But so far, it is not working.

Quality and cost problems have cropped up again, raising questions about whether nuclear power will ever be able to compete with other electricity sources. The first two reactors built after a 16-year lull, Southern Co.’s Vogtle plant in Georgia and SCANA Corp.’s VC Summer plant in South Carolina, are being assembled in large modules. Large chunks of the modules are built off-site, in an effort to improve quality and avoid the chronic cost overruns that all but killed the nuclear industry when the first wave of plants was being built in the 1960s and 1970s.

Analysts say engineers created designs that were hard or impossible to make, according to interviews and regulatory filings reviewed by AP. The factory in Louisiana that constructed the prefabricated sections struggled to meet strict quality rules. Utility companies got early warnings but proved unable to avoid the problems. Now the firms leading the project are phasing out the Louisiana factory for work on the biggest modules and contracting with new manufacturers.

While the Los Angeles Times covers another, surprising source of radioactive waste, fracking:

Oil drilling in North Dakota raises concerns about radioactive waste

Every weekday, about a dozen large garbage trucks peel away from the oil boom that has spread through western North Dakota to bump along a gravel road to the McKenzie County landfill.

Nearly 1,000 radioactive filters were found last year at the landfill, part of a growing tide of often toxic waste produced by the state’s oil and gas rush. Oil field waste includes drill cuttings — rock and earth that come up a well bore — along with drilling fluids and wastewater laced with chemicals used in fracking.

To many local and tribal officials, environmentalists and some industry managers in North Dakota, the dumping of the socks and the proliferation of other waste shows the government falling short in safeguarding the environment against oil field pollution.

And for our final item, the New York Times reminds us who’s footing the bill:

The Typical Household, Now Worth a Third Less

Economic inequality in the United States has been receiving a lot of attention. But it’s not merely an issue of the rich getting richer. The typical American household has been getting poorer, too.

The inflation-adjusted net worth for the typical household was $87,992 in 2003. Ten years later, it was only $56,335, or a 36 percent decline, according to a study financed by the Russell Sage Foundation. Those are the figures for a household at the median point in the wealth distribution — the level at which there are an equal number of households whose worth is higher and lower. But during the same period, the net worth of wealthy households increased substantially.

The Russell Sage study also examined net worth at the 95th percentile. (For households at that level, 94 percent of the population had less wealth and 4 percent had more.) It found that for this well-do-do slice of the population, household net worth increased 14 percent over the same 10 years. Other research, by economists like Edward Wolff at New York University, has shown even greater gains in wealth for the richest 1 percent of households.

Caturday Night Fever: Statue-tory indignity


From whence cameth it, we know not. But one thing is clear: Kitty ain’t down with kitty statues. Enjoy:

Mr. Fish: Cell Damage


From Clowncrack, his blog of paciferous pontification:

BLOG Fish

InSecurity Watch: Spies, lies, laws, zones, drones


Our latest edition of tales form the dark side begins with a legal question from Wired:

New Ruling Shows the NSA Can’t Legally Justify Its Phone Spying Anymore

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals said no this week to tracking your movements using data from your cell phone without a warrant when it declared that this information is constitutionally protected.

The case, United States v. Davis , is important not only because it provides substantive and procedural protections against abuse of an increasingly common and highly invasive surveillance method. It also provides support for something Christopher Sprigman and I have said before — that the government’s other “metadata” collection programs are unconstitutional.

The Davis decision, in effect, suggests that the U.S. government’s collection of all kinds of business records and transactional data — commonly called “metadata” — for law enforcement and national security purposes may also be unconstitutional.

The Washington Post raises more legal questions:

4 senators worry about NSA collection of Americans’ e-mails, phone calls

Four Democratic senators have sent a letter to the director of national intelligence expressing concerns about the scope of the collection of Americans’ e-mails and phone calls under a National Security Agency program that targets foreigners overseas.

The lawmakers, led by Jon Tester (D-Mont.), told Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. that they were concerned by recent reports by The Washington Post and an independent executive branch panel about the surveillance.

The Post examined 160,000 communications intercepted under the program, which was authorized by Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 2008. The law does not require individualized warrants.

The Post found that “nearly half of the surveillance files . . . contained names, e-mail addresses or other details that the NSA marked as belonging to U.S. citizens or residents.”

And Wired offers opposition:

A Convicted Hacker and an Internet Icon Join Forces to Thwart NSA Spying

The internet is littered with burgeoning email encryption schemes aimed at thwarting NSA spying. Many of them are focused on solving the usability issues that have plagued complicated encryption schemes like PGP for years. But a new project called Dark Mail plans to go further: to hide your metadata.

Metadata is the pernicious transaction data involving the “To”, “From” and subject fields of email that the NSA finds so valuable for tracking communications and drawing connections between people. Generally, even when email is encrypted, metadata is not. Dark Mail ambitiously aims to revamp existing email structures to hide this data while still making the system universally compatible with existing email clients.

The project has made for an interesting pairing between Texas technologist Ladar Levison and convicted hacker Stephen Watt, whom he’s hired to help develop the code. Both have had previous battles with the government in very different ways.

From Social Science Research Network, a research summary raises troubling questions:

Government Surveillance and Internet Search Behavior

This paper uses data from Google Trends on search terms from before and after the surveillance revelations of June 2013 to analyze whether Google users’ search behavior shifted as a result of an exogenous shock in information about how closely their internet searches were being monitored by the U. S. government.

We use data from Google Trends on search volume for 282 search terms across eleven different countries. These search terms were independently rated for their degree of privacy-sensitivity along multiple dimensions.

Using panel data, our result suggest that cross-nationally, users were less likely to search using search terms that they believed might get them in trouble with the U. S. government. In the U. S., this was the main subset of search terms that were affected. However, internationally there was also a drop in traffic for search terms that were rated as personally sensitive. These results have implications for policy makers in terms of understanding the actual effects on search behavior of disclosures relating to the scale of government surveillance on the Internet and their potential effects on international competitiveness.

From The Hill, another agency, another challenge:

Ex-officials demand to see CIA report

Former top officials at the CIA want to make sure that they get a chance to see an upcoming report about the spy agency’s “enhanced interrogation techniques,” according to new reports on Saturday.

Former CIA Directors George Tenet, Porter Goss and Michael Hayden drafted a letter asking to see the Senate’s executive summary of the so-called “torture report,” which they sent to Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the New York Times reported.

The three chiefs and two former acing directors, John McLaughlin and Michael Morell, did reportedly get a chance to see the document, which reviews how controversial practices such as waterboarding were used. But many other top staffers did not.

About a dozen former officials who are named in the report were initially promised the chance to read it, according to the Associated Press. That offer was taken back on Friday, however, due to what CIA officials said was miscommunication.

More from Techdirt:

Senator Wyden Toying With The Idea Of Releasing The Senate’s CIA Torture Report

  • from the the-pressure’s-on dept

Senator Ron Wyden is apparently getting tired of waiting for the White House to use up its buckets of black ink in redacting everything important in the Senate’s big torture report. He’s publicly pondering the idea of using Senate privilege to just release it himself.

As you may recall, the Senate Intelligence Committee spent years and $40 million investigating the CIA’s torture program, and the 6,000+ page report is supposedly devastating in highlighting (1) how useless the program was and (2) how far the CIA went in torturing people (for absolutely no benefit) and (3) how the CIA lied to Congress about all of this. The CIA, not surprisingly, is not too happy about the report. At all. Still, despite its protests, the Senate Intelligence Committee voted to declassify the executive summary of the report.

However, the CIA got to take first crack at figuring out what to redact, which seemed like a massive conflict of interest. Either way, the CIA apparently finally ran out of black ink in late June, and asked the White House to black out whatever else was left. The State Department has already expressed concerns that releasing anything will just anger the public (our response: probably should have thought of that before sending the CIA to torture people). And, now it appears the report is being held up due to “security” concerns.

From Motherboard, Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane ! It’s Fibbie Drone!:

Do the FBI’s Drones Invade Your Privacy? Sorry, That’s Private

The FBI has been flying drones since 2005, according to a trickle of documents released over the last eight months. Agents called in a small surveillance drone on a hostage situation in Alabama in February 2013, and to monitor a dog-fighting scheme in August 2011.

But despite a mandatory process designed to mitigate privacy concerns, the question of how FBI drones may be impacting Americans’ privacy rights remains unanswered.

Federal law requires the FBI to assess its own surveillance technologies for potential privacy and civil liberties snags. While these technology assessments are typically prepared for public consumption, the FBI has refused to release its privacy reviews on drones.

The E-Government Act of 2002 obliges federal agencies to conduct a privacy impact assessment (PIA) prior to deploying any information technology that collects personal information. Per Department of Justice guidelines, the PIA process ensures that privacy protections “are built into the system from the start—not after the fact,” in order to “promote trust between the public and the Department by increasing transparency of the Department’s systems and missions.”

Meanwhile, another conflict, another sanction from South China Morning Post:

EU hits Russian intelligence chiefs in new round of sanctions over Ukraine

  • European Union announces broadened sanctions on Russia targeting 15 new individuals and 18 entities with asset freezes and visa bans

The European Union announced on Saturday it had widened its sanctions against Russia over Moscow’s role in conflict-torn Ukraine to include the heads of intelligence services.

The Russian foreign ministry responded later on Saturday, saying the measures put at risk international cooperation over security issues

The director of the FSB security service, Alexander Bortnikov, and the head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, Mikhail Fradkov are on the new list of 15 people and 18 entities targeted by an asset freeze and visa bans, the EU’s Official Journal said. Also on the list is Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov.

And from Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, mythbusters:

The evidence that shows Iron Dome is not working

In the early weeks of July, the conflict between Palestinians in Gaza and Israel flared up again, resulting in a new round of large-scale rocket attacks, launched by Hamas, operating from Gaza, against Israeli population centers. The last such large-scale rocket attacks occurred in November 2012.

Initially, the Israeli military responded to the rocket attacks with air strikes in Gaza, and with protective measures that include deployment of the Iron Dome rocket-defense system and a civil defense effort that includes an efficient system for early warning and sheltering of citizens. As of this writing, only one Israeli had died from Hamas fire, apparently from a mortar round (although that number increased with the Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip begun late last week).

During the November 2012 conflict, a detailed review of a large number of photographs of Iron Dome interceptor contrails revealed that the rocket-defense system’s success rate was very low—as low as 5 percent or, perhaps, even less. A variety of media outlets have attributed the low casualty number to the supposed effectiveness of the Iron Dome system, quoting Israeli officials as saying it has destroyed 90 percent of the Hamas rockets it targeted. But close study of photographic and video imagery of Iron Dome engagements with Hamas rockets—both in the current conflict and in the 2012 hostilities—shows that the low casualties in Israel from artillery rocket attacks can be ascribed to Israeli civil defense efforts, rather than the performance of the Iron Dome missile defense system.

From the Associated Press, who do they think they are? The NSA?:

Turkey: 20 police arrested for illegal wiretaps

Turkey’s state-run news agency says an Istanbul court has charged 20 police officers with illegal wiretapping and ordered their arrest pending a trial.

The Anadolu Agency says 49 other officers are still waiting on Saturday to be questioned and face possible charges.

The officers were detained on July 22 in raids to their homes on suspicion of wiretapping officials, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

After the jump, off to Asia for the latest installment of the Games of Zones, Google’s persistent cyberstalking, cops in the Klan, and so much more. . . Continue reading

Chart of the day: China’s new navy dwarfs Japan’s


From South China Morning Post, comparisons of the relative sizes at the time of the Sino-Japanese War 120 years ago and today. Click on the image to enlasrge:

BLOG Sino Japan navies