Category Archives: Corpocracy

EbolaWatch: Devastation, aid, labor, & politics


We begin today’s compendium with a stunning graphic from the World Bank, revealing the extent of the devastation the disease has wrought to one country’s working class:

BLOG Ebola jobless

From the News in Monrovia, Liberia, critical context:

‘Dumpsite Food’ Eaters

Residents of a community outside Buchanan, Grand Bassa County, known as ‘Own your Own’ are said to be surviving on food from dump sites in the county.

The area is where Arcelormittal and other concession companies are operating. These companies dispose spoiled foods in the dump sites just opposite the Ebola Treatment Unit constructed by the United States Government.

Some of the citizens and residents who spoke to our reporter said the dump site has been their source for food for the past seven years.

Our reporter who recently returned from the county said most of the citizens using the dump site for survival are women and children.

Meanwhile, returning American sailors smile through quarantine, via the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

Seabees’ morale high despite long Ebola quarantine, congressman says

There were no hugs or handshakes just in case Ebola germs lurked, but Rep. Steven Palazzo found 15 Navy Seabees from Mississippi in “good spirits” Friday as they waited out a 21-day isolation period at Virginia’s Langley Air Force Base after a seven-week stint building treatment facilities in disease-ravaged Liberia.

“Everybody had a smile on his face,” Palazzo said.

The Seabees “were nowhere near any of the Ebola victims or the medical personnel that were treating them” while working in Monrovia and even had “limited involvement” with Liberians in the community who had been found free of the disease, he said.

While Reuters covers critical quarantine questions:

US quarantine moves hurting Ebola response in Africa -Harvard

Moves by some U.S. states to isolate medical workers returning from fighting Ebola in West Africa could worsen the global health crisis by discouraging badly needed new volunteers, according to health experts at Harvard University.

Ebola has killed more than 5,450 people in West Africa since March in the disease’s worst outbreak on record, striking hardest in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, which are among the world’s least developed countries.

“By far and away what is needed most in West Africa are care providers who can help,” Paul Biddinger, director of the Harvard School of Public Health Emergency Preparedness Program, said during a panel discussion about the disease on Tuesday.

But “because of a fear of stigma, of being involuntarily quarantined … people don’t want to necessarily subject themselves to this, and that is tragic.”

From Agence France-Presse, a video about a video:

African celebrities in Ebola campaign video

Program notes:

African celebrities have called for action against Ebola in a video produced by the ONE Campaign.

Next, a warning from the United Nations Development Program:

Ebola crisis may result in more hunger: UNDP study

Wild price swings caused by the Ebola health crisis are making it more difficult for households to feed themselves and make a stable living, according to a new study by the UN development programme.

“Border closures, movement restrictions and a slowdown in farming activity are shaking food  markets badly,” said Ayodele Odusola, Chief Economist at the Regional Bureau for Africa of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

“This could have a disastrous impact on households, both because farmers are unable to make a living and because families are finding very different prices on the local market from one day to the next. People living in rural and remote areas are feeling the impact of reduced purchasing power more than their urban counterparts,” he added.

Since the onset of the Ebola crisis, buying power went down by 20 percent in Sierra Leone and by more than 25 percent in Liberia. The study also found rural communities were worst affected, due to more expensive transport costs and dependency on declining farming incomes.  Reduced traffic has been observed in more than two-thirds of Liberia’s counties, for instance.

As a result, in October, Monrovians paid $17.5 for 25 kilograms of rice, while people in the Southeast paid $21.3 for the same quantity. Because Liberia and Sierra Leone depend on Guinea for food imports, their situation is particularly serious.

PCWorld covers another development:

Ebola speeds up educators’ embrace of tech in Sierra Leone, Liberia

The deadly Ebola outbreak has sparked some creative thinking among academic institutions and private education initiatives determined to reach out to students who have been hunkering down for months in Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Faced with a raging epidemic, the University of Sierra Leone plans to upload lecture notes on its website, send learning material through email and engage students through social media platforms like Whatsapp and Facebook. The 2014/2015 session, which should have begun Oct. 1, was postponed due to the Ebola outbreak.

Sierra Leone is one of the countries worst hit by the disease, which has already claimed over 5,000 lives in West Africa. Just last week, Sierra Leone recorded 435 new confirmed cases of Ebola and 110 confirmed deaths.

On to Mali with the Associated Press:

Mali confirms eighth Ebola case

Mali has confirmed a new case of Ebola, bringing to eight the number of people who have fallen ill with the deadly disease in the West African country.

A government statement issued Monday night said the patient had been placed in a treatment center.

All of Mali’s Ebola cases can be traced back to a 70-year-old imam who was brought to the country from Guinea, where the epidemic first began.

Six of Mali’s eight Ebola patients have died. The government said Saturday that another patient who tested positive was also receiving treatment and had been isolated.

From Voice of America’s TV2Africa, a video report on the course of the disease in Mali:

Mali Ebola

Program notes:

Almost a month after a 70-year-old Guinean Imam sought treatment at a clinic in Bamako, Mali is scrambling to stop a potential outbreak. Five people have died so far. A sixth related Ebola case was confirmed Saturday. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.

On to Liberia, first with FrontPageAfrica and another campaign launched:

Initiative Spearheads Setting up of Ebola Force on Reducing Denial

UNDP /Ministry of Health Community Based Initiative in the West Point Community District #4, has organized a meeting with the elder Council, the new Commissioner and the youth of West Point.

The meeting was part of efforts by Active Case Finders and Contact Tracers of West Point to facilitate the establishment of an Ebola Task Force to help mitigate the resurging denial of the Ebola Virus, stigma, and hiding of the sick.

An earlier meeting held with the elder council indicated that the people of West Point were hiding their sick because it was popularly believed that those who went to the ETUs never came back to their families. As a way of dispelling this belief, Active Case Finders providing services in the Community, identified 12 survivors from the West Point Community and presented them to the elder council.

The Inquirer covers a return:

Catholic Hosp. Reopens

The St. Joseph Catholic Hospital yesterday opened its doors to the public following months of closure as a result of the deadly Ebola virus outbreak which victimized a number of medical staff and missionaries.

The hospital’s re-opening was attended by a number of international Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs), the Catholic Church in Liberia and the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare.

The Human Resources Manager of the hospital, Mr. Joel N. Williams said the hospital attended to 23 patients yesterday but did not admit any because the reopening process will be carried out on a gradual basis.

Mr. Williams said the hospital is beginning its operations on a gradual basis by first reopening its Maternity ward with eight beds which will be increased on a weekly basis with the sponsorship of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

From the NewDawn, laying down the law:

MoH issues Ebola regulations

The Government of Liberia through the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare has set up anti-Ebola regulations to govern all citizens irrespective of status or affiliation.

Outgoing Health Minister, Dr. Walter T. Gwenigale, has mandated that all video clubs, night clubs or restaurants should have chlorinated water placed at the entrances of those businesses for hands washing, and everyone’s temperature should be taken, stressing that anyone with 37.5 degree Celsius should be denied entrance and considered an Ebola suspect.

Minister Gwenigale has also instructed that vehicles in Liberia should continue to carry three persons at the back seat until Ebola is eradicated here. He said no community should allow visitors from various counties, especially when the person is sick, adding that if any community has such case, it should be reported to community leaders, who will immediately inform health authorities.

From FrontPageAfrica, another hot zone:

Ebola Hotspot: Rural Rivercess Towns Ravaged by Virus Outbreak

Deplorable roads, lack of food and adequate awareness are massive challenges affecting efforts to contain the deadly Ebola virus that has killed more than 13 persons in Kinkayah Chiefdom, Nyorwein Administrative District in Rivercess County.

Residents in the area where authorities of the county have quarantined since the virus surfaced killing 13 people told FrontPage Africa they desperately need food in other to have the quarantine remain in force and at the same time support efforts to contain the virus in the area.

“Since the outbreak on October 21, the people abandon their farms and the whole chiefdom is being quarantine and there’s no food for them,” Augustus T. Yarpah, Speaker of the County Traditional council told FPA. He said MSF is doing well for the quarantine communities by giving treatment to people who are sick, but one of the problems is the lack of food for people in the whole of Kinkayah (Kayah for short) chiefdom especially in Gozohn Town.

After the jump, more from Liberia, including an instance of either irrationality or crime, good news from one region, quarantine for a banker, and the World Bank boosts its emergency funds to Monrovia, then on to Sierra Leone and quarantine regulation, emergency workers stage a gruesome job action and retribution follows, Nigerian medics head to Freetown, the extra burden faced by disabled students, and a crucial diagnosis is made. . . Continue reading

MexicoWatch: Bodies, politics, prison, & protests


Today’s post begins and ends with bodies, first in the form of a teleSUR English report on the latest DNA results from mass graves found in the region where the 43 missing college students disappeared:

Mexico: Forensic experts haven’t found remains of Ayotzinapa students

Program notes:

In Mexico, the Argentine team of forensic experts issued a statement in which it reported having identified the bodies of three people from an unmarked grave. However, none of those bodies belong to the students of the Ayotzinapa Rural Teacher Training College who are reported missing since September 26.

From teleSUR, motivation:

Mexican Students Want President to Resign, and Stability

Students respond to Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto after he said that protests are seeking to “destabilize” his government. They say, actually they want stability.

A group of graduate students from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) released a video Tuesday in response to recent statements by President Enrique Peña Nieto, who claimed that behind the protests to demand justice for the disappearance of 43 students of Ayotzinapa are groups trying to destabilize his government.

“They say that students want to destabilize the country. No Enrique, we want to stabilize the country,” said one of the students in a four-minute video that was uploaded on the YouTube channel of the UNAM General Assembly of Graduate Students.

They also added that this is a response to the president’s threats to use police force to repress social protests.

Reuters covers hints of a draconian crackdown to come:

Mexico’s embattled government poised to unveil law and order measures

Following mass protests in Mexico over the apparent massacre of 43 trainee teachers two months ago, the government will unveil measures this week designed to improve policing and fix a failing justice system, lawmakers said on Tuesday.

Senate leader Miguel Barbosa of the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution said the measures would focus on issues like streamlining the chain of command in the police as well as improving the penal system and access to justice.

The government would present the plans on Thursday, Barbosa said in an interview with Mexican radio.

Ricardo Pacheco, a lawmaker in the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party who heads the justice committee in the lower house of Congress, said the plan was to give the state greater powers to combat organized crime and violence.

More from the Latin American Herald Tribune:

Missing Case Forces Mexican President to Make “Important Announcement”

With the missing students crisis getting out of hand and due to the resulting embarrassment in the international arena, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto is to make an “important announcement” about the restoration of legality in the country, a senior government official has announced.

“The president will have to take decisions on what has not worked, on what has to be replaced and changed. He will make an important announcement this same week,” Government Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio said Monday.

However, he did not provide further details about the announcement but said that it would be made by Thursday, and would deal with areas where there are concerns, especially regarding municipalities.

Allegations raised, via the Guardian:

Mexican authorities accused of persecuting peaceful protesters

  • Eleven demonstrators charged with attempted murder and riot after mass protest in capital over disappearance of 43 students

Human rights groups have accused Mexican authorities of using arbitrary detentions, trumped-up charges and excessive force in an attempt to quell a mass protest movement unleashed by the disappearance and presumed murder of 43 students.

The complaints centre on the indictment for attempted murder, criminal association and rioting of 11 protesters who were arrested after masked youths clashed with police in the central Zócalo square, following a huge and mostly peaceful march through the capital last Thursday.

Supporters of the 11 accused insist that they had nothing to do with the violence, alleging that several of the detainees were arrested later, during an aggressive police operation to disperse the crowd.

More from teleSUR:

Mexico’s Human Rights Chief Investigating Protest Arrests

The president of Mexico’s National Commission of Human Rights said the agency will investigate claims of police abuse during detentions at the #NOV20 protest.

The president of Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH), Luis Raul Gonzalez Perez, said the agency is opening an investigation into the arrests and possible excessive use of police force during a protest November 20 in Mexico City’s Zocalo Square calling for the return alive of the disappeared 43 Ayotzinapa students.

“We are opening the relevant investigation, from the beginning we had staff in the Attorney General’s office as well as staff in the different high security prisons. Staff have been with those detained we have given them a medical review,” he said.

The country’s newly-minted ombudsman, who has been in office for a little over 10 days, made his comments in an interview after giving the opening address to the “Truth and Justice Commissions: Lessons Learned for a Post Ayotzinapa Mexico” forum held at the Mexico City campus of the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education.

Continuing protests, again via teleSUR:

Hundreds March for #20NovMx Protest Detainees

  • The lawyer of the student detainees accused the government of committing state terrorism

Mexican society has gained a new reason to protest peacefully: the 11 students who were arrested by police last Thursday, accused with various serious charges after participating in the #20NovMx protest for the missing 43.

Hundreds of people marched on Tuesday from the Independence Angel to the Zocalo Square in Mexico City, to demand the national government release the detainees, who are being accused of terrorism and attempted murder, among other charges.

The demonstrators, mostly students, assert that their mates were illegally arrested on the night of November 20, when both local and federal riot police agents dispersed a peaceful demonstration in Zocalo square that was interrupted by a few people in balalcavas or bandanas who threw molotov bombs at the police.

And from teleSUR yet again:

Mexico: 11 Ayotzinapa Protesters Arrested Are Denied Bail

The eleven individuals arrested after the march of November 20 on Mexico city are charged with serious offenses, although the state’s evidence against them is blurry

The eleven detainees on the Mexico city central Zocalo square incidents after November 20 demonstration for the missing Ayotzinapa students were debriefed on Monday at the 17 district court of the southeastern state of Veracruz and denied bail due to the charges against them, considered as serious offenses: attempted homicide.

On November 29 the period for clearing their legal situation ends, that’s why the eleven indicted people asked for an extension of the constitutional term. Two separate NGOs denounced that the arrested were mistreated, tortured and charged without evidence of their misdemeanors.

The detainees complained to Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) for alleged acts of physical violence and mistreatment during their transport to the Republic’s General Attorney (PGR) facilities and later to Federal Prisons, where they remain held.

From Reuters, aiding and abetting:

Mired in crisis, Mexican president aided by discredited opposition

The leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD, has campaigned against human rights abuses in the past but its reputation is in tatters because the Iguala mayor who allegedly ordered the students’ abduction was one if its own.

And the horrific events – the government says the drug gang apparently killed all of the students and incinerated their bodies – unfolded in Guerrero state, which the PRD governs.

Mexico’s most successful leftist, former PRD leader Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has also been sidelined in the uproar because of ties between Morena, the party he formed after leaving the PRD, and the same mayor.

On the right, the National Action Party (PAN), is hamstrung by bitter infighting, allegations that senior lawmakers peddled favors in exchange for illegal payments, and accusations by supporters that it sold out to Pena Nieto in Congress.

In short, the whole political class is in disrepute, said Ernesto Ruffo, an independent-minded PAN Senator.

And the McClatchy Foreign Staff covers a credibility chasm:

Few believe Mexico’s first lady made enough as TV star to pay for mansion

Mexico’s first lady, soap opera star Angelica Rivera, is back in the spotlight. But rather than receiving public adulation, she’s the subject of ridicule.

A poll released over the weekend found that three-quarters of Mexicans think Rivera isn’t telling the truth about how much she earned during her television career and how she paid for a $7 million mansion that’s at the heart of a political scandal enveloping her husband, President Enrique Pena Nieto.

Among those scoffing at Rivera are fellow television actors, who contend she never pulled in the kind of money she claims.

Political analysts and columnists say the attention on Rivera, whose fame soared with a hit 2007 soap opera, was designed to take the heat off Pena Nieto himself.

From Frontera NorteSur, solidarity at the border:

Ayotzinapa Protests: Report from Ciudad Juarez

On a day when the world protested state violence against the Mexican students of the Ayotzinapa rural teachers college, Ciudad Juarez was no exception.

In the big border city across from El Paso, Texas, the November 20 protest- timed to coincide with the official holiday anniversary of the 1910 Mexican Revolution- produced multiple street protests, the seizure of a highway toll booth, a brief blockade of the Santa Fe Bridge connecting Juarez with El Paso, and poetry brigades.  A large multi-media event was staged at the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juarez (UACJ), where normal activities were suspended for November 20 so students and staff could take a public stand on the human rights crisis gripping their nation.

Hundreds of students, teachers, union activists and community members got involved in local events organized for what became known as N20.  In virtually unprecedented fashion, some Mexican cities canceled the official November 20 annual parades due to government fears of the mounting protests, but the one in Ciudad Juarez proceeded as scheduled- albeit with the addition of protesters who managed to squeeze their way into the end of the parade, according to Diana Solis, UACJ student and member of the activist University Assembly.

“The people are participating. Many people came out to support,” Solis said. “This is unstoppable. The government is worried.”

And from Al Jazeera America, other violence:

Violence against women soars in Mexico

  • Abductions, rapes and murders of women are higher than ever, as UN calls for end to femicide

Violence against women must stop, United Nations chief Ban Ki-Moon said Tuesday — the International Day to End Violence Against Women — as it was reported that 14 of the 25 countries with the highest rates of femicide are located in Latin America.

In Mexico, over a dozen female torture victims echoed Ban’s alarm. Members of the group “Break the Silence,” which aims at raise awareness of what it calls the government’s systematic use of sexual violence, said that despite countless cases, there have only been two federal convictions for torture of women in the country’s history, Mexican news website Animal Politico reported.

The numbers of abductions, rapes, and murders of women are higher in Mexico than ever before, with an average of seven women killed violently every day, according to local media. In July, U.N. special rapporteur on violence against women, Rashida Manjoo, said that Mexican women suffer from multiple and intersecting forms of violence, ranging from militarization as part of the so-called war on drugs, to impunity among security forces, to impediments to women seeking access to justice.

And to close, a body count from teleSUR:

Over 500 Bodies Found in Guerrero Mass Graves so Far

  • So far, up to 500 bodies have been found in mass graves in the state of Guerrero alone

Tomaz Zeron, head of the Criminal Investigation Agency, said that the forensic experts are continuing their work at the mass graves siates located by Guerrero’s Union of Commoners and Organizations (Upoeg). On Monday, Zeron told press that two graves were analyzed and one of them was determined to contain a corpse, dated back from more than a year ago.

Also on Monday, Upoeg stated that so far, up to 500 bodies have been found in the state of Guerrero alone. In a press conference, the group’s spokesperson, Bruno Placido, a spokesman for the group, said his organization has been issuing warnings since 2013, however the PGR only began to act well after the disappearance of the Ayotzinapa students began to garner global attention.

In the Mexican southwestern state of Guerrero, the Republic’s General Attorney (PGR) recieves every report from the Upoeg on a new mass grave, investigating them as separate cases from those connected to the incidents of September 26, when 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Teacher’s Training School were disappeared after being abducted by local police and handed over to a local criminal organization.

EnviroWatch: Ills, climate, water, fuel, GMOs


And more, but we open with more tragedy in Pakistan via the Express Tribune:

Swat reports its first polio case in five years

The first polio case in five years from the scenic Swat valley was confirmed on Monday, which, along with a fresh case from Sindh, raised the national tally to 262.

According to an official of the ministry of health, the cases were confirmed after being tested for polio virus at the National Institute of Health (NIH).

The victim was identified as 21 month-old Abu Takha, son of Noor Muhammad from UC Khwaza Khela of Tarogay Village in the Swat Valley. The second polio case confirmed on Monday was that of Sumaira, daughter of Qadir Bux, from UC Humayon in Hadi Bux Bakhrani, Sheikhupura.
refused drops for their child.

The two cases raise the total number of cases reported in Pakistan this year to 262. These include 163 from Fata,  55 from K-P, 27 from Sindh, three from Punjab and 14 from Balochistan.

The Express Tribune charts the course of polio in Pakistan over recent years [and click on it to enlarge]:

BLOG Pak polio

From the Guardian, another look at another outbreak we’ve been covering;

Chikungunya: Ebola pushes South American epidemic out of the spotlight

  • With global media attention focused on the Ebola outbreak in Africa, the spread of the Chikungunya virus has largely gone unnoticed outside of Latin America

The Americas are experiencing an epidemic that has been largely ignored by the rest of the world as it focuses on west Africa’s Ebola outbreak.

The debilitating mosquito-borne Chikungunya virus has infected almost one million people since it first emerged in South America and the Caribbean less than a year ago. The virus has rapidly spread across the Americas, causing huge pressure on health services in some of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere.

The Dominican Republic, the most popular Caribbean island for tourists last year with 4.7 million visitors, has recorded 500,000 cases. A third of the population lives on 80 pence ($1.25) a day. Central America has also been affected, with 123,000 cases in El Salvador.

The epidemic has failed to attract international media attention amid the Ebola crisis, as deaths from Chikungunya are relatively rare: . About 150 people have died among nearly 931,000 cases in the Americas – the US has had more than 1,830 cases.

From MintPress News, a classic case of the corporate war on public health:

Worldwide, Tobacco Regulators Monitoring Philip Morris Lawsuit Against Uruguay

  • The tobacco giant’s lawsuit against Uruguay is a key example of the growing trend of multinational companies using trade agreements and mechanisms to circumvent national legislation — even legislation meant to protect public health

The issue goes back to new regulations passed by the Uruguayan government in 2009 regarding tobacco product packaging and sales. First, the government required that 80 percent of individual cigarette packs be covered by graphic health warnings, an increase from 50 percent previously.

Second, manufacturers would be allowed to market only a single variation of their brand’s product, and also had to remove language on their packaging that appeared to differentiate different types of cigarettes (“low tar,” for instance). Critics say these practices mislead consumers into believing that the negative health effects of some cigarettes are lower than others.

Philip Morris, which notes that it supported Uruguay’s pre-2009 regulations, says the new rules forced the company to remove seven of its 12 products from the country. The maker of Marlboro is seeking $25 million for costs incurred.

The company also claims that the new 80-percent requirement for cigarette packaging infringes on trademark guarantees included in a trade agreement between Uruguay and Switzerland, where Philip Morris International is based. The case is being heard before an arbitration panel here in Washington, the World Bank’s International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).

And from the Associated Press, criminals by desperate necessity:

Chilean moms growing support for medical marijuana

Paulina Bobadilla was beyond desperate. The drugs no longer stopped her daughter’s epileptic seizures and the little girl had become so numb to pain, she would tear off her own fingernails and leave her small fingers bleeding.

Bobadilla was driving on a mountain road with Javiera, intent on ending it all by steering their car off a cliff.

“All I wanted to do was to die along with her,” the 34-year-old mother recalled of that day in April 2013. “I told her: ‘This is it.’ But then she said, ‘Mommy, I love you.’ I looked at her and I knew I had to continue fighting.”

Bobadilla’s desperation to ease her daughter’s condition is an emotion familiar to other Chilean parents who say medical marijuana can help their children and who, rather than wait for Congress to act, have taken matters into their own hands.

Despite the risk of jail time, about 100 parents have formed a group, Mama Cultiva or “Mama Grows,” to share knowledge about cultivating marijuana to extract cannabis oil for their seizure-stricken children.

BBC News covers green thumbs in the ‘hood:

Global importance of urban agriculture ‘underestimated’

Urban agriculture is playing an increasingly important role in global food security, a study has suggested.

Researchers, using satellite data, found that agricultural activities within 20km of urban areas occupy an area equivalent to the 28-nation EU. The international team of scientists says the results should challenge the focus on rural areas of agricultural research and development work.

The findings appear in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

“This is the first study to document the global scale of food production in and around urban settings,” explained co-author Pay Drechsel, a researcher for the International Water Management Institute (IWMI).

From the Ecologist, more plutocratic “benevolence” at the expense of the commons:

Why is Bill Gates backing GMO red banana ‘biopiracy’?

The Gates Foundation has sunk $15 million into developing GMO ‘super bananas’ with high levels of pre-Vitamin A, writes Adam Breasley. But the project is using ‘stolen’ genes from a Micronesian banana cultivar. And what exactly is the point, when delicious, popular, nutritious ‘red bananas’ rich in caroteinoids are already grown around the tropics?

Among the controversial projects funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the development and testing of a biofortified GMO banana developed to boost its iron, Vitamin E and pro-Vitamin A content.

To this end the Foundation, via its Grand Challenges in Global Health Initiative, has so far given $15 million to Queensland University of Technology for the program run by Professor Dr James Dale, with a latest tranche of $10 million handed over this year.

Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to the tune of $15 million, and currently in Iowa undergoing human feeding studies, the GMO banana human feeding trials appears have been designed for marketing purposes. Certainly Scientific American calls them simply “market trials”.

From Want China Times, water woes in the world’s most populous nation:

Water pollution recognized as a huge problem for China

Water safety has become a serious problem in China. Half of the nation’s 10 largest water systems are polluted, 40% of major lakes have pollution problems and 17 of the country’s 31 large freshwater lakes are polluted, the People’s Daily Online reports, citing various provincial research reports.

In Hebei province, Beijing and Tianjin, average water resources stand at just 286 cubic meters per capita, far below the international standard for extremely dry levels at 500 cubic meters per capita, while one-third of the region’s groundwater is already polluted.

The region’s major streams are all also heavily polluted, with third-level polluted waters exceeding 60%, according to a 2013 survey.

“Water safety problems have become the scourge of the nation,” said Lu Zhongmei, dean of Hubei University of Economics, who conducted research on environmental law for 30 years.

The Diplomat covers a successfulcorporate conquest where an army was defeated:

Vietnam, Agent Orange, and GMOs

  • An Agent Orange maker is being welcomed back to Vietnam to grow genetically modified organisms

Vietnam continues to roll out the red carpet for foreign biotech giants, including the infamous Monsanto, to sell the controversial genetically modified (GM) corn varieties in the country. Critics say that by welcoming Monsanto, Vietnam has been too nice to the main manufacturer of Agent Orange, the toxic defoliant used during the Vietnam War that left a devastating legacy still claiming victims today.

According to Vietnamese media reports, in August that country’s agriculture ministry approved the imports of four corn varieties engineered for food and animal feed processing: MON 89034 and NK 603, products of DeKalb Vietnam (a subsidiary of U.S. multinational Monsanto), and GA 21 and MIR 162 from the Swiss firm Syngenta.

The Vietnamese environment ministry has to date issued bio-safety certificates for Monsanto’s MON 89034 and NK 603 corn varieties and Syngenta’s GA 21, meaning farmers can start commercially cultivating the crops. The ministry is considering issuing a similar certificate for the other variety, MR 162. Given the current political landscape, it seems that approval is just a matter of time.

Some rare good polar news from the Guardian:

Antarctic ice thicker than previously thought, study finds

  • First of its kind robotic survey of underside of sea ice floes reveals denser ice fringing the continent

Groundbreaking 3D mapping of previously inaccessible areas of the Antarctic has found that the sea ice fringing the vast continent is thicker than previous thought.

Two expeditions to Antarctica by scientists from the UK, USA and Australia analysed an area of ice spanning 500,000 metres squared, using a robot known as SeaBed.

The survey discovered ice thickness average between 1.4m and 5.5m, with a maximum ice thickness of 16m. Scientists also discovered that 76% of the mapped ice was ‘deformed’ – meaning that huge slabs of ice have crashed into each other to create larger, denser bodies of ice

And from teleSUR English, a look at the roots of fracker power:

Interviews from Washington DC – Fracking industry money and Congress

Program notes:

Today’s program looks at how the fracking industry uses its financial power to influence Congress. Jorge Gestoso interviews Melanie Stone, a recognized expert on the issue, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, and author of the recently released report “How the fracking industry fuels Congress”. The increase in fracking activity has been accompanied by a massive 231% growth from 2004 to 2012 in the industry’s campaign contributions to congressional and senatorial candidates from districts and states home to such activity, from about US$2.1 million to US$6.9 million. Such cash contributions is money well spent and has effectively bought the silence of many legislators.

And from EcoWatch, frenetic fracker thirst:

‘Monster’ Fracking Wells Guzzle Water in Drought-Stricken Regions

The fracking industry likes to minimize the sector’s bottomless thirst for often-scarce water resources, saying it takes about 2-4 million gallons of water to frack the average well, an amount the American Petroleum Institute describes as “the equivalent of three to six Olympic swimming pools.” That’s close to the figure cited by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as well.

But a new report released by Environmental Working Group (EWG) located 261 “monster” wells that consumed between 10 and 25 million gallons of water to drill each well. Among the conclusions EWG teased out of data reported by the industry itself and posted at fracfocus.org is that between April 2010 and December 2013, these 261 wells consumed 3.3 billions of water between them, a average of 12.7 million gallons each. And 14 of the wells topped 20 million gallons each.

“It’s far more relevant to compare those figures to basic human needs for water, rather than to swimming pools or golf courses,” said EWG’s report. “The 3.3 billion gallons consumed by the monster wells was almost twice as much water as is needed each year by the people of Atascosa County, Texas, in the heart of the Eagle Ford shale formation, one of the most intensively drilled gas and oil fields in the country.”

After the jump, GOP Arctic drilling aspirations, a Canadian author funds pipeline foes, Canary Islands offshore drilling opposition, a toxic Canadian mine threatens to take another dump, World Bank goes green with its green, Massive giraffe die-off underway, and some good news for the Monarch butterly. . . Continue reading

EbolaWatch: Politics, aid, fears, & deadlines


We begin with an interesting story from the New York Times:

Notable Absence of New Ebola Quarantines at New York Area Airports

A day after a doctor who had returned from Guinea about a week earlier became New York’s first Ebola case, the governors of New York and New Jersey announced that they would begin quarantining travelers who had been in contact with Ebola patients in West Africa.

The move, which went beyond federal policy, drew protests from medical aid groups and the Obama administration, who said it would penalize people who were trying to contain Ebola and discourage others from doing so.

But since Kaci Hickox, a nurse, flew into Newark’s airport on Oct. 24 and was kept at a hospital for three days, no one else has been caught up in the quarantine dragnet at the New York and New Jersey airports.

The absence of quarantines is striking, not only because both governors emphatically defended the policy as a necessary precaution, but also because most people returning from Ebola-stricken countries arrive in the United States through Kennedy and Newark Liberty International Airports. Several aid organizations have American health care workers in West Africa, a handful of whom return every week. But New York and New Jersey officials say no one coming through the two airports since Ms. Hickox has reported direct contact with Ebola patients.

From the Associated Press, another European patient evacuated:

Italian doctor with Ebola returning for treatment

An Italian doctor who has been working in Sierra Leone has tested positive for the Ebola virus and is being transferred to Rome for treatment, the health ministry said Monday. It is Italy’s first confirmed case of Ebola.

The doctor, who was not identified and who works for the non-governmental organization Emergency, is scheduled to arrive overnight in Italy for treatment at the Lazzaro Spallanzani National Institute for Infectious Diseases in Rome.

Health Minister Beatrice Lorenzin said in a statement that the doctor experienced a fever and other symptoms overnight, but he was well enough to eat breakfast and drink beverages. The ministry said all measures are being taken to ensure the safe transport of the patient following biohazard protocols.

From the Associated Press, anticipation of cash registers ringing [or beeping, or booping, or whatever]:

Merck, Iowa firm sign Ebola vaccine licensing deal

Merck & Co., one of the world’s top developers and sellers of vaccines, has entered a partnership with a small drug developer to research and manufacture a potential Ebola vaccine now in initial patient testing.

The exclusive deal involves a vaccine candidate called rVSV-EBOV that’s under early development by BioProtection Systems, the vaccine-development subsidiary of NewLink Genetics Corp. of Ames, Iowa.

The vaccine was originally created in labs of the Public Health Agency of Canada, which in 2010 signed a deal giving BioProtection Systems an exclusive license for the vaccine and the technology involved in producing it.

Under the new deal, Merck, based in Whitehouse Station, New Jersey, gets exclusive rights to the vaccine and any follow-up products.

On to Africa, starting in Mali with Voice of America:

Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms.

Mali is scrambling to do the same now, almost a month after a 70-year-old Guinean imam sought treatment at a clinic in Bamako. Five people have already died. Mali confirmed a sixth related Ebola case Saturday; a female relative of a nurse who treated the imam.

Every day, twice a day, teams are checking just over 300 people around Bamako. All of these contacts are linked to the Guinean imam who died of Ebola at a private clinic October 27, two days after he had arrived for treatment.

From the U.N. News Center, the U.N. acts:

Top UN health officials take joint mission to Mali in support of Ebola response

The Executive Director of Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), Michel Sidibé and the Director-General of the World Health Organization, Dr. Margaret Chan, have visited Mali in a joint mission to support the country in its efforts to curb the spread of Ebola, as authorities there announced one new case and that two more suspected patients were being tested.

“The next 15 days are critical for ending Ebola in Mali,” where at least 5 people have died from the virus, UNAIDS said in a press release issued today. “The coordination of action and strategic communication are key to success, as are immediate international funding and technical assistance.”

The UN is ramping up support on many fronts to support both the preparedness and response efforts of the Malian Government, including with the announcement on Friday by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response (UNMEER) would establish an office in the country. That office is scheduled to formally open an office in Mali on Wednesday.

Next, on to Liberia with FrontPageAfrica and a shocking allegation:

Ebola Stigma at Firestone: Orphans Thrown to Wolves – An Inhumane Act By A Heartless Company

A DAILY MAIL report suggesting that the Tyre giant Firestone has ordered the children of workers who died from Ebola to leave their homes on its plantation in Liberia is very troubling.

ACCORDING TO THE REPORT, Firestone which is part of the Bridgestone group which last week announced sales for the first nine months of the year totaling £14.5 billion – has told the families they cannot stay on in worker housing and will not get pensions. “At least 57 people have died on Firestone’s giant plantation near the national capital Monrovia since the start of the outbreak in March,” according to the report.

FIRESTONE, like most expatriate and concession companies abandoned Liberia at the height of the outbreak, leaving behind families and workers who labored the plantation in search of rubber which the company then export for profits.

IT IS SAD THAT a company as large as Firestone would throw children in the streets after surviving such a horrific virus.

Next, from the News in Monrovia, police preparations:

Police Ready To Enforce Anti-Ebola Regulations

The Liberia National Police is said to be gearing up for robust enforcement of the government’s anti Ebola and other safety regulations during the pending special senatorial election.

Police Director Chris Massaquoi said the LNP has been ordered to ensure the enforcement of the Ministry of Health and National Elections Commission (NEC) regulations during the election.

Speaking Friday at the Ministry of Information regular press briefing in Monrovia, Director Massaquoi said pursuant to the power granted the Ministry of Health under the Public Health Law, the police will also ensure that all beaches in Liberia remain closed during holidays.

He called on parents, religious leaders and others to warn their children and relatives against going to beaches during holidays.

The LNP Director also stated that except for the political campaign rallies, all public rallies, demonstrations and gathering in public areas will be strictly prohibited until Liberia is declared Ebola free.

However, Director Massaquoi said all political campaign rallies are expected to also be held in keeping with the guidelines and regulations of NEC and the Ministry of Health.

Reuters covers an upbeat assessment:

“Dramatic improvement” in Ebola outlook in Liberia -U.S. general

A U.S. general in the force helping Liberia fight the Ebola epidemic reported on Monday a dramatic improvement in the situation there and confirmed the cancellation of two planned treatment facilities.

Brigadier General Frank Tate, deputy commanding general of U.S. Operation United Assistance, said the drop in the number of cases in the country was all the more encouraging given recent improvements in reporting capacity.

He said new daily cases have fallen to around 20 from close to 80 when the operation was announced in September. Ebola is still spreading in other parts of West Africa.

While FrontPageAfrica covers a contrarian view:

‘Wishful Thinking’: Politics & Ebola Dampens Ebola End by X-Mas

U.S. Ambassador to Liberia, Deborah Malac’s description of Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s goal of eradicating Ebola by Christmas as “Wishful Thinking”, heralds a key challenge many health experts fear could keep the virus around for quite some time, especially for those contemplating voting in a time of Ebola.

That goal is being compounded by an upcoming senatorial election, many say would be a crucial test of the government’s message against Ebola and Liberia’s reaching a turning point in the outbreak: Avoiding touching, kissing and a large gathering of people can be a hard sell for a nation historically noted for daring conventions.

At the headquarters of the opposition Congress for Democratic Change last Thursday, for example, it was hard not to notice partisans and supporters of senatorial candidates hugging and holding hands as sweat poured amid the celebration.

And StarAfrica covers worrisome numbers:

Liberia: Resurgence of Ebola in Bong County

Reports from central Bong County say the county health team has reported 22 new cases of Ebola over a period of one week, despite huge reduction in the number of cases across the country.Media reports Monday quote the Bong County Health Team Administrator Fatorma Jusu as saying 10 of the 22 cases are confirmed, one probable and eleven suspected.

Jusu attributed the emergence of new Ebola cases in the county to the outbreak in Taylor-ta that has now crossed over to Bomota and Gbatala, all of which are adjacent to Taylor-Ta in Yelequelleh District, Bong County.

Addressing the regular Ebola response Taskforce briefing Monday on Phebe Compound on the outskirts of the provincial capital, Gbarnga, Jusu attributed the new outbreak to the breach of quarantine rules by residents of Taylor-ta, and stressed the need for urgent redress of the situation.

After the jump, a new aid shipment arrives, new treatment centers — one American-built, the other Chinese — open, an economic lament, fears of another flare-up, reintegrating the healed in healing roles, journalists’ ethics challenged, a chief calls on fellows chiefs to join the Ebola fight, American medical missionaries lauded, then on to Sierra Leone where a worsening epidemic thwarts a U.N. goal, a mayor makes a plea, plus a bitter harvest. . . Continue reading

MexicoWatch: Enabling, outrage, action, images


We open with a graphic from Boligan.com, via Babybat, depicting the plight of justice in Mexico:

BLOG Ayotzinapa

Enabling, via Al Jazeera America:

US policies in Mexico have made bad situation worse

  • Missing Mexican students are collateral damage of drug-war capitalism

The whole episode is emblematic of Mexico’s corruption, impunity and weak democratic institutions, with elected officials and security forces colluding with the drug cartels. In this case, the students were apparently abducted by local police on direct order from Iguala’s mayor and handed over to the local Guerreros Unidos gang, which has close ties to the mayor’s wife, who claim to have killed them, burned the bodies and dumped the ashes in Cocula. And though nearby, the military evinced indifference to the students’ plight.

Despite these entanglements, however, the U.S. continues to engage in a bi-national strategy with Mexico to combat drug trafficking, entrusting the very politicians and security forces whose ties to criminal enterprises are readily apparent.

In the last six years alone, Washington spent $3 billion on the Mérida Initiative, a border security, counter-narcotics and counterterrorism program established by the George W. Bush administration in 2008. The U.S. also funnels millions of dollars through the Department of Defense to train state security forces. In 2006, Peña Nieto’s predecessor Felipe Calderón declared war on the cartels, and the human cost has been staggering. During his six-year tenure from 2006 to 2012, 83,000 people were killed and at least another 26,000 disappeared. The death toll has now reached 100,000.

Mexico’s U.S.-backed anti-drug policies are inherently counterproductive. The criminal networks associated with the illicit and unregulated drug trade are intrinsically violent, and dismantling one cartel does little to curb overall drug trafficking and violence. Instead, interdiction and drug-related arrests can escalate violence by creating power vacuums that spur fragmentation, decentralization and competition among cartels for the freed-up market share.

teleSUR English covers parental initiative:

Ayotzinapa students’ families plan take up arms and continue search

Program notes:

Nearly two months after the disappearance of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa, Mexico teachers college at the hands of local police and criminal gangs, some parents are fed up with government excuses and inaction, and plan to begin an armed search for their missing loved ones with the aid of new, community-led police forces. Many feel the time for peaceful protests is over over and plan to arm themselves and look for their children.

One result, via teleSUR English again:

Ayotzinapa students’ families find 6 new clandestine graves

Program notes:

In the absence of progress by the government in finding their loved ones nearly two months after the 43 students from Ayotzinapa disappeared while in custody of local police, families of the missing students decided to form independent search groups, some of them armed, to search for their missing loved ones with the aid of community-led police forces. The groups’ first discoveries were 6 more clandestine graves.

The Latin American Herald Tribune covers a demand:

Students Call for Mexican President to Step Down Within 6 Days

A group of students from a teachers’ training college from which 43 of their colleagues went missing and are presumed dead has called for the resignation of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto within six days.

“President Peña Nieto has six days to resign because the Mexican people want him to, and if he doesn’t, then the protests against him will increase all over the country,” said one of the students in a broadcast from a radio station the protesters had taken over.

The students issued the demand on Sunday after around 100 seized control of two radio stations in Chilpancingo, the capital of Guerrero state, to air messages demanding that the 43 students who went missing after a night of violence on Sept. 26, be returned alive.

And from teleSUR, the self-evident:

Mexican Police Repression ‘Backfiring,’ ‘Not Stopping Protests’

  • Eleven protestors arrested during mass protests on November 20 are being charged with attempted murder, rioting and conspiracy

On the evening of November 20 in the historic Zocalo square, in Mexico City, police clashed with protestors, beating them with batons and riot shields. Videos and photos uploaded to social networking sites show protesters who were not involved in agressions towards the authorities, including the elderly and children, were targeted and arrested by the police.

“There are patterns of systematic repression, arbitrary detentions and one element that I think is important to express which is to send a message to the public that mobilizations and social protest are bad,” said human rights defender and analyst, Miguel Moguel, from the Mexican NGO, Fundar in a press conference on Sunday, Novemeber 23.

Moguel and other human rights experts and lawyers describe the police operation on November 20 as excessive, “without control or end point” and brutal.

Yet while some analyze the use of police force as a means to quiet social protest, some such as Isabel Sangines, professor and activist, believe that the measures provoke greater protest and dissatisfaction with the authorities.

Evidence thereof, again from teleSUR English:

Mexico: new wave of protests slam gov’t repression

Program notes:

A new wave of protests has erupted in Mexico over the police attack on and detention of demonstrators at the November 20 “mega-march” in solidarity with the 43 missing Ayotzinapa Teacher Training College students. Many feel the police operations are designed to limit and criminalize social protests. Clayton Conn reports from Mexico City.

On an ancillary note, this from Reuters:

Mexico to discuss canceled $3.75 billion train contract with China

Mexico’s transportation minister will meet with Chinese government officials on Monday to discuss the cancellation of a $3.75 billion high-speed rail contract that was awarded to a Chinese-led consortium, Mexico said on Sunday.

The deal for the project, which had earlier this month been granted to a group led by China Railway Construction (601186.SS), the sole bidder, was abruptly revoked after opposition lawmakers claimed it was fixed.

Local media later revealed that a Mexican group in the consortium owned a $7 million house that Pena Nieto’s wife was in the process of acquiring, raising questions about a possible conflict of interest in the bidding process.

The Monday meeting will take place in China, where Mexico’s communications and transportation minister Gerardo Ruiz Esparza will also discuss Mexican plans to build a $10 billion state-owned and privately operated mobile network, according to a statement from the ministry.

Finally, while we can’t definitively trace the original source of this photo-comparison posted on the Naila Twitter feed, showing very similar looking fellows to occupants of a police bus throwing flames during the outbreak of violence by a few in Mexico City during the 20 November mass protest over the 43 vanished students and ensuing government bungling and butt-covering, we pass it on as entirely too plausible though we can make no conclusive assessment on identity absent both attribution and a higher resolution image:

BLOG Provocateurs

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

InSecurityWatch: War, crime, spies, & threats


And lots of bad news for the Fourth Estate.

We open with a fascinating report certain to make a reader more secure, from the Los Angeles Times:

Banking industry culture primes for cheating, study suggests

Is your banker honest? Not if you remind him of where he works, a new study suggests.

Employees of an international bank were more inclined to lie for financial gain if they were thinking about their jobs than if they were thinking about their home life, according to a study published online Wednesday in the journal Nature.

The conclusions imply that cheating propensity is embedded in the business culture of the banking industry, and not in the type of person who goes into banking.

“These are not generally dishonest people,” said University of Chicago behavioral economist Alain Cohn, lead author of the study. “What our results suggest is that current norms in the banking industry tend to favor dishonesty and that the banks should initiate a change in norms.”

Domestic insecurity from Al Jazeera America:

FBI sends in reinforcements ahead of Ferguson grand jury announcement

  • FBI sends 100 agents to Missouri town that became flashpoint for racial tensions after policemen shot unarmed black teen

Police and protest organizers painstakingly laid the groundwork this weekend to avert street violence in Ferguson, Missouri, and the FBI sent in nearly 100 extra agents as a St. Louis-area grand jury was expected to soon announce its decision on whether to indict the white police officer who fatally shot unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in August.

In a possible sign that an announcement on the grand jury’s decision is imminent, prosecutors told media organizations that they were making plans for a news conference to announce the outcome — but the date, time and location remained undetermined.

Protests on Friday night led to the arrest of three demonstrators as hundreds blocked traffic along South Florissant Road, the main thoroughfare through Ferguson where marchers and police have tangled regularly since the late-summer unrest over the Brown shooting.

Ancillary reinforcements, via Fusion:

Across the tracks from Ferguson, Clayton enlists private army to brace for trouble

The predominantly white residents of Clayton seem convinced that the protesters will take out their anger there, and are hurrying to insulate themselves from the threat with private security firms.

Asymmetric Solutions, a St. Louis-based security and intelligence company that is staffed by U.S. special-operations veterans, has been working with companies around the metropolitan area whose assets are valuable enough to justify the firm’s steep rates. A project manager for the company, who asked not to be named, predicts that outside of Ferguson “most of the difficulty will occur in the Clayton area…the bastions of white wealth and privilege.”

When the grand-jury decision comes down, the firm will deploy its operatives to probable flashpoints. “You’ll never notice any of our people,” he said. “We’re not putting fighters out there—we’re putting thinkers and managers out. Their ability to wage war effectively is simply one more tool in the toolbox.”

From United Press International, war prolonged:

Obama signs secret order expanding U.S. role in Afghanistan

President Obama reportedly signed a classified order authorizing an expanded military mission in Afghanistan in 2015, allowing U.S. forces to carry out missions against the Taliban

President Obama quietly signed a classified executive order authorizing a more expansive role for U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2015, ensuring American troops will be fighting in the country for at least one more year, The New York Times reported.

The order allows American troops to take a direct role in missions against militant groups that include the Taliban.

It’s a broader mission than the president described in a May announcement, when he said the U.S. military would have no combat role in Afghanistan next year and the remaining 9,800 troops would be focusing on training Afghan forces and handling al-Qaida threats.

And a possible stimulus, via the New York Times:

Hour’s Drive Outside Kabul, Taliban Reign

The explosion ripped through the floor of the Humvee, tearing a hole in the armored vehicle and injuring the district governor. The crack of Taliban gunfire followed.

Seeking cover, the Afghan police convoy sped behind a mud compound and unleashed a hail of bullets. Undeterred, the Taliban fighters edged closer. As bullets smacked around his head, an Afghan soldier in a white head scarf crouched behind a waist-high wall trading shots with the insurgents, a cigarette tucked in his lips.

“This is our daily life,” said the police chief of Tagab district, a mostly Taliban-controlled patch of Kapisa Province about an hour from Kabul, as rounds struck the compound’s edges, showering his men with dirt. “Everything is like this — you can see it with your own eyes.”

In areas like this, it is the government that operates in the shadows, following the dictates of the Taliban in order to stay alive. Afghan soldiers in Tagab district will not leave their base except for one hour each day starting at 9 a.m., when the Taliban allow them to visit the bazaar as long as the soldiers remain unarmed.

From Deutsche Welle, terror talk:

Inside IS – The Structure of Terror | Quadriga

Program notes:

After beheading yet another western hostage, the Islamic State terrorist organization is now threatening direct attacks on the US and Britain. Documents that have recently come to light allow some insights into the group’s structure, and reveal an extensive finance network and sophisticated logistics systems for weapons and supplies. Is IS more powerful than experts previously believed?

Guests:

Amir Musawy, Berlin correspondent for Iraqia TV

Asiem El Difraoui, Senior Fellow at the Institute for Media and Communication Policy in Berlin

Antje Bauer, reporter specializing in the Middle East, Turkey and Afghanistan.

Read more: http://www.dw.de/quadriga-inside-is-the-structure-of-terror-2014-11-20/e-18014096-9798

From the New York Times, hardly surprising:

Among Pakistan Militants, Signs of Affinity With ISIS

Across Pakistan, the black standard of the Islamic State has become seemingly ubiquitous.

From urban slums to Taliban strongholds, the militant group’s logo and name have appeared in graffiti, posters and pamphlets. Last month, a cluster of militant commanders declared their allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed caliph of the Islamic State.

Such is the influence of the Islamic State’s steamroller success in Iraq and Syria that, even thousands of miles away, security officials and militant networks are having to reckon with the group, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

More Pakistani news from the New York Times:

Eavesdropping on Pakistani Official Led to Inquiry Into Former U.S. Diplomat

American investigators intercepted a conversation this year in which a Pakistani official suggested that his government was receiving American secrets from a prominent former State Department diplomat, officials said, setting off an espionage investigation that has stunned diplomatic circles here.

That conversation led to months of secret surveillance on the former diplomat, Robin L. Raphel, and an F.B.I. raid last month at her home, where agents discovered classified information, the officials said.

The investigation is an unexpected turn in a distinguished career that has spanned four decades. Ms. Raphel (pronounced RAY-full) rose to become one of the highest-ranking female diplomats and a fixture in foreign policy circles, serving as ambassador to Tunisia and as assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs in the Clinton administration.

And from the New York Times once more, tortuous deliberations:

Senate Democrats Clash With White House on C.I.A. Torture Report

In a tense confrontation with President Obama’s closest adviser on Thursday, a group of Senate Democrats accused the White House of trying to censor significant details in a voluminous report on the use of torture by the Central Intelligence Agency.

During a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill with Denis R. McDonough, the White House chief of staff, the senators said that the White House was siding with the C.I.A. and trying to thwart negotiations over the report’s release. The negotiations have dragged on for months because of a dispute over the C.I.A.’s demand that pseudonyms of agency officers be deleted from the report.

The C.I.A., supported by the White House, has argued that even without using the real names of the officers, their identities could still be revealed.

According to several people in attendance, the meeting was civil, but neither side gave ground, and it ended without resolution. The Senate Intelligence Committee spent five years working on the 6,000-page report, which is said to provide grim details about the torture of detainees in C.I.A. prisons during the Bush administration, and describe a persistent effort by C.I.A. officials to mislead the White House and Congress about the efficacy of its interrogation techniques. The committee voted this year to declassify the report’s executive summary, numbering several hundred pages, but the fight over redactions has delayed the release.

From IDG News Service, spooky business as usual:

NSA director: No changes in telephone record collection coming

The U.S. National Security Agency is planning no major changes in its domestic telephone records collection program after a bill to rein in those efforts failed in the Senate this week, the agency’s director said.

The NSA will continue to collect U.S. telephone records in bulk, while operating under some restrictions President Barack Obama put on the program back in January, Admiral Michael Rogers, the NSA’s director, said during a House of Representatives hearing on cybersecurity Thursday. The NSA would rather wait to see what specific changes to the program Congress will require before making major changes, he told the House Intelligence Committee.

The NSA had hoped to get direction from Congress in the short term, but the agency may have to re-evaluate the telephone records program “if we’re unable to gain consensus in the window that we thought,” Rogers said. “I don’t have an answer to that in my own mind.”

The Los Angeles Times covers Fourth Estate outrage in Old Blighty:

British journalists slam police surveillance in lawsuit

British freelance video journalist Jason Parkinson had set his camera on a tripod outside London’s upscale Dorchester Hotel to film a protest against a group of delegates from an arms and defense trade show who were dining inside. He wore a red bandanna on his right wrist, a winter vest, a red-and-white striped shirt and a pair of blue jeans with a tear in the right knee.

The details of his attire are recorded in a 12-page police file Parkinson, 44, obtained through a freedom of information request which makes clear the extent to which British authorities have monitored him and other journalists as they carried out their work.

Britain’s National Union of Journalists, along with Parkinson and five others who obtained their own police intelligence records, filed a lawsuit this week against London’s Metropolitan Police and the British government. The action challenges police surveillance of journalists, including the retention of the information collected on a national database, as a violation of British law and the European Convention of Human Rights.

More Fourth Estate suppression from the Observer:

Media ‘gagged over bid to report MP child sex cases’

  • Security services accused of aiding Westminster paedophilia cover-up

The security services are facing questions over the cover-up of a Westminster paedophile ring as it emerged that files relating to official requests for media blackouts in the early 1980s were destroyed.

Two newspaper executives have told the Observer that their publications were issued with D-notices – warnings not to publish intelligence that might damage national security – when they sought to report on allegations of a powerful group of men engaging in child sex abuse in 1984. One executive said he had been accosted in his office by 15 uniformed and two non-uniformed police over a dossier on Westminster paedophiles passed to him by the former Labour cabinet minister Barbara Castle.

The other said that his newspaper had received a D-notice when a reporter sought to write about a police investigation into Elm Guest House, in southwest London, where a group of high-profile paedophiles was said to have operated and may have killed a child. Now it has emerged that these claims are impossible to verify or discount because the D-notice archives for that period “are not complete”.

From PCWorld, Windows™ into a corporate soul, eliminating yet more jobs:

Microsoft turns to robotic security guards to watch for trouble

OK, so the robot apocalypse probably won’t happen any time soon, but the new robot sentries guarding Microsoft’s Silicon Valley campus seem like something straight out of a futuristic sci-fi movie.

According to ExtremeTech, each of the K5 security guard robots from robotics company Knightscope stands 5 feet tall and weighs 300 pounds, so you probably don’t want to mess with one.

The K5 robots don’t come with any weapons onboard—thankfully—but they use a suite of alarms, sirens, and cameras to monitor and patrol the grounds of Microsoft’s campus. If one spots trouble, it’ll either sound an alarm or dispatch a human security guard to its location.

From the Guardian, another European separatist movement:

European parliament set to call for break-up of Google in antitrust case

  • Draft motion seeks to serve as solution to Google’s dominance of search markets in Europe and is seen as drastic escalation of running antitrust case

The European parliament is reportedly poised to call for a break-up of Google in a drastic escalation of Europe’s long-running antitrust case against the tech giant.

A draft motion seen by the Financial Times, and expected to be agreed next week, calls for the “unbundling [of] search engines from other commercial services” as a potential solution to Google’s dominance of the search market in Europe.

The European Commission has been investigating concerns that Google has abused its dominant position in search since 2010 and the dispute has become increasingly bitter. In September the EU’s incoming digital commissioner Günther Oettinger warned that any settlement with Google could “cement its strength in the market rather than diluting it”.

After the jump, hackers busted, crime and the power of privilege, dronal decadence, a kidnapped Colombian general’s release promised, Fourth Estate woes in Libya, terrorism leads to call for Nigerian school closures, a split in the Hong Occupy movement, a Fourth Estate prosecution, Chinese journalism woes in the Philippines, a major development in China Seas Game of Zones, China denigrates criticism of its military expansion,  Washington calls for settlement of a Seoul/Tokyo insular spat, and yet another delay in settlement of that controversial Okinawa U.S. base relocation. . . Continue reading