Mr. Fish: I believe


A blast from the past from Clowncrack, his blog of deliberative deixis:

BLOG Fish

How a British company enabled mass spying


When it comes to sheer quantities of information hoovered up from the global data stream, the U.S. National Security Agency is a piker compared to Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters [GCHQ], as Edward Snowden’s leaks conclusively demonstrate.

In these videos from Britain’s Channel 4 News, the extent and scope of Britain’s monitoring is revealed, focusing on the island nation’s role as the central hub for the world’s network of data cables [a fact that is leading the BRICs nations to announce plans to develop their own cable system independent of the GCHQ-monitored cables].

As noted in a text story Channel 4 News posted online:

One of the UK’s largest communications firms had a leading role in creating the surveillance system exposed by Edward Snowden, it can be revealed.

Cable and Wireless even went as far as providing traffic from a rival foreign communications company, handing information sent by millions of internet users worldwide over to spies.

The firm, which was bought by Vodafone in July 2012, was part of a programme called Mastering the Internet, under which British spies used private companies to help them gather and store swathes of internet traffic; a quarter of which passes through the UK. Top secret documents leaked by the whistleblower Edward Snowden and seen by Channel 4 News show that GCHQ developed what it called “partnerships” with private companies under codenames. Cable and Wireless was called Gerontic.

Under the moniker, the company carried out tests on equipment used to carry out the surveillance, it came up with suggestions on how the spies could go about tapping its network, and even had a GCHQ employee working full-time within the company.

And a 2011 document reveals that Cable and Wireless went further. The company rented space on a cable owned by Indian telecoms company Reliance Communications that stretched from Asia across the Middle East and landed in Porthcurno in Cornwall. Reliance’s transatlantic cable lands in Sennen Cove six miles to the north. And the two cables come together at nearby Skewjack Farm. Documents show that in 2011, this allowed Britain’s spies to access all traffic from Reliance’s main cable and send it to the GCHQ base up the coast in Bude.

Top secret documents from GCHQ show it was this access point, codenamed Nigella and run by Cable and Wireless, that allowed Britain’s spies to gather the private communications of millions of internet users worldwide.

The first video examines the program itself and how it works.

From Channel 4 News:

Spy cable revealed: How telecoms firm worked with GCHQ

Program notes:

An unprecedented grab of personal data: this programme reveals that a communications firm not only handed over its own information to GCHQ, but also allowed access to the internet traffic of another telecoms company.

The second video features an aborted debate between a German member of parliament — Green Party legislator Konstanin von Notz — and former GCHQ Director Sir David Omand, a debate that ends abruptly when Omand storms out during questions over the controversy that erupted after it was revealed that the German provider serving the German government — including Chancellor Angela Merkel — was providing GCHQ access to its cables:

Sir David Omand walks out of live interview

Program notes:

Sir David Omand was debating German Green MP Konstantin von Notz, who is part of an inquiry into allegations that Angela Merkel’s conversations were intercepted by the NSA, on Channel 4 News’ main story.

Chart of the day: Where the plutocrats live


From the Wealth-X and UBS World Ultra Wealth Report 2014 tracking the growth of wealth of the world’s elite, a look at the concentration of wealth in ten American cities:

BLOG Billions

From the Swiss bank’s announcement of the report:

The Wealth-X and UBS World Ultra Wealth Report 2014, released today, shows that 12,040 new ultra high net worth (UHNW) individuals were minted this year, pushing the global UHNW population to a record 211,275, a 6% increase from 2013.

The combined wealth of the world’s UHNW individuals – defined as those with US$30 million and above in net assets – increased by 7% to US$29.725 trillion in 2014, almost twice the GDP of the world’s largest economy, the United States.

North America and Europe continue to dominate the global landscape as the regions with the largest UHNW population and wealth. The United States maintains its position as the world’s top UHNW country in 2014 with a population of 69,560 UHNW individuals with a combined net worth of over US$9.6 trillion, a 6% and 7% increase respectively from last year.

InSecurityWatch: War, terror, spooks, hacks


We begin with the Guardian:

Ferguson protesters and police clash as grand jury decision nears

  • Police charge at demonstrators in freezing temperatures as Ferguson awaits decision on whether officer will be charged

Police in riot gear clashed with a small group of protesters in a sub-freezing Ferguson, Missouri, on Wednesday night, as tensions grew over a coming announcement on whether a white officer will be charged for killing an unarmed black 18-year-old.

About 50 officers wearing riot helmets and carrying batons and shields repeatedly charged at demonstrators, who were gathered outside the Ferguson police headquarters to demand the indictment of officer Darren Wilson, who shot dead Michael Brown on 9 August.

In the most serious confrontation since a grand jury decision on Wilson became imminent in mid-November, protesters sounded sirens, shouted abuse at police and revived chants of “hands up – don’t shoot” from the nights of unrest in the St Louis suburb after Brown’s death.

And elsewhere, from the Washington Post:

Fear of deadly ‘religious war’ between Jews and Muslims raised after synagogue attack

Israelis and Palestinians expressed fear Wednesday that their decades-old conflict was moving beyond the traditional nationalist struggle between two peoples fighting for their homelands and spiraling into a raw and far-reaching religious confrontation between Jews and Muslims.

The threat — perhaps more accurately the dread — of an incipient but deadly “religious war” was expressed by Muslim clerics, Christian leaders and Jewish Israelis one day after a pair of Palestinian assailants, wielding meat cleavers and a gun, killed five Israelis, including a prominent American Israeli rabbi, in a Jerusalem synagogue.

“All of us are scared that there will be a religious war, that extremists from both sides will start fighting each other,” said Oded Wiener, an Israeli Jew from the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land.

More from the Associated Press:

Israeli mayor’s ban on Arab workers ignites uproar

The mayor of a southern Israeli city sparked a national uproar Thursday by barring Israeli Arab construction workers from jobs in local preschools, citing security concerns after a rash of attacks by Palestinian assailants elsewhere in the country.

The proposal was condemned as racist by Israeli leaders, but it reflected the tense mood in the country and deepened longstanding divisions between the nation’s Jewish majority and Arab minority. An opinion poll showed solid public support for the measure.

Israel has been on edge following a wave of Palestinian attacks that has killed 11 people over the past month, including five this week in a bloody assault on a Jerusalem synagogue. Most of the attacks have occurred in Jerusalem — whose population is roughly one-third Palestinian — with deadly stabbings in Tel Aviv and the West Bank as well.

From The Hill, a hint of things to come:

Pentagon, in reversal, won’t wait for Congress to deploy Iraq troops

The Pentagon said Thursday that it would begin deploying 1,500 new troops to Iraq “in the next weeks” without first securing funding from Congress, reversing previous comments.

“We can deploy troops to the theater, but — so that — that process can and will continue,” said Defense Department press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby.
Kirby also said Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, commander of U.S. Central Command, has also moved about 50 U.S. forces within Iraq to Anbar Province to get a “jump start” on expanding the advise-and-assist mission, as well as starting to train Iraqi forces in their fight against Islamic militants.

“But it doesn’t mean that we still don’t need the authorization in terms of the resources that will go with the much more robust program that we’re trying to get done,” Kirby said. “He can start it and he is.”

The origins of the specie, via the McClatchy Foreign Staff:

Islamic State reportedly buying silver, gold as it prepares to issue currency

The Islamic State is accumulating gold, silver and copper in markets throughout northern and western Iraq, dealers report, in an apparent effort to stockpile enough precious metal to follow through on a pledge to mint its own currency.

On Nov. 11, the Islamic State’s Beit al Mal, an ancient Islamic term akin to “Department of Treasury,” announced that the group would reintroduce the dinar currency of the Umayyad Caliphate, which ruled an empire that stretched from modern Iran to Spain for much of the seventh and eighth centuries. The announcement – which included images of three types of coins in gold, copper and silver – drew skepticism from experts, who doubted that the Islamic State could arrange a system to mint and issue a modern currency.

But interviews with dealers in precious metals indicate that the Islamic State has begun the complex process of issuing the currency, a reminder that as the best-financed non-state actor in history – with a revenue stream from oil sales and aggressive taxation – it’s been able to install bureaucratic controls over the large swath of territory it’s claimed in Iraq and Syria.

From the Guardian, commitment:

French Isis fighters filmed burning passports and calling for terror at home

  • Emergence of video showing four men comes as France reels from the identification of two of its nationals partaking in a mass beheading in Syria

A film released by Islamic State (Isis) shows jihadi fighters burning French passports and calling on others to bring terror to the streets of the European country.

Released by one of Isis’s main media outlets, Al Hayat, the video shows four men who purport to be from France, including three who deliver messages in French to camera.

Burning what appear to be several French passports in a campfire, a masked man can be heard saying: “We disbelieve in you and your passports, and if you come here we will fight you.”

The Guardian brings it on home:

Three men planned Isis-inspired public beheading, court hears

  • Nadir Ali Sayed, Yousaf Shah Syed and Haseeb Hamayoon charged over alleged plot to decapitate member of public with knives

Three men were preparing a terrorist plot to behead a member of the public, inspired by the propaganda of Islamic State militants, a court has heard .

The men were arrested a fortnight ago, shortly before Remembrance Sunday, and were preparing to carry out an imminent plan to decapitate a person with knives, Westminster magistrates court was told on Thursday.

Nadir Ali Sayed, 21, from Hounslow, west London, Yousaf Shah Syed, 19, from High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, and Haseeb Hamayoon, 27, from Hayes, west London, are accused of planning acts of terrorism.

And the McClatchy Washington Bureau covers death from afar:

Use of drones against Islamic State changes the meaning of warfare

In America’s war against the Islamic State, many of those fighting sit in a dark, cold room and stare at computer screens for 12 hours at a stretch.

There are dozens of them, men and women, each wearing camouflage, looking for suspected Iraqi and Syrian jihadists scurrying across the screen. If something changes on the screen – a group of dark figures crossing a street, a string of vehicles racing down a road – they pass the information to another pilot, who might decide to open fire with a Hellfire missile or an electronically guided bomb.

The greatest combat hazard they face is from the Red Bull and other sugary drinks they devour to stay awake; their unit has the worst rate of cavities in the Air Force.

“I would rather be deployed,” said Capt. Jennifer, a reservist and intelligence analyst whose full name the Air Force withheld for security reasons. “My daughter calls me because she is sick and I have to pick her up from school. When I am deployed forward I am deployed. I don’t have to worry about the day-to-day.”

Cyberwar, via the Washington Post:

Foreign powers steal data on critical U.S. infrastructure, NSA chief says

Several foreign countries, including China, have infiltrated the computers of critical industries in the United States to steal information that could be used in the planning of a destructive attack, the director of the National Security Agency said Thursday.

That was one of the cyberthreats outlined at a congressional hearing by Adm. Michael S. Rogers, who also said he expects criminal gangs may become proxies for nations carrying out attacks on other nations.

“There are multiple nation states that have the capability and have been on the [industrial] systems,” he said before the House Intelligence Committee.

From the New York Times, gee, what a surprise:

N.S.A. Phone Data Collection Could Go On, Even if a Law Expires

A little-known provision of the Patriot Act, overlooked by lawmakers and administration officials alike, appears to give President Obama a possible way to keep the National Security Agency’s bulk phone records program going indefinitely — even if Congress allows the law on which it is based to expire next year.

Senate Republicans on Tuesday night used a filibuster to block consideration of a bill to end and replace the N.S.A. phone records program. The debate about what may happen next has played out based on a widely held premise: that the legal basis for the program, Section 215 of the Patriot Act, will expire on June 1, so if Congress remains gridlocked, the program will automatically shut down.

“I believe that if we do not pass this bill, the metadata program is at risk because the 215 program sunsets next year,” Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, said in Tuesday night’s debate. But that premise may be incorrect. If the summer arrives and the program is facing a shutdown, Mr. Obama could invoke the provision to ask the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to keep it going.

From the Associated Press via the Japan Times, notable:

Years before the Snowden revelations, senior NSA codebreaker objected to mass surveillance program

Years before Edward Snowden sparked a public outcry with the disclosure that the National Security Agency had been secretly collecting American telephone records, some NSA executives voiced strong objections to the program, current and former intelligence officials say. The program exceeded the agency’s mandate to focus on foreign spying and would do little to stop terror plots, the executives argued.

The 2009 dissent, led by a senior NSA official and embraced by others at the agency, prompted the Obama administration to consider, but ultimately abandon, a plan to stop gathering the records.

The secret internal debate has not been previously reported. The Senate on Tuesday rejected an administration proposal that would have curbed the program and left the records in the hands of telephone companies rather than the government. That would be an arrangement similar to the one the administration quietly rejected in 2009.

The now-retired NSA official, a longtime code-breaker who rose to top management, had just learned in 2009 about the top-secret program that was created shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks against the U.S. He says he argued to then-NSA Director Keith Alexander that storing the calling records of nearly every American fundamentally changed the character of the agency, which is supposed to eavesdrop on foreigners, not Americans.

From the Washington Post, piping down:

Utah legislature considers shutting off NSA’s water

A Utah state legislative committee will consider a bill that could eventually cut off millions of gallons of water for a major National Security Agency facility south of Salt Lake City as a protest against the mass collection of Americans’ data.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Marc Roberts (R), would prohibit any municipality from providing “material support or assistance in any form to any federal data collection and surveillance agency.”

That’s a barely veiled reference to the Utah Data Center, a massive collection facility operated by the NSA in Bluffdale, a small suburb of Salt Lake City. The facility, completed last year at a cost of about $1.7 billion, houses super computers that require 65 megawatts of power, enough to power about 33,000 homes, according to the Associated Press.

Homeland Security News Wire sounds an alarm:

NSA director: China and “one or two” other nations can damage U.S. critical infrastructure

Adm. Michael Rogers, director of the National Security Agency and head of U.S. Cyber Command, told lawmakers yesterday that China and “one or two” other countries are capable of mounting cyberattacks which would paralyze the U.S electric grid and other critical infrastructure systems across the country.

A cyberattacks of such scope has been discussed in the past – it was even dubbed a “cyber Pearl Harbor” – but Rogers was the first high official to confirm that such a crippling attack on the United States was not a mere speculation.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Rogers, speaking at a hearing of the House intelligence committee, said U.S. adversaries are conducting electronic “reconnaissance” on a regular basis so that they will be well-positioned to damage and disrupt the industrial control systems which run chemical facilities, nuclear power plants, water treatment facilities, dams, and much more.

On a similar note and interesting time, from Sky News:

NATO’s Cyber War Games Amid Surge In Attacks

  • NATO faces cyber attacks almost daily, data shows, as Sky News gains access to the organisation’s biggest ever security exercise

NATO’s computer servers are detecting 200 million suspicious cyber events every single day, the alliance has revealed.

On average the military organisation is the victim of five major cyber attacks each week and that has increased “significantly” since Russian aggression in Ukraine started. The figures were published as NATO carried out its biggest ever cyber security exercise involving hundreds of computer analysts.

The three-day event, taking in 28 nations, was held on a former Soviet base in the city of Tartu, close to the Russian border.

The Washington Post covers considerately:

CIA Director John Brennan considering sweeping organizational changes

CIA Director John Brennan is considering sweeping organizational changes that could include breaking up the separate spying and analysis divisions that have been in place for decades to create hybrid units focused on individual regions and threats to U.S. security, current and former U.S. intelligence officials said.

The proposal would essentially replicate the structure of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center and other similar entities in the agency — an idea that reflects the CTC’s expanded role and influence since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

U.S. officials emphasized that the proposal is in its preliminary stages, and could still be scaled back or even discarded. Already the idea has encountered opposition from current and former officials who have voiced concern that it would be too disruptive and might jeopardize critical capabilities and expertise.

And from the London Telegraph, an ominous development in Old Blighty:

Theresa May to give MI5 and police power to force terror suspects to move

  • Terror suspects will be forced to move towns and leave their associates behind under plans to revive relocation powers

Theresa May, the Home Secretary, is to give police and the security services the power to force terror suspects to move to towns far away from their homes as she restores a key element of control orders.

The ability to relocate suspects to other areas was abandoned when control orders were replaced by the weaker terrorism prevention and investigation measures (Tpims) following a series of court rulings.

The Conservatives said that they wanted to re-introduce them earlier this year amid growing concerns about British jihadists returning from Syria and Iraq, but were met with opposition from the Liberal Democrats.

After the jump, British cops snooping on the press, a very curious California prosecution, curious customers of American spyware makers, allegations of security cam hacking by the Russians, Cuban slams cyberwar attacks, an Assange appeal denied, Gitmo detainees get gone, automotivation for cyberterror, a Colombian kidnap resolution mooted, Chilean justice long delayed, China and Russia strengthen military ties, signs of a split in the Hong Kong Occupy movement, a momentary Great Firewall loosening, Tokyo and Washington play war games, and a critical take on Greenwald’s technomyopia. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Flu, climate, fuels, & species


And a rare day with no new news from Fukushima and the nuclear power front. . .

From Deutsche Welle, flu news:

Dutch authorities confirm second case of bird flu

Officials have detected the second case of bird flu in a week in the Netherlands. All 43,000 chickens at the affected farm are to be slaughtered and a nationwide ban on poultry transport has been imposed.

Dutch officials on Thursday confirmed the detection of another case of bird flu at a chicken farm, the second time this week that the disease has been found in the Netherlands.

The Dutch food and safety watchdog NVWA said the latest outbreak was detected at a farm in the village of Ter Aar in South Holland, 25 kilometers (15 miles) from a farm where an infection was found last week. All the 43,000 chickens at the farm were being destroyed and the farm disinfected, the NVWA said.

Officials say tests are being conducted to establish what strain of bird flu is involved. The earlier case in the Netherlands was confirmed as H5N8, which is considered as posing a low health risk to humans, but is highly contagious among poultry.

From Grist, temperatures rising:

No surprise, October was the hottest one ever

It’s cold outside, which means it’ll soon be time for the annual rousing chorus of climate change denial from people who think snow means global warming is fake.

Good thing NOAA is here to help. Today the agency released two new maps illustrating that even if you’re cold right now, the planet is still getting hotter. In fact, 2014 is on track to be the warmest year on record.

And it’s not just October that was remarkably warm. The entire year so far, since January, has also been the warmest on record – a good 1.22 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average. If the trend persists, 2014 will beat out 2010 as the hottest year on record:

BBC News ups the ante:

Climate fund receives $9.3bn pledge

Thirty nations meeting in Berlin have pledged $9.3bn (£6bn) for a fund to help developing countries cut emissions and prepare for climate change.

The Green Climate Fund was to have held at least $10bn by the end of 2014, so the pledge is just shy of the target.

The South Korea-based fund aims to help nations invest in clean energy and green technology.

It is also designed to help them build up defences against rising seas and worsening storms, floods and droughts.

The Guardian covers a preview of a coming attraction:

Merchants of Doubt film exposes slick US industry behind climate denial

  • Robert Kenner’s forthcoming documentary lifts the lid on the ‘professional deceivers’ manipulating US debate on climate change

Who remembers that climate change was a top priority early in George W Bush’s first term as US president? Merchants of Doubt, a new documentary film released in US cinemas this week, reminds us that in June 2001 Bush and the Republican party were 100% committed to curbing carbon emissions causing global warming.

Six months later everything changed. The film shows Republican party leader John Boehner calling the idea of global warming “laughable”, said Merchants of Doubt director Robert Kenner.

With the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center occupying attention, Americans For Prosperity, a powerful, fossil-fuel lobby group founded by the billionaire Koch Brothers, launched a decade-long, multi-pronged campaign to sow doubt about the reality of climate change.

By equating the findings of climate scientists as an attack on personal freedoms, they cleverly shifted the focus away from science to political opinion. “Creating a focus point away from what is actually going on is how magicians pull off their tricks,” said Kenner who directed the Oscar-nominated documentary Food Inc.

From Los Angeles Times editorial cartoonist David Horsey, a look at a favorite project of the climate denial funding Koch Brothers:

BLOG Keystoned

Fueling health problems, via Environmental Health News:

Coal’s black wind: Pregnant women in parts of India advised to stay away

In some regions of India, a married woman will return to her mother’s house for the last trimester of pregnancy and the birth of her child. But in Mettur, pregnant women are advised by their doctors to stay away.

“Black wind” from a coal yard wafts constantly across poor neighborhoods, settling on rooftops, walking paths and even indoor furniture. People complain of asthma, wheezing and frequent colds.

In its bid to industrialize, India relies heavily on energy from coal. Accounting for 71 percent of India’s electricity, coal will remain a key player over the next decade, with 455 new plants proposed, according to energy experts.

A cutback ordered, from Environment News Service:

EU Court Rules British Government Must Limit Diesel Exhaust

The United Kingdom must clean up illegal levels of air pollution “as soon as possible,” the European Court of Justice ruled Wednesday, in its first decision on the European Union’s 2008 air quality law.

The case was originally brought in the British courts by ClientEarth, a London-based environmental group concerned about the 29,000 people who die early in the UK each year as a result of air pollution.

ClientEarth asked the British courts to require the UK Government to revise its plans to meet the statutory limits for nitrogen dioxide under the Air Quality Directive as soon as possible, and by January 1, 2015 at the latest.

EcoWatch covers a reduction proposal:

How Oil and Gas Industry Could Cut Methane Pollution in Half

Leading environmental groups—Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Earthjustice, Environmental Defense Fund, and Clean Air Task Force—released a summary report today to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) laying out how the agency can cut methane pollution in half with low-cost technologies and practices. The report, Waste Not: Common Sense Measures to Reduce Methane Emissions from the Oil and Natural Gas Industry, shows how the U.S. EPA must meet its obligations under the Clean Air Act by requiring the oil and gas industries to halt methane emissions. The full report will be available later this fall.

One of the simple solutions highlighted in the report shows that “most of the industry’s methane pollution comes from leaks and intentional venting that can be identified and curbed with existing, low-cost technology and better maintenance practices.” Mark Brownstein, associate vice president for U.S. Climate and Energy at the Environmental Defense Fund, agrees. “Methane leaks are simply a waste of a valuable national energy resource. The good news is that there are simple technologies and practices that the oil industry can use to substantially reduce this waste, creating new opportunities for American companies and new jobs for American workers.”

The big takeaway from this report is that these standards would cut up to 10 times more methane and up to four times more smog-forming pollutants than other proposals because these standards would apply to oil and gas infrastructure across the country, not just to equipment located in certain areas.

And from the Guardian, fracking funded:

Chemicals giant Ineos to announce £640m UK fracking investment

  • Operator of refinery at Grangemouth recently acquired 729 sq miles of fracking exploration licences in central Scotland

The chemicals giant Ineos is to announce a plan to invest up to £640m in shale gas exploration in the UK. The company, which runs a huge refinery and petrochemicals plant at Grangemouth, on the Firth of Forth, recently acquired 729 sq miles of fracking exploration licences in central Scotland.

The move would make Ineos one of the largest shale gas players in the UK and will be welcomed by government ministers who are seeking to speed up exploration. Ministers see fracking as an opportunity to develop a new domestic energy source as fields in the North Sea decline. Shale gas and oil have transformed the US energy market, although experts say the idea that it will lower energy prices in the UK is “baseless economics”.

Chief executive of Ineos Upstream, Gary Haywood, said: “I want Ineos to be the biggest player in the UK shale gas industry. I believe shale gas could revolutionise UK manufacturing and I know Ineos has the resources to make it happen.”

On to the threatened, first from StarAfrica:

Over 1,000 rhinos poached in S/Africa so far in 2014 – Official

South Africa has lost over 1,000 rhino to poachers so far this year, an official from the country’s Ministry of Environmental Affairs announced on Thursday.

According to the official, some 1,020 rhino have been poached for their horn since January this year, exceeding the 1,004 rhino that were poached in 2013.

The largest number of rhino poached has been in the world famous Kruger National Park in the north of the country, where 672 rhino have been poached this year.

The official said addressing the scourge was not simple, and that the ongoing killing of the rhino for its horns is part of a multi-billion dollar worldwide illicit wildlife trade.

And other critters on the brinks from Agence France-Presse:

Great apes facing ‘direct threat’ from palm oil farming

The destruction of rainforests in Southeast Asia and increasingly in Africa to make way for palm oil cultivation is a “direct threat” to the survival of great apes such as the orangutan, environmentalists warned Thursday.

They said tropical forests were tumbling at a rapid rate, with palm plantations a key driver, despite efforts by the industry’s Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) to encourage sustainable cultivation.

The concerns were voiced at the sidelines of the annual RSPO meeting, held this year in Malaysia and which concluded Thursday.

“Orangutan and ape habitats are being destroyed,” said Doug Cress, from the UN Environment Programme’s great ape protection campaign. “The destruction of rainforest in Southeast Asia and increasingly now in Africa is a direct threat to the great apes.”

Finally, via the Guardian, yet another corporocrat spared:

Italian supreme court’s asbestos ruling could have major implications for Brazil

  • Court’s cancellation of Swiss asbestos polluter’s jail sentence dismays activists in Brazil, where substance is widely used

The Italian supreme court ruling on a case brought against Eternit, a Swiss-based building firm, could have major implications for the continued use of asbestos across the world.

On Wednesday, the court in Rome cancelled an 18-year jail sentence on the firm’s former owner Stephan Schmidheiny, who was facing charges of environmental disaster, having been found guilty of failing to comply with safety rules in two previous rulings.

The basis of the court’s ruling was that the statute of limitations had passed – Eternit left Italy 25 years ago – but the local trade unions and the Italian asbestos victims’ association, Afeva, who brought the case jointly, now intend to take it to Strasbourg.

Victims’ families shouted: “Shame on you!” as the verdict was pronounced. The group consisted of about 200 people, most of them from Casale Monferrato, a north-west Italian city where victims of asbestos-related diseases have been numbered in the thousands. Others came from countries including Switzerland, the UK, the US, Argentina, Belgium and Brazil.

EbolaWatch: Reprieves, troops, warnings, & more


First, a reprieve from the Associated Press:

Immigrants from Ebola countries won’t be sent home

Immigrants from the three countries at the center of West Africa’s Ebola crisis are being offered work permits and temporary protection from deportation.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services says immigrants from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia who have been living in the U.S. illegally will be eligible for temporary protected status for up to 18 months.

The agency says eligible immigrants can apply for the protection starting Friday through May 20. Any immigrant from those three countries who was in the United States as of Thursday is eligible for the protection program.

The latest and most politically loaded alarm, via McClatchy Washington Bureau:

U.S. troop falls ill on flight back from Liberia; first test for Ebola is negative

A U.S. service member returning from Liberia threw up during the flight home, prompting additional medical care to determine if he had been exposed to Ebola, the Pentagon said Thursday.

The service member, who was returning along with 70 other troops, was headed to Fort Bliss, Texas, where they were to undergo a mandatory 21-day quarantine – a requirement the Pentagon imposed after a New York City doctor returning from working with Ebola patients in West Africa tested positive for the disease. The doctor was hospitalized, recovered and was released. None of the people he’d come in contact with before he was hospitalized contracted the disease.

According to a Defense Department, the service member who became ill on the flight home is being treated at Fort Bliss and has been tested once for Ebola. That test came back negative. The Pentagon declined to identify the service branch of the ill troop or how long he’d been in Liberia.

And from the McClatchy Foreign Staff, an evacuation:

Cuban doctor sick with Ebola to be flown to Geneva for treatment

A Cuban doctor who was infected with the Ebola virus in Sierra Leone is being flown to Switzerland for treatment, diplomats and World Health Organization officials said Wednesday.

A WHO official said the agency recommended the evacuation of the doctor.

According to a statement from Cuba’s Ministry of Health, Dr. Felix Baez, a specialist in internal medicine, tested positive for the Ebola virus Monday. He was being cared for by a team of British health care professionals at Kerry Town, an Ebola treatment center in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, when the decision was made to send him to Geneva.

Cuban diplomats told McClatchy that his condition was stable. A Swiss diplomat said Baez was expected to arrive Thursday in Geneva, where he’ll be treated at Geneva University Hospital.

From TheLocal.at, an Austrian alert:

Medical expert calls for three Ebola centres

An Austrian infectious diseases expert has said that Austria needs three specialised centres to deal with suspected cases of Ebola virus.

At present only the Kaiser Franz Josef hospital in Vienna is properly equipped but Günter Weiss, the Director of the Innsbruck University Hospital for Infectious Diseases, said that hospitals in Graz and Innsbruck should also be fully prepared to deal with cases on a national level.

The Ministry of Health is currently working on an Ebola plan to make national coordination easier in the event of a case being discovered in Austria, Weiss said at a press conference on Thursday.

He said that currently each of Austria’s states is responsible for making its own contingency plan and there is no networking.

The Guardian covers a musical controversy:

Social media rallies behind west African alternative to Band Aid 30

  • After an outpouring of criticism for Bob Geldof’s response to Ebola, Twitter shows its support for a different charity single with a practical message

Social media is rallying behind an alternative to Bob Geldof’s Band Aid 30, which champions advice and solidarity over scenes of desperation designed to tug at the heart and purse strings of the general public.

Africa Stop Ebola was recorded before the release of Sir Bob’s third rehash of the charity single, and includes well-known African musicians such as Tiken Jah Fakoly from the Ivory Coast and Malian artists Amadou and Mariam, Salif Keita and Oumou Sangare.

The #AfricaStopEbola hashtag is being used to share and discuss the alternative charity single, which has seen an increase in support since Band Aid 30 launched on Sunday.

Here’s the song itself, via Africa Stop Ebola:

Africa Stop Ebola – Tiken Jah Fakoly, Amadou & Mariam, Salif Keita, Oumou Sangare and others

Program notes:

Buy the song on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/afr… – ALL PROFITS go to Medecins Sans Frontiers/Doctors without Borders MSF

FOR SUBTITLES CLICK CC (bottom right corner)

JOIN #AfricaStopEbola on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Africa…

A collective of African musicians have come together to record a song to help raise awareness about Ebola in Africa. The song, entitled “Africa Stop Ebola”, features the singers Tiken Jah Fakoly, Amadou & Mariam, Salif Keita, Oumou Sangare, Kandia Kora, Mory Kante, Sia Tolno, Barbara Kanam and rappers Didier Awadi, Marcus (from the band Banlieuz’Arts) and Mokobe, and also includes the musicians Sékou Kouyaté (electric guitar, bass, electric kora) et Ludovic N’Holle (drums).

The song is a message to citizens about what they can do to help stop the spread of Ebola in Africa. The song is performed in French and vernacular languages widely spoken across the region to ensure that the message is understood regardless of the level of literacy and education of the population.

Thanks to Cheick Tidiane Seck for his active participation in this project.

From the Guardian, a curious number:

Only 38% of Australia’s Ebola funds have made it to Africa, group claims

  • Advocacy group One says the global response to the virus has been too slow and funds are stuck in treasury departments

Only 38% of the funds pledged by Australia to fight the Ebola crisis have been distributed to stricken west African countries, an international advocacy organisation has claimed.

Campaigning group One, which boasts over six million members worldwide, has created an online Ebola tracker tool which shows how much funding, equipment and health personnel have been pledged by donor countries and large foundations.

Australia has committed a total of $42m to tackle the disease, $20m of which will go to private Australian company Aspen Medical to operate a UK-built medical centre in Sierra Leone. Another $18m has gone to the United Nations’ Ebola response.

Spokeswoman for One, Friederike Roder, has told Guardian Australia that less than 40% of the money Australia has already committed has made it to Ebola-stricken communities.

IRIN covers the diagnostic front:

Bringing Ebola tests up to speed

Ebola in West Africa is believed to have erupted almost a year ago in southern Guinea, but was confirmed by the French Pasteur Institute only in March 2014, by which time it had killed 60 people and was suspected to have crossed the border into Liberia and Sierra Leone.

While it now takes just a few hours to diagnose Ebola, the rate and scale of the outbreak (in which more than 14,000 cases have been reported so far in West Africa, Europe and the US) still outpace the hours-long tests, necessitating even quicker diagnoses.

Currently in West Africa, samples have to be transported to a laboratory where the commonly used test takes 4-6 hours between set-up and results. Poor roads, and lack of electricity and properly functioning health systems are some of the obstacles to timely diagnoses.

“Getting specimens to the lab can take days and getting the result to clinicians and patients can also take several days. So the time between taking samples and receiving the result can be as long as four days,” Margaret Harris, a spokesperson with the World Health Organization (WHO), told IRIN.

A call to arms from the U.N. News Center:

Ban to take up fight against Ebola with heads of all UN organizations

On the eve of a meeting of United Nations agency chiefs to discuss ways to jointly tackle the Ebola outbreak, the World Bank reported today Liberia’s labour sector has suffered a huge blow since the start of the crisis, as a “massive effort” was underway in Mali to halt the spread of the re-emerged virus.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will tomorrow discuss the common effort to counter the Ebola outbreak with the UN System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB), made up of 29 Executive Heads of UN Funds and Programmes, specialized agencies, including the Bretton Woods Institutions, and related organizations – the World Tourism Organization and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Mr. Ban and other CEB members are scheduled to speak to reporters in the early afternoon in Washington, D.C. where the meeting is taking place at the World Bank headquarters.

Meanwhile, in New York at UN Headquarters tomorrow afternoon, the Security Council has scheduled a meeting to hear a briefing by Dr. David Nabarro, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Ebola, and Anthony Banbury, head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER).

StarAfrica covers action by the Economic Community Of West African States:

ECOWAS launches full scale fight against Ebola

The Chief Executive for West Africa’s specialised institution responsible for health in the region has advocated for an annual allocation of an additional $2.5 million to the institution to strengthen its capacity to fight epidemics. A statement by the ECOWAS Commission on Thursday in Abuja noted that a document detailing the response of the West African Health Organisation (WAHO) since the Ebola outbreak in March 2014, Dr. Xavier Crespin, said that such additional resources would improve the capacity of the organisation to cope with such outbreaks.

As the regional institution responsible for health, Dr Crespin said: “WAHO has responded vigorously to the unprecedented outbreak by speedily providing the affected countries with the support needed to confront the epidemic.”

The overall objective of the response by the ECOWAS Commission and WAHO, according to him, is to reduce the number of mortality through early detection, adequate response and building the capacity of Member States.

After the jump the rest of our African covering including another side effect of the outbreak, then on to Mali and systemic problems, then on to Sierra Leone and a shortage of beds and an unfinished British hospital project, aid arrives from the EU, a call to arms to younger doctors, and a potentially lethal exhumation, and next to Liberia and epidemic-enabling bureaucratic infighting, a U.S. ambassador’s skepticism of official optimism, rape flourishes amidst the outbreak, domestic economic impacts, national holiday beach outings banned, and migration anxities. . . Continue reading

MexicoWatch: Protests, anger president, context


We begin with a musical report from Fusion:

Mexican musicians release protest anthem for missing Ayotzinapa students

Program notes:

The tragedy of 43 disappeared students in Mexico now has a soundtrack. Mexican musician Juan Jose Rodriguez channeled his outrage into creativity and activism by reaching out to friends on social media and organizing a group of 25 musicians to record the protest song “Grito de Guerra,” or “Battle Cry.”

The lyrics allude to Mexico’s national anthem, while criticizing the government for impunity and violence.

“I have listened to this song alone while mixing in the studio, and I have cried from outage, and it hurts,” Rodriguez said. “We hope that the people who listen feel the pain, and that we’ve passed along that feeling of rage.”

He said he hopes the song will “drive people to action.”

The track will be available on iTunes and proceeds will go the families of the missing students, according to Rodriguez.

And a VICE News video focusing on survivors of the attack that ended with the abduction of the missing 43:

The Missing 43: Mexico’s Disappeared Students (Part 1)

Program notes:

On September 26, teaching students from the Ayotzinapa Normal School in Mexico were intercepted by police forces en route to a protest in Iguala. In the ensuing clash, six people were killed, and 43 Ayotzinapa students were taken away by the police. Investigations over the following weeks led to the startling allegations that the police had acted at the behest of the local mayor, and had turned over the abducted students to members of the Guerreros Unidos cartel. All 43 students are now feared dead.

The case has come to represent the negative feeling of the Mexican public toward the state of justice and the rule of law in Mexico. The events have now galvanized the survivors of the attack and the disappeared students’ parents. Nationwide demonstrations have increased in intensity, and recently led to government buildings in the state of Guerrero to be set on fire.

In this episode, VICE News travels to Guerrero, ground-zero for the protest movement that has erupted since the disappearance of the students, and meets with survivors of the Iguala police attack.

From the Latin American Herald Tribune, another kind of turning point:

Mexico Missing Students’ Case Marks Milestone in Web-Based Social Activism

Few had even heard of the small southern Mexican town of Ayotzinapa two months ago but that has changed in the wake of the apparent massacre of 43 students from a rural teacher training college, a tragedy that has caught the attention of tens of millions of people on social networks.

A specialist in social networking Web sites who has analyzed the global repercussions of the events of Sept. 26 in the nearby town of Iguala, Guerrero state, says that roughly 60 million people in countries around the world have posted, read or shared messages about the missing students.

“Since I began monitoring the networks in 2011 (the case of the Ayotzinapa Rural Normal School students) has been the most significant” in terms of volume of related comments and messages, Javier Murillo said.

And from the Guardian, the first of a series of reports on Thursday’s massive protest in Mexico City:

Mexico on the brink: thousands to protest over widespread corruption and student massacre

  • Violence and breakdown of law and order threaten to destabilise country after mass murder of students and scandal over presidential home

Mexico is facing an escalating political crisis amid growing fury over a mansion built for the presidential family and the disappearance and probable massacre of 43 student teachers.

The two apparently unrelated issues have fed the widespread perception that unbridled political corruption is the underlying cause of the country’s many problems – ranging from stunted economic growth to a breakdown of law and order that has left parts of the country at the mercy of murderous drug cartels.

“The drama of Mexico is about impunity,” said leading political commentator Jesús Silva Herzog. “This is not about the popularity or unpopularity of the president, that is irrelevant. It is about credibility and trust and, at its root, it is about legitimacy.”

Thousands gathered in Mexico City on Thursday ahead of what was expected to be the largest demonstration so far over the students’ forced disappearance by municipal police in collusion with a local drug gang in the southern city of Iguala.

More from Al Jazeera English:

Clashes in Mexico protest over students

  • Protesters clash with riot police in Mexico City amid anger over 43 missing students believed to have been killed

Protesters have clashed with riot police near Mexico City’s international police at the start of another day of demonstrations as the country bristled with anger over the presumed massacre of 43 students.

Masked protesters burned tyres, threw firebombs and launched firecrackers at police on Thursday, who used tear gas to disperse the group.

The clashes came after hundreds of protesters blocked the main road to the Benito Juarez airport for an hour, while police patrol cars assisted travellers to reach the airport.

The city braced for a bigger rally later in the day, cancelling the annual parade celebrating the 1910 revolution and erecting metal barriers to protect shops.

And an update, from the Washington Post:

Angry Mexicans protest over 43 missing students

The march in Mexico City was overwhelmingly peaceful, in contrast to recent protests that have ended with the burning of government buildings in Guerrero state, where the students disappeared. Whenever masked protesters tried to join Thursday’s march, demonstrators shouted them down with chants of “No violence!” and “Off with the masks!”

The protesters converged on the city’s main square, where families of the missing students stood on a platform in front of the National Palace holding posters of their relatives’ faces. Amid chants for President Enrique Pena Nieto to step down, family members repeated that they do not believe the government’s account that the youths were killed by a drug gang, .

“We’re not tired,” said one man speaking from the platform. “On the contrary, we are mad with this Mexican government and its entire structure, because it has not done anything but deceive the families.”

Earlier in the day, about 200 youthful protesters, some with their faces covered by masks or bandannas, clashed with police as they tried to block a main expressway to the international airport. Protesters hurled rocks, fireworks and gasoline bombs at the police, at least one of whom was hit by the projectiles. Some passengers had to walk to the terminal, but flights were not interrupted and expressways were reopened.

Next, a video report on Thursday’s activities from teleSUR:

Day of massive protests in Mexico on ‘Revolution Day’ holiday

Program notes:

Today, on the 104th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution, instead of the usual military parade and other traditional patriotic festivities in Mexico City’s central Zocalo square, another kind of revolution was taking place. Three massive demonstrations protesting against the Mexican governnment and its resonsibility in the case of the kidnapping of 43 young teaching shcool students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teacher Training College.

Context from Al Jazeera America:

The rebel spirit driving Mexico’s protests has deep roots

  • Analysis: Outrage over case of 43 missing students has helped unleash widespread discontent with a deep historical echo

Three caravans, led by family members of 43 missing students, began winding their way toward Mexico City last week from Guerrero, Chiapas and Chihuahua. On Thursday they will converge in the capital, where they will join student groups, teachers and rights advocates in a megamarch for justice, culminating at the city’s Zócalo Square — the symbolic heart of Mexico and so often the stage for expressions of popular discontent.

But the caravans’ finish line could also mark a starting point for a new challenge to Mexico’s prevailing social order, of which the 43 students are but the latest victims. And both the venue and the date of Thursday’s rally connect with a deep-rooted revolutionary tradition in Mexico. On the same day, 104 years ago, Francisco Madero, an heir to a powerful family in the state of Coahuila, issued the Plan of San Luis de Potosí denouncing the regime of dictator Porfirio Díaz — and ushering in the Mexican Revolution.

In many ways, today’s uprising mirrors — and is inspired by — that revolt. Although Madero’s insurgency quickly petered out, leaving him to seek refuge in Texas, his rallying cry resonated with the frustrations of peasant workers and indigenous communities throughout Mexico, and it was their determination to fight for their rights that fueled the revolution for years. It is the descendants of those foot soldiers of the revolution who are the parents and classmates of the missing students and are leading what could be the largest uprising in Mexico in decades. Thursday’s protest is no longer simply a cry for justice for the 43 missing students. A swath of Mexican society is demanding the ouster of President Enrique Peña Nieto over his administration’s incompetent investigation into the student disappearances and its efforts to portray the crime as an isolated incident.

More background, via Der Spiegel:

Teeth and Bones: Mass Abduction Reveals a Decaying Mexican State

Most murders don’t even make the front page in Mexico anymore. But the recent abduction of 43 students has infuriated the country. The story has exposed the tight relationship between politics, law enforcement and organized crime. And it shows how weak the state has become.

The group that stealthily tightened its grip on power in Iguala and the rest of the state in recent years is called Guerreros Unidos (United Warriors). It is one of more than 100 splinter groups that have formed across the country in the wake of the dismantling of the large cartels. Increasingly, they have turned to kidnappings and protection money as a way of generating revenue.

From the perspective of drug bosses, Iguala is a place of strategic importance. The city is nestled in the hilly hinterlands away from the Pacific coast, but it sits astride an important transportation route for cocaine. It is also a growing commercial center offering plenty of opportunities for money laundering. All one needs to carry out important transactions is control over the security apparatus and a close relationship with city hall.

Guerreros Unidos sought to make that relationship as close as possible and simply put up its own candidate in mayoral elections.

His name was José Luis Abarca, a married man whose wife’s brothers were high-ranking members of Guerreros Unidos and fixtures on the government’s most-wanted list — before they died in a hail of bullets. Abarca’s mother-in-law is thought to have been a bookkeeper for Beltrán Leyva, the large cartel that was dismantled in 2011 and which ultimately gave rise to Guerreros Unidos.

Still more context, via the Christian Science Monitor:

As protests rage, what can Mexico do to stop more students from going missing?

Nearly two months have passed since 43 college students disappeared in Iguala. As Mexico looks to improve security in Guerrero, it could look north to cities and states along the US border that have seen marked success in cracking down on violence

Nearly two months have passed since the students disappeared in Iguala, last seen in the hands of local police, who confessed to turning them over to drug gangs. Yet outrage and protests in Mexico are growing: both over the ties between organized crime and local politicians nationwide, and the weak and disorganized federal response to the suspected massacre.

Progress in reforming Mexico’s police force and strengthening the judiciary has been starkly absent in states like Guerrero. Yet some cities and states closer to the US border – Tijuana, Nuevo Leon, and Ciudad Juarez – have seen marked security improvements over the past three years. While the results have not eliminated the presence of organized crime, violence has diminished in these areas, providing some guidance as the country looks for longer-term and broader solutions.

“What everyone wants the government to do is to make sure that its security and justice systems are fair and safe,” says Duncan Wood, director of the Mexico Institute at the Wilson Center for International Scholars, a Washington-based think tank. “No one expects things to be fixed overnight but [the government] needs to show progress on its justice reform, police reform, and the transparency of its institutions.”

The Latin American Herald Tribune covers presidential disclosure:

Mexican President Reveals Personal Assets after Mansion Controversy

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has made public his personal assets, which includes income, properties and investments, in response to the controversy surrounding a luxurious mansion owned by his wife.

A declaration on the presidential website, dated May 14, 2014, reports an annual income from his government employment of 2.9 million pesos ($214,000).

It also reports an income of 211,350 pesos ($15,530) from financial activities and 249,982 pesos ($18,367) from other sources, amounting to a total of 3.4 million pesos (about $248,000) per year.

Peña Nieto also owns four homes, with the largest one having an area of 2,138 square meters (23,013 square feet), an apartment and four plots, one of them with a surface area of 58,657 square meters (631,379 square feet).

The declaration includes other assets such as works of art, jewelry and furniture worth about 7 million pesos (about $514,000), and several investments, including coins and metallic objects, worth 16.8 million pesos ($1.2 million).

Solidarity, via teleSUR English:

Bolivians march in solidarity with Mexico’s Ayotzinapa 43

Program notes:

Students and teachers from the San Andres University in La Paz, Bolivia today marched and demonstrated in Solidarity with Mexico’s 43 Ayotzinapa teaching college students who were kidnapped by corrupt police in late September, never to be seen again. In a gruesome reminder of the confession made by criminal gang members arrested for the crime who claim to have killed and burned the students, before placing them in plastic bags and tossing them into a river, some demonstrators enclosed themselves in plastic bags, creating a very vivid performance image for the protest.

California solidarity, from the Orange County Register:

Protesters in Santa Ana march for missing students in Mexico

  • More than 100 gather in solidarity with activists south of the border

Peaceful protesters on Thursday – the day that marks the anniversary of the Mexican Revolution – gathered at Cabrillo Park. They carried signs reading “Your pain is our pain” and marched to the Mexican Consulate on Fourth Street.

Many demonstrators were young Orange County residents with roots in Mexico. Others talked about immigrating here from Mexico decades ago.

“We are tired. That’s why we come here from our countries. We come here because of the situation back home. … It’s the reality,” said David Rodriguez, 55, a Huntington Beach resident from Michoacan, Mexico.

“My kids, they feel like Mexico is their country, too, and they say, ‘How can a nation be in that state?’” Rodriguez said.

And from teleSUR English, Mexico as a failed security state:

Interviews from Mexico – Public Security

Program notes:

Interviews from Mexico, hosted by Laura Carlsen, goes straight to the source — the men and women making news and making history in Mexico and throughout the region. Today’s program focus is on the ever-present and increasingly important problem of public security in Mexico. Carlsen interviews John Bailey, emeritus professor at Georgetown University in Governance and Foreign Service and author of the recently published book “The Politics of Crime in Mexico: Democratic Governance in a Security Trap.”