Author Archives: richardbrenneman

InSecurityWatch: Threats, ISIS, hacks, cops, spies


Plus a whole lot more. . .

We begin with bodacious bluster via the Japan Times:

North Korea warns of wiping Japan ‘off world map’ over U.N. resolution

North Korea on Sunday denounced a recent U.N. resolution condemning its human rights violations, warning of retaliation against Japan and other sponsor countries.

“We will take toughest counteraction” against the United States, and “Japan, too, can never escape this toughest counteraction,” the North Korean National Defense Commission said in a statement, Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency reported.

“Japan should bear in mind that if it continues behaving as now, it will disappear from the world map for good, not just remaining a near yet distant country,” the statement continued.

More from Punch Nigeria:

N’Korea furious over UN human rights ruling

North Korea’s top military body has warned of “catastrophic consequences” for supporters of the latest United Nations censure on its human rights record, as state media reported leader Kim Jong-Un presided over fresh military drills.

A resolution asking the UN Security Council to refer North Korea’s leadership to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for possible charges of “crimes against humanity” passed by a resounding vote of 111 to 19 with 55 abstentions in a General Assembly human rights committee last week.

Introduced by Japan and the European Union and co-sponsored by some 60 nations, the resolution drew heavily on the work of a UN inquiry which concluded in February that the North was committing human rights abuses “without parallel in the contemporary world”.

On to the war of the moment, via the Associated Press:

Islamic State group recruits, exploits children

Teenagers carrying weapons stand at checkpoints and busy intersections in Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul. Patched onto the left arms of their black uniforms are the logos of the Islamic Police.

In Raqqa, the Islamic State group’s de facto capital in Syria, boys attend training camp and religious courses before heading off to fight. Others serve as cooks or guards at the extremists’ headquarters or as spies, informing on people in their neighborhoods.

Across the vast region under IS control, the group is actively conscripting children for battle and committing abuses against the most vulnerable at a young age, according to a growing body of evidence assembled from residents, activists, independent experts and human rights groups.

From Deutsche Welle, German recruits:

German intelligence: Dozens of Germans killed fighting for ‘IS’

German intelligence sources say some 60 Germans have died fighting for the jihadist group “Islamic State.” Many others have returned from conflict zones in Syria and Iraq – and now pose a threat at home.

At least 60 Germans have died fighting alongside militants from the jihadist group “Islamic State” (IS) with at least nine being killed in suicide attacks, Germany’s domestic intelligence chief Hans-Georg Maassen said in an interview published Sunday.

Maassen told the weekly Bild am Sonntag that some 550 radical German Islamists had gone to conflict regions in Syria and Iraq to help IS in an offensive that has seen the group capture large amounts of territory in both countries in recent months.

German authorities were increasingly concerned about the high figure, which had gone up more rapidly in the past six weeks, he said, calling it “a sad success for Islamist propaganda.”

The London Telegraph covers those from Britain:

Muslim MP: 2,000 Britons fighting for Islamic State

Labour MP Khalid Mahmood says 2,000 jihadists have travelled to Syria and Iraq from the UK – a fourfold increase on official estimates

As many as 2,000 Britons are fighting alongside Islamist militants in Syria and Iraq, a senior Muslim MP has claimed.

Officials had suggested that the number of British jihadists within the ranks of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) and other terrorist groups was about 500.

However, Khalid Mahmood, the Labour MP for Birmingham Perry Barr, a constituency with a significant number of Muslims, has suggested this was a fourfold underestimate of the number of British jihadists fighting in the region.

“The authorities say there are 500 British jihadists but the likely figure is at least three to four times that,” he said. “I think 2,000 is a better estimate. My experience in Birmingham is it is a huge, huge problem.”

And the Guardian covers the inevitable:

Increased terror threat is stretching resources, says Met police chief

  • Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe says security services have halted four or five plots this year, as terrorism awareness campaign begins

Security services have foiled four or five terrorist plots this year and the threat is increasing, Britain’s top policeman has said.

Metropolitan police commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe said the heightened threat was putting pressure on resources and hinted that he expects the government to increase funding in the autumn statement.

The comments, in an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr show, came before the launch of a nationwide terrorism awareness campaign. Officers will be briefing more than 6,000 people at 80 venues including schools, universities, airports, shopping centres, cinemas and farms in a bid to engage the public and businesses in preventing attacks.

From TheLocal.fr, a French recruit:

Armed Isis Islamist grew up in small French village

One of three Kalashnikov-wielding Islamists seen burning their French passports in an Islamic State propaganda video this week grew up in a small village in southern France, the mayor said Saturday.

The 26-year-old, who goes by the name of Abou Ossama Al-Faranci in the Internet video, left the village of some 1,400 people five years ago, residents told the newspaper La Depeche du Midi.

The bearded blue-eyed man seen in the footage urging Muslims to stage attacks in France was reported to have gone to school in the village and have converted to Islam, studying the Koran in a Muslim centre in a private home.

And from TheLocal.se, the Swedish contingent:

Up to 300 Swedes fighting with Isis: report

As many as 300 Swedes could have joined the Islamic State insurgency, Sweden’s intelligence chief said Saturday.

“A hundred cases of people who have left to join the fighting have been confirmed, then there are the presumed cases…, and then there are those that have not been counted, which brings the total to between 250 and 300,” said the head of the intelligence services, Anders Thornberg, on Sveriges Radio.

Thornberg said the flow of youths leaving to become jihadists in Syria was rapidly rising.

“A certain number of young Swedish men are leaving and training in camps, learning to become terrorists to use explosives and weapons,” he said.

And from north of the U.S. border via CBC’s The National:

Canadians volunteer to fight ISIS

Program notes:

Canadian volunteers have joined the ground war against ISIS. Are their actions legal? And would they fire at a radicalized Canadian?

While the Diplomat covers other Asian concerns:

Islamic State and a South Asian Caliphate

Islamic State has its eyes on South and Southeast Asia. The threat is long-term, but should not be ignored.

Although Islamic State’s ultimate aspirations are unrealistic, some of its targets in Asia are vulnerable, most notably that cradle and crucible of terrorism on the continent, Pakistan. Bordering Afghanistan, where terrorist violence is already resurgent with NATO thinning out, Pakistan is a promising base for Islamic State in South Asia. It also offers a huge bonanza that Islamist movements would willingly bleed for: nuclear weapons.

Although Pakistan’s nuclear weapons are guarded by a professional army, the degree to which the Pakistan Army itself has been radicalized is not easily quantifiable. After all, this is the same Army that sends its officers for tenures in the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). Whether these officers return to the army with or without any radical leanings is anyone’s guess.

Pakistan-based terror groups seem to be leaning more and more towards Islamic State. Tehrik-e-Taliban, Pakistan (TTP) is a fractured entity today. More and more of its members are openly declaring their allegiance to Islamic State. The recluse Taliban supremo, Mullah Omar, and the staid al-Qaeda leader Ayman al Jawahri are losing ground.

Afghanistan also offers fertile ground for terror. The Afghanistan Taliban shares with Islamic State a strategic approach in which both prefer control and domination of territory as the prime objective. However, the Afghanistan Taliban would like to retain its primacy in Afghanistan. It may not want to be an Islamic State surrogate. Its long association with al-Qaeda is another obstacle.

Unrest in France from the Guardian:

Protesters clash with police in France over young activist killed by grenade

  • Remi Fraisse, 21, was killed by a so-called ‘offensive grenade’ during a standoff between police and opponents of a dam project

Protesters clashed with police in southern France on Saturday over the death of a young activist killed by a police grenade, in the latest of a series of demonstrations which have embarrassed the Socialist government.

At least 16 people were arrested in Toulouse after garbage containers were set on fire and bus stops smashed on the margins of an otherwise peaceful march where demonstrators held placards reading “end to the licence to kill”.

Remi Fraisse, 21, was killed last month by a so-called “offensive grenade” during a standoff between police and opponents of a dam project in wetlands near Toulouse. Interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve later ordered these devices banned.

From RT, Falangist frolics:

Far-right Spaniards mark anniversary of General Franco’s death

Hundreds of far-right activists gathered in Madrid center to commemorate the anniversary of the death of General Franco. Fascist symbols were seen at the rally which praised the late dictator.

Around 300 far-right activists gathered on Orient Square in Central Madrid on Sunday to commemorate the 39th anniversary of the death of the fascist dictator and Falange party’s leader Francisco Franco. The general died on November 20, 1975.

Organized by several far-right political parties and nationalist organizations including Nudo Patriota Espanol, Movimiento Catolico Espanol and Patriotas, the event also marked the anniversary of the death of Jose Primo de Rivera, the founder of Falange Espanola who was executed by the Spanish republican government on November 20, 1936. Falange Espanola, created in 1933, was a nationalist party inspired by Italian fascism.

More questions about an Old Blighty coverup, via the Independent:

Child abuse cases are ‘tip of the iceberg’ in sexual exploitation of young people, said Theresa May

The cases of child abuse exposed so far are only the “tip of the iceberg” of the extent of sexual exploitation of young people, the Home Secretary Theresa May has warned.

Ms May spoke of her dismay over the number of abusers who have been able to operate with impunity both in the past and today.

She said it was impossible to assess whether the activities of a paedophile ring involving senior figures in public life were covered up in the 1980s, but insisted an independent inquiry into historical sex abuse would establish the full facts.

“It’s not possible to say whether there was a cover-up, that is why I think it is so important we have the inquiry so we get at the truth,” she told the Andrew Marr Show.

From the Los Angeles Times, misconduct afloat:

Captain of San Diego-based warship relieved of duty

The captain of one of the Navy’s premier warships has been relieved of command after an investigation found that he routinely used foul and abusive language toward crew members and engaged in inappropriate touching and questioning of women.

Capt. Wayne Brown was relieved as commander of the San Diego-based amphibious assault ship Boxer after an investigation concluded that he had “lost the respect, trust and confidence of his subordinates” because of his temper and his behavior toward female crew members that included touching and also asking them whether they were using birth control with their husbands or boyfriends, according to the investigative report.

Brown created a “hostile, offensive and intimidating work environment,” according to the investigation that was undertaken after complaints from enlisted personnel and junior officers.

From BBC News, superbug:

Regin, new computer spying bug, discovered by Symantec

A leading computer security company says it has discovered one of the most sophisticated pieces of malicious software ever seen.

Symantec says the bug, named Regin, was probably created by a government and has been used for six years against a range of targets around the world. Once installed on a computer, it can do things like capture screenshots, steal passwords or recover deleted files.

Experts say computers in Russia, Saudi Arabia and Ireland have been hit most. It has been used to spy on government organisations, businesses and private individuals, they say.

Hacks in China, from Want China Times:

Domain names in China hacked by overseas IPs

Nearly 60% of dot-com domain names in China were hijacked by backdoor programs in the first half of 2014 and 48.8% of them were controlled by overseas IP addresses, the Beijing-based China Securities Journal reports.

Huang Chengqing, director of China’s National Computer Network Emergency Response Technical Team/Coordination Center of China (CNCERT or CNCERT/CC) disclosed the statistics at a forum on cyber security at the World Internet Conference (WIC) in Wuzhen, Zhejiang province on Nov. 20.

Domain names are the addresses websites use to allow internet users to find them. When one gets hijacked, the person looking for that site gets redirected to a site controlled by hackers. In many cases though, hackers can be traced back to their IP address or special idenifier each computer has.

After the jump, Chilean colonels convicted of torturing a presidential father, a controversial Israeli redefinition, an Israel warning to France over Palestinian recognition, an Israeli solder busted, a British arms sale exposed, China seeks stronger security ties with Egypt as Cairo tightens the reins of internal repression, Iranian nuclear deal hits stumbling blocks as Kerry pushes against the deadline, on to China and a military espionage arrest, an academic’s prison sentence upheld, new China missile can reach the U.S., China seeks insular partnerships while Uncle Sam objects to one Chinese insular development as a Chinese officer gives the rationale, Coast Guard militarization, and another press prosecution. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Outbreaks, volcanoes, fuel, more


We begin with preparations from the Associated Press:

US looking past Ebola to prepare for next outbreak

The next Ebola or the next SARS. Maybe even the next HIV. Even before the Ebola epidemic in West Africa is brought under control, public health officials are girding for the next health disaster.

“It’s really urgent that we address the weak links and blind spots around the world,” Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told The Associated Press. “Ebola is a powerful reminder that a health threat anywhere can affect us.”

Ebola sprang from one of those blind spots, in an area that lacks the health systems needed to detect an outbreak before it becomes a crisis. Now the Obama administration has requested $600 million for the CDC to implement what it calls the Global Health Security Agenda, working with an international coalition to shore up disease detection in high-risk countries and guard against the next contagion.

And on to a European outbreak with TheLocal.dk:

Denmark closely eyeing German bird flu case

After a worrying new strain of bird flu was found in northern Germany not far from Denmark, Danish officials say they are watching the situation closely but have not raised national threat levels.

The German agriculture ministry said on Saturday that a goose with the highly pathogenic H5N8 strain was identified in the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. The ministry told AFP that it marked the first case of the virus outside of a farm setting in Europe.

German officials say they have asked regional authorities to keep an “active watch” on wild birds, which means killing animals suspected of having the virus and conducting screening tests.

And a Swiss alert from TheLocal.ch:

Switzerland bans Dutch poultry imports

Switzerland is banning chicken imports from Britain and the Netherlands after Dutch officials said they detected bird flu on three more farms.

The Swiss move, announced on Friday, came into effect on Saturday and applies to live chickens and chicks as well as eggs from the affected zones in the two countries, the Federal Office for Food Security and Veterinary Affairs said.

Belgium meanwhile ordered poultry owners to confine their birds as a precautionary measure following the outbreak in neighbouring Holland.

The Dutch economic affairs ministry confirmed that a second bird flu outbreak detected on Thursday on a farm at Ter Aar, close to the first case east of The Hague, was the highly pathogenic H5N8 strain, previously detected only in Asia.

From the Los Angeles Times, a seismically alarming development:

Earthquake early alert system ready to expand in California

Officials are planning the first major rollout of California’s earthquake early warning system next year, providing access to some schools, fire stations and more private companies.

The ambitious plan highlights the progress scientists have made in building out the system, which can give as much as a minute of warning before a major earthquake is felt in metropolitan areas.

Until now, only academics, select government agencies and a few private firms have received the alerts. But officials said they are building a new, robust central processing system and now have enough ground sensors in the Los Angeles and San Francisco areas to widen access. They stressed the system is far from perfected but said expanded access will help determine how it works and identify problems.

From the Times, an example of how the system might work in esnl’s own back yard:

BLOG Quaker

From Science, chilling out, not eruptile dysfunction:

Thanks, volcanoes! Earth cooler than expected due to recent eruptions

Minor volcanic eruptions substantially slowed Earth’s warming between 2000 and 2013, a new study suggests. The small particles, or aerosols, were spewed high into the atmosphere and scattered sunlight back into space, preventing the global average temperature from rising from 0.05°C to 0.12°C. That cooling effect represents between 25% and 50% of the expected temperature rise during that period because of rising atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, the scientists say, so the finding helps explain the so-called hiatus in global warming over the last 15 years.

“This is an important paper,” says Brian Toon, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Colorado, Boulder. The team’s results “help us understand why Earth didn’t warm as much as expected by climate models in the past decade or so.”

Scientists have long known of the cooling effect of major volcanic eruptions, which spew large amounts of light-scattering aerosols into the stratosphere. The Philippines’ Mount Pinatubo, for example, cooled Earth by a few tenths of a degree Celsius for months after it blew its top in June 1991. But the chilling effect of minor eruptions has been hotly debated, says David Ridley, an atmospheric scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. That’s because scientists have presumed that most of the aerosols from minor eruptions do not rise beyond the troposphere, the layer of Earth’s atmosphere where weather occurs and where natural processes quickly clear particles from the atmosphere.

Making this, on balance, a positive development? From Reuters:

Cape Verde orders evacuation after Fogo volcano erupts

A volcano in the Cape Verde archipelago off the coast of West Africa erupted on Sunday morning, the prime minister said, calling for residents to evacuate.

A photograph posted on the local RTC TV station website showed a huge plume of smoke rising into the sky, visible from the capital Praia on a neighbouring island.

“Things could deteriorate in the coming moments, in the coming hours,” Jose Maria Neves in a statement on the government website.

“We’ve called on people to heed the authorities’ instructions. People should abandon Cha das Caldeiras,” he said referring to a hillside community.

And from Science, reporting from Norway on ominous portents:

Arctic faces an ice-pocalypse

Thick sheets of ice coating roads, homes, and pastures. Dead reindeer, no radio transmissions, and flights canceled for days. When ice came to this Arctic mining outpost on the Svalbard archipelago two winters ago, it crippled the community for weeks and devastated wildlife for months. Now, scientists are saying such weather extremes in the Arctic—known as rain-on-snow events—may become more frequent in the future.

“It’s hard to study extreme weather events, which by definition are rare,” says ecologist Brage Hansen of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim. “So we took the opportunity in 2012.”

Brage and his co-authors focused on the rainy warm spell that brought record-high temperatures and prolonged rain to Svalbard over 2 weeks in January and February 2012. Temperatures during that period were routinely 20°C higher than normal, and on one day, the study notes, a Svalbard weather station recorded a daily average temperature of 4°C, which was “higher than at any weather station in mainland Norway on that day.” Another Svalbard station recorded 272 mm of rain during the 2 weeks; that station’s average for the whole year is 385 mm.

And from the Los Angeles Times, adapting to drought in Wine Country:

Drought revives ‘forgotten art’ at wineries: Farming without irrigation

Everyone used to dry farm wine grapes until the late 1970s, when irrigation was introduced. Dry farmed wines put California on the global map by winning a seminal blind tasting test in 1976 called the “Judgment of Paris.”

Today, only a handful of producers continue the tradition — and only where there’s just enough rain. Adherents are discovering revived interest in the practice now that California’s $23-billion wine industry is facing an emerging water crisis of historic proportions.

“It’s like a forgotten art,” said Frank Leeds, head of vineyard operations for Frog’s Leap Winery in Rutherford, a leading dry farm and organic wine producer in Napa Valley. “There’s very few guys that dry farm and less guys that actively dry farm. It’s easier, I’m sure, to turn on the tap.”

Leeds estimates that up to 85% of Napa Valley has enough rain to practice dry farming. But it’s hardly an option in Temecula, or in the largely bone-dry San Joaquin Valley, which produces more than 70% of the state’s wine.

Another drought impact from the Contra Costa Times:

EBMUD looking at rate hike if there’s no rain

Saying it is “at risk of running out of water” without a rainy season, the East Bay’s largest water provider is looking to hike rates by 14 percent next month to pay for an emergency supply — and may consider boosting the surcharge to 20 or 25 percent in the spring.

Unless it rains and snows a lot soon, East Bay Municipal Utility District managers say the surcharge will be necessary to buy, pump and treat the emergency water from Freeport a few miles south of Sacramento.

The higher charges would go into effect on or around Jan. 2 for the district’s 1.3 million customers in Contra Costa and Alameda counties. The surcharge will be considered on Dec. 9 at EBMUD headquarters in Oakland.

From Want China Times, the high cost of development:

Coal killed 670,000 in China in 2012: report

Coal was the major contributor to the death of 670,000 people and 535.2 billion yuan (US$87 million) in economic losses in China in 2012, according to a report cited in Shanghai-based outlet the Paper.

The results were gleaned from a government research project on coal consumption control and policy that was carried out by Pan Xiaochuan, a professor at Peking University’s School of Public Health in Beijing, and 22 Chinese national and environmental government agencies since October 2013.

Electricity and heat-producing industries, boilers, non-metal mineral processing and ferrous smelting emitted 21 million tons of sulfur dioxide, 23 million tons of nitrogen oxide and 12 tons of smog, powder and dust in China in 2012, which formed the bulk of the country’s pollutants. The PM2.5 particles produced by coal processing amounted to 61% of the pollutants.

The PM2.5 particles are the real killers, according to previous studies of Pan. The professor found that 670,000 people died of diseases related to the fine particles, of which 350,000 died of coronary atherosclerotic heart disease, 170,000 were killed by stroke, 84,000 by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and 65,000 by lung cancer. The majority of deaths occurred in provinces and regions where the coal industry is most heavily concentrated.

Occupational diseases within the coal industry numbered 116,000 between 2008 and 2012. More than 94,000, or 82%, suffered from coalminer’s pneumoconiosis.

Economic losses from mining amounted to 2.2 billion yuan (US$359 million) directly and 3.3 billion yuan (US$538 million) indirectly.

Coal consideration in Germany from TheLocal.de:

Germany debates scrapping coal power

After deciding to scrap nuclear power, Germany is pondering saying goodbye to coal, its biggest energy source but also its top polluter and main threat to ambitious climate goals.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government is split on the issue, which pits a vocal environmental movement against energy giants and coal mining regions, with only weeks until her cabinet is set to present its next climate action plan.

Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks has said that if Europe’s biggest economy doesn’t reduce coal use, it has no chance of meeting its 2020 target of cutting Earth-warming carbon emissions by 40 percent from three decades earlier.

After the jump, more environmental woes in China, another British fracking controversy, Shell’s Nigerian oil spill lies exposed, on to Fukushimapocalpyse Now! with a nuclear life extension deliberation and a consolidation of political power, the latest on containment in Chernobyl, and a possible end to a Darwinian legacy. . . Continue reading

EbolaWatch: Caution, false alarms, politics. . .


A slow news day, so straight ahead we go, first with an assessment from USA Today:

War against Ebola in West Africa remains a tough fight

A snapshot of the Ebola epidemic raging across West Africa shows a wildfire of infections only slightly contained.

While cases have been on the decline in Liberia, the outbreak is worsening in neighboring countries, where basic Ebola-fighting tools are impractical.

Identifying the infected and those they’ve touched, and isolating them to break the transmission chain are all but impossible in Sierra Leone’s capital of Freetown as well as the jungles of Guinea, says Jordan Tappero, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s second-in-command for the regional response.

The new surge of Ebola in Sierra Leone follows a devastating one in Monrovia two months ago. Such a furious spread is something disease trackers say they’ve never seen in the 38 years since the virus was first identified.

The latest domestic false alarm from ABC News:

2 Children Test Negative for Ebola in Ohio

Two young children who were admitted to an Ohio hospital today after they developed fevers following a trip to West Africa have tested negative for Ebola, health officials said.

Two sisters, ages 4 and 6, were taken to Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus early this morning after they showed signs of a fever, Jose Rodriguez, director of public affairs and communications for the Columbus Public Health Department, said today.

Instead, the girls tested positive for Influenza A, Rodriguez said.

Before the test results came back, the two were kept in isolation and received supportive care, Jose Rodriguez, director of public affairs and communications for the Columbus Public Health Department, said today.

From KNOE News in Monroe, Louisiana, an interesting development:

CDC sends out Ebola guidelines to funeral homes

  • The Centers for Disease Control has issued guidelines to U.S. funeral homes on how to handle the remains of Ebola patients.

Mulhearn Funeral Home in Monroe confirms they’ve gotten a three-page list of recommendations from the CDC. Among the guidelines, funeral workers are instructed to wear protective gear when handling the remains, since Ebola can be transmitted postmortem. Funeral homes are also told to avoid autopsies and embalming.

According to the Associated Press, Governor Bobby Jindal is urging the Obama Administration to block flights coming into the United States from Ebola-stricken countries.

Friday, Jindal said, “Even countries in Africa have cut back on or stopped accepting flights from countries with Ebola outbreaks.”

Kyodo News cover Asian agreement:

Japan, China, S. Korea agree on Ebola cooperation

The health ministers of Japan, China and South Korea said Sunday they will collaborate closely in preventing Ebola and other deadly diseases from entering their borders.

The trilateral meeting was held in Beijing at a time of tentative signs of a slight improvement in Japan’s relations with China and South Korea, which have been severely strained over territorial and wartime issues.

Despite Japan’s political difficulties with its two neighboring countries, the health ministers agreed to boost countermeasures for the Ebola outbreak and other types of diseases, including pandemic influenza.

On to Liberia and a sad development from FrontPageAfrica:

Infighting in Response Efforts as GoL Unveils Ebola Spending

Though the deadly Ebola outbreak continues to see improvement for several weeks now, the response seems to be marred by poor coordination and infighting between officials at the Ministry of health, donors and agencies helping with the response.

Minutes from the Incident Management Meeting obtained by FrontPageAfrica suggest that there are no data on the quality of contact tracing because the government is not doing it properly and people are going back to treating people in their homes.

Experts believe the government is not taking the issue of contact tracing seriously as it should be doing. Richard Ragan of the United Nations Emergency Ebola Response UNMEER, says: “You always report on suspect cases, but tracking the suspect cases from day to day – what percentage of the suspect cases become actual cases?”

The World Health Organization during the meeting responded to the question, saying: “Give me a functioning database, and I could tell you – but right now, I can’t answer that. There are very important quality improvement activities needed.”

From the African Union, a welcome:

African Union Welcomes Plans by the People’s Republic of China to Build a Hospital in Liberia

AU Commission Chairperson, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma has welcomed the announcement by the People’s Republic of China that it will build a 100-bed medical centre in Liberia.

This will add to the Ebola treatment infrastructure already being put in place by the USA, France, the United Kingdom and other donor countries in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, addressing the much needed bed-shortage identified as a key constraint in halting and reversing the trajectory of the epidemic.

This latest announcement follows other contributions made by the People’s Republic of China to the Ebola efforts in Africa, including donating medical equipment and personal protective equipment (PPEs), the deployment of Chinese medical personnel and aid personnel, providing food assistance and financial donations to the three affected countries. This is in addition to the financial contribution of USD$2 million China has already made to AU Support to Ebola Outbreak in West Africa mission (ASEOWA) and other support given to the World Health Organisation and to the UNMEER.

Finally, from Agence France-Presse, agricultural woes:

Ebola-hit Sierra Leone’s late cocoa leaves bitter taste

Program notes:

The arable district of Kenema in Sierra Leone — at the centre of the Ebola outbreak in May — has been under quarantine for three months as the cocoa harvest comes in.

MexicoWatch: Graves, arrests, anger, context


We begin with the latest body discovers in the search for 43 missing college students apparently abducted on orders of a cartel-running mayor, via teleSUR:

More Mass Graves in Mexican Search for Missing Students

Human bones were found by civilians and non governmental organizations inside the four mass graves.

Civilians and nongovernmental organizations in Mexico found four more mass graves Sunday, as part of the search efforts to locate the 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Teacher Training College that went missing after being detained by Iguala police on the night of September 26.

Since that date, more than 15 mass graves and dozens of bodies have been found. However, none of the remains found as of yet have been linked to the missing students.

The most recent mass graves were found in La Laguna, just west of Iguala, the place where federal authorities say police officers shot at several buses that were transporting the students, killing three of them along with another three civilians, before handing over the survivors to a local gang.

And from VICE News, the latest on those arrested in Mexico City during a day oif protest on the anniversary of the Mexican Revolution:

Mexico Moves Detained Protesters to Maximum Security Prisons

Mexican authorities have placed 11 people in maximum security prisons for protesting the disappearance of 43 teaching students in the country.

The detained protesters — mostly students who were arrested Thursday during a massive demonstration in Mexico City — are currently accused of attempted homicide, criminal association, and mutiny, local outlets reported. The Mexico City protest turned violent when protesters began throwing Molotov cocktails and burning an effigy of President Enrique Peña Nieto.

But the families of the detained students said police had arbitrarily arrested and hit them, and that the group had been prohibited from hiring a lawyer other than the government’s public defense attorney.

Human rights defenders also denounced the drastic measure, and a lawyer for Mexico’s Institute for Human Rights and Democracy requested that the government share videos that prove the protesters are indeed guilty. The lawyer, Alejandra Jimenez, said the government had attempted to “criminalize” the protests by imprisoning the demonstrators.

More from Fox News Latino:

Arrests at Mexican protest over missing students draw criticism from human rights group

Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office announced Saturday that eight men and three women, who face charges including attempted homicide, were being held at prisons in the states of Nayarit and Veracruz that normally house dangerous inmates.

The 11 were among tens of thousands of people who gathered in Mexico City’s main plaza to demand justice in the disappearance and apparent killing of 43 students from a rural teachers college.

Alejandro Jimenez of the non-governmental Mexican Institute of Human Rights and Democracy accused authorities of attempting to “criminalize” civil protest and of using the prison system for “political use.”

A graphic response to the change of prisons from Mexico Herido:

BLOG Mexico

The accompanying text:

The world must know!

Today 11 students illegally arrested on november 20th during the demonstratio #20novmx are being transfered to the High Security Federal Prisons in Nayarit and Veracruz states. (7 and 5 hours from mexico city)

General Attornye’s Office (PGR) is violating their rights and the due process in the Judicial Trials.

Also, they’ve been beaten, most of them are pacific students, some of them were taken form restaurants where they’ve been all night, there are tons of videos of this, you can look around, please HELP US SPREAD THE WORD!

Green Left Weekly covers solidarity:

Global protests support students’ campaign for justice

November 20 is the day the 1910-20 Mexican Revolution is officially commemorated. However, normal celebrations were suspended in light of the protests. Protesters are demanding the students be returned alive and are calling on President Enrique Pena Nieto to resign.

That day, actions were held around the world in solidarity with protesters. “Mexico, the world is watching over you,” said the banner of a flash mob gathered at Lille, France.

Meanwhile, students at the University of Nottingham held a silent march inside the university dressed in black and holding banners with different messages under the refrain: “It’s not only 43.”

One banner said: “It’s not only 43. It’s the 22,322 missing people since 2006.”

Protesters also marched in London and students gathered across Germany also gathered to support the Mexican demands for justice. Protesters were held in Barcelona and Madrid in Spain. Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, a Mexican football player playing for Real Madrid, tweeted “#WeAreAllAyotzinapa” and “#UnitedForAyotzinapa”.

There were also actions in Amsterdam, Hong Kong, New York, New Delhi and Melbourne. Demonstrations took place right across Latin America, with thousands of people marching in La Paz in Bolivia.

From teleSUR, a criticism for another president:

Uruguay’s Mujica Says Mexico Resembles a Failed State

  • The Uruguayan president said that events like those in Ayotzinapa are due to the “mass corruption” in Mexico.

Uruguay’s outspoken President, Jose ´Pepe´ Mujica likened Mexico to a “failed state with public powers that are totally out of control and decayed.”

Mujica made the remarks during an interview with Foreign Affairs when questioned about the case of 43 missing students in the violence-wracked country.

The Uruguayan president said that events like those in Ayotzinapa are due to the “mass corruption” in Mexico.

“Seen from a distance I think corruption is established as a tacit social custom. Most likely corrupt people aren’t frowned upon; on the contrary, they’re seen like winners; like splendid people. If it’s like that we’re screwed,” he said.

euronews has the predictable response:

Mexico summons Uruguay ambassador over president’s comments on missing students

Mexico said on Sunday it was summoning Uruguay’s ambassador after Uruguayan President Jose Mujica said that the disappearance of 43 students in southwest Mexico suggests the country is a failed state.

The students, who were likely murdered, were abducted by rogue Mexican police in league with gangs, fuelling nationwide protests and creating a political crisis for Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto.

“It gives one the sense, seen from a distance, that this is a kind of failed state, in which public authorities have completely lost control,” Mujica said in an interview with Foreign Affairs Latin America that was published on Friday.

Mexico’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement it was “surprised and categorically rejects some of the comments expressed in the interview.”

From ThinkMexican, another perspective:

#FueElEstado: How the Mexican Government Is Guilty of State Crime in Ayotzinapa Case

The Mexican government is undertaking radical reforms favoring private investors at a blitzkrieg pace. Dismantling public institutions in this manner has a destabilizing effect on the Mexican public’s ability to sustain themselves, diminishes our quality of life and has led to our mass economic migration to Western countries. Like the ongoing privatization of PEMEX and recent attempt to narrow curriculum at the Instituto Politécnico Nacional, the attack on Ayoztinapa students intended to cripple their ability to fulfill fundamental educational and social needs in rural Mexico. Perhaps the thinking was that once the students were placed into a more precarious position, the Mexican State could advance a ‘solution’ in the form of technocratic educational reforms. Therefore, we believe that the attacks in Iguala, Guerrero, on September 26, 2014, were motivated by the federal government’s desire to advance radical economic and educational reforms without opposition.

The Mexican government’s attack against Ayotzinapa students was an extremely flagrant human rights violation. In fact, the National Commission of Human Rights in Mexico has enough evidence to call it a ‘forced disappearance.’ The Ayotzinapa case ranks high in depravity even when comparing its details to other well documented state crimes. In recent memory, attacks against Mexican social activists, students and other civilians have risen in frequency and sophistication, involving coordination between multiple state actors. Along with these acts of state sponsored terrorism, there exist media narratives that serve to justify or absolve state complicity in these violent acts.

Initially, the attack on the Ayotzinapa students was justified in the name of law and order by some local media outlets The attacks against the Ayotzinapa students were first presented as simply heavy handed acts by the police on unruly students. Fortunately, the students had documented the violence and had anticipated omissions and defamation (see timeline). This is partly why the students were able to strongly declare that they were targets and victims of state repression, a point now well understood globally.

And from teleSUR, parents speak:

Parents of Mexican Missing Students Speak at Calle 13 Concert

  • The Puerto Rican music group also joined in solidarity with Ayotzinapa during the Latin Grammy Awards on November 20.

The Puerto Rican duo, Calle 13, allowed some parents of the 43 missing students of Ayotzinapa to deliver speeches during their concert in Mexico City Saturday night.

René “Residente” Pérez announced Saturday at a press conference that although the Mexican laws do not allow him, being a foreigner, to speak against Mexican politics and policies, he would allow Mexicans — the parents of the missing students — to speak about the issue, and he did.

“I met with a father and a mother of a missing student and the story of their sons was very moving; since I recently became a father it was heartbreaking, I support these causes because I can’t avoid doing it, it is my duty. For me it is impossible to be on a stage and not mentioning these situations in Latin-America […] I will not speak tonight at the stage, the Mexicans will,” said “Residente” Perez.

We close with an important reminder that “disappeared” students have a long history under Mexican PRI governments. The video describes the 8 October 1968 massacre of students at the Tlatelolco plaza in the center of Mexico City.

Via the fereesayn2k14 Tumblr:

Masacre en Tlatelolco, 2 De octubre 1968

Program notes:

2 De octubre 1968

DIRECTED BY.: Alan Tomlinson

CINEMATOGRAPHY.: Eduardo Flores Torres TATO

Map of the day: Your mother, in very high def


Yep, Mother Earth as you’ve never seen her before, and in 2160p resolution if you click that little gear and set it that high.

Created by James Tyrwhitt-Drake from images captured by the Russian Elektro-L weather satellite, the animation is truly spectacular and a reminder that we all share the same small planet.

From James Tyrwhitt-Drake:

Planet Earth in 4K

Program notes:

A timelapse of Earth in 4K resolution, as imaged by the geostationary Elektro-L weather satellite, from May 15th to May 19th, 2011. Elektro-L is located ~40,000 km above the Indian ocean, and it orbits at a speed that causes it to remain over the same spot as the Earth rotates. The satellite creates a 121 megapixel image (11136×11136 pixels) every 30 minutes with visible and infrared light wavelengths. The images were edited to adjust levels and change the infrared channel from orange to green to show vegetation more naturally. The images were resized by 50%, misalignments between frames were manually corrected, and image artifacts that occurred when the camera was facing towards the sun were partially corrected. The images were interpolated by a factor of 20 to create a smooth animation. The animation was rendered in the Youtube 4K UHD resolution of 3840×2160. An original animation file with a resolution of (5568×5568) is available on request.

To answer frequently asked questions; why are city lights, the Sun, and other stars not visible? City lights are not visible because they are thousands of times less bright than the reflection of sunlight off the Earth. If the camera was sensitive enough to detect city lights, the Earth would be overexposed. The Sun is not visible due to mechanisms used to protect the camera CCD from direct exposure to sunlight. A circular mask on the CCD ensures that only the Earth is visible. This mask can be seen as pixelation on Earth’s horizon. The mask also excludes stars from view, although they would not be bright enough to be visible to this camera.

Image Credit: NTs OMZ (http://eng.ntsomz.ru/electro).
Image processing by James Tyrwhitt-Drake

Chart of the day: The global demographic shift


From the Economist, a stunning shift in the human demographic is underway as birth rates slow and populations age, thanks to modern medicine. Click on the image to embiggen:

BLOG Population

Mike Sandoval: The two faces of a president


An emblematic magazine cover featuring Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto gets a makeover from artist/illustrator Mike Sandoval:

BLOG Penatoon