Category Archives: Culture

InSecurityWatch: Cops, spies, drones, zones


Today’s compendium of matters of spies, borders, corportate snoopery, hacking, and such like begins with a reminder that sometimes it’s not Big Brother you’ve got to worry about. Sometimes it’s Big Daddy. From Rumble Viral:

Catching a daughter doing selfies on video

Program note:

Rod Beckham noticed a lot of movement in his rear view mirror and realized his daughter was in the midst of an epic photo shoot of her own creation. After watching and laughing for a minute or so, he realized he needed to capture this for posterity. It will definitely put a smile on your face!

On to the serious, starting with a call from BuzzFeed:

National Progressives Want A “Federal Czar” To Oversee Local Police Forces

“The proliferation of machine guns, silencers, armored vehicles and aircraft, and camouflage in local law enforcement units does not bode well for police-community relations, the future of our cities, or our country.”

A coalition of unions, members of Congress, progressive groups and others wrote a joint letter to President Barack Obama calling for drastic changes to local police forces around the country after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

The letter, which was distributed via an ad in the Washington Post, calls for a demilitarization of police forces, an effort to increase diversity, and the establishment of a “federal czar” to promote “the professionalization of local law enforcement.”

“The proliferation of machine guns, silencers, armored vehicles and aircraft, and camouflage in local law enforcement units does not bode well for police-community relations, the future of our cities, or our country,” the letter said.

From Techdirt, sumptuary laws in a world of blue knights:

As Police Get More Militarized, Bill In Congress Would Make Owning Body Armor Punishable By Up To 10 Years In Prison

  • from the only-the-police-can-be-militarized dept

We’ve been writing an awful lot lately about the militarization of police, but apparently some in Congress want to make sure that the American public can’t protect themselves from a militarized police. Rep. Mike Honda (currently facing a reasonably strong challenger for election this fall) has introduced a bizarre bill that would make it a crime for civilians to buy or own body armor. The bill HR 5344 is unlikely to go anywhere, but violating the bill, if it did become law, would be punishable with up to ten years in prison. Yes, TEN years. For merely owning body armor.

Honda claims that the bill is designed to stop “armored assailants” whom he claims are “a trend” in recent years. Perhaps there wouldn’t be so much armor floating around out there if we weren’t distributing it to so many civilian police forces… Not surprisingly, the very same police who have been getting much of this armor are very much in favor of making sure no one else gets it:

Honda said it has been endorsed by law enforcement organizations including the California State Sheriffs’ Association, the Fraternal Order of Police and the Peace Officers Research Association of California, according to Honda.

The Guardian deals a blow to a call for a Medievalism, British style:

Cameron dismisses Johnson’s ‘presumption of guilt’ terror plan

  • PM rejects ‘kneejerk response’ after London mayor’s suggestion that people travelling to war zones should be presumed guilty

Downing Street has dismissed a call by Boris Johnson for the government to introduce a “rebuttable presumption” that anyone who visits a war zone without providing notice will be guilty of a terrorist offence.

The prime minister’s spokeswoman said David Cameron had no interest in”kneejerk” responses to the threat posed by Islamic State (Isis) fighters. She confirmed that Britain’s intelligence agencies had not been pressing for the London mayor’s idea.

Downing Street said the prime minister was focused on a “patient and resolute” response to what he described last week as the “generational challenge” posed by Isis in Iraq and Syria.

From Reuters, here’s looking at you, kid:

Camera-makers shares jump on interest in surveillance tech

A surge in interest in makers of security cameras drove shares of such companies higher on Tuesday, with heavy volume in particular seen in Digital Ally, which makes wearable cameras.

Digital Ally, which produces cameras compact enough to be pinned to shirts, belts or eyeglasses, has reported heightened demand for its product since Aug. 9, when a white police officer shot and killed an unarmed black teen in Ferguson, Missouri, triggering weeks of protests.

Interest in surveillance technology also drove investors to put money in Image Sensing Systems, a company that produces software and cameras for law enforcement agencies and traffic monitors. The stock spiked more than 40 percent.

From the Guardian, Cold War 2.0:

Nato plans east European bases to counter Russian threat

  • Nato chief announces move in response to Ukraine crisis and says alliance is dealing with a new Russian military approach

Nato is to deploy its forces permanently at new bases in eastern Europe for the first time, in response to the Ukraine crisis and in an attempt to deter Vladimir Putin from causing trouble in the former Soviet Baltic republics, according to its chief.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the former prime minister of Denmark, said that next week’s Nato summit in Cardiff would overcome divisions within the alliance and agree to new deployments on Russia’s borders – a move certain to trigger a strong reaction from Moscow.

He also outlined moves to boost Ukraine’s security, “modernise” its armed forces, and help the country counter the threat from Russia.

Droning on? Or more provocatively? From the Associated Press:

AP sources: US surveillance planes fly over Syria

The U.S. has begun surveillance flights over Syria after President Barack Obama gave the OK, U.S. officials said, a move that could pave the way for airstrikes against Islamic State militant targets there.

While the White House says Obama has not approved military action inside Syria, additional intelligence on the militants would likely be necessary before he could take that step. Pentagon officials have been drafting potential options for the president, including airstrikes.

One official said the administration has a need for reliable intelligence from Syria and called the surveillance flights an important avenue for obtaining data.

Drone it is. But this time, by other folks. From Vocativ:

New Video Shows ISIS Using Drones to Plan Battles

The beheading video that ISIS released last week was a vivid illustration of not only the group’s ruthlessness but also its growing media sophistication. The video, with its slick production values, spread rapidly on Twitter and YouTube.

ISIS, which now controls large stretches of Syria and Iraq, uses an elaborate web of social media accounts to recruit new members, mock the West in unusual ways and showcase its military and tech know-how.

In the latest example of this, a new video appeared this past weekend in an official ISIS forum showing ISIS forces preparing to conquer a key military base in Raqqa in northern Syria. The video includes aerial footage (at around the 1.55 mark) apparently taken by an ISIS drone, and viewers hear militants planning out the attack. One talks about “a truck opening the way so that a second suicide bomber can hit the headquarters.” The video also shows graphic images of ISIS executing Syrian soldiers.

Engadget covers cyberstalking:

Political TV ads will soon know who you are

Like it or not, another US election is almost upon us — and this time around, the incessant political advertising may cut a little too close to home. Both Democrats and Republicans are using a new TV ad targeting system from DirecTV and Dish that takes advantage of voter records to put personalized campaign ads on your DVR. If you tend to swing between both parties, you may get different commercials than lifelong supporters. You may also get reminders to vote early if you frequently cast absentee ballots. And unlike conventional targeting methods, which run ads on shows they believe certain demographics will watch, these promos will automatically appear on any show you record as long as there’s a free slot.

Yes, there’s a chance these pitches will get very annoying; there’s enough data that they could chastise you when you haven’t donated or volunteered. However, the sheer expense of producing customized ads makes it unlikely that candidates will get that specific. The DVR technology may actually spare you some grief, in fact, since politicians won’t waste your time if you’re set in your ways. There is a risk that this approach will further polarize voters by limiting their exposure to different views. With that said, many political TV spots aren’t exactly honest to start with — this may just reduce the amount of propaganda you have to put up with during commercial breaks.

The London Daily Mail gets all metaphorical:

Always use protection! £6 USB ‘condom’ stops hackers from giving you viruses and keeps your private data secure

  • The USB device was created by New York-based security experts int3.cc
  • It aims to protect against public charging stations that can download data
  • The USB condom is a small chip that has both male and female ports
  • These connect between a device and the unknown USB port, effectively severing any data connection but linking up the power cables
  • Millions of people worldwide are engaging in high-risk tech.
  • Now a ‘USB condom’ has been designed by security experts in an effort to keep sensitive data secure.
  • The device allows users to plug their phones or tablets into unfamiliar USB ports without risking being infected with a virus.

From MIT Technology Review, pimping exhibitionism:

How Much Is Your Privacy Worth?

  • Despite the outcry over government and corporate snooping, some people allow themselves be monitored for money or rewards.

People can use your sensitive personal information to discriminate against you.

Anyone paying attention knows that his or her Web searches, Facebook feeds, and other online activity isn’t always safe—be it from the prying eyes of the NSA or those of the companies providing a social networking service.

While a substantial chunk of the populace finds all this tracking creepy and invasive, though, there’s a demographic that collectively shrugs at the notion of being mined for data.

Some startups hope to exploit this by buying access to your Web browsing and banking data (see “Sell Your Personal Data for $8 a Month”). Luth Research, a San Diego company, is now offering companies an unprecedented window into the private digital domains of tens of thousands of people who have agreed to let much of what they do on a smartphone, tablet, or PC be tracked for a $100 a month.

From Motherboard, Ayn Rand is smiling:

Net Neutrality Is ‘Marxist,’ According to This Koch-Backed Astroturf Group

A mysterious conservative group with strong ties to the Koch brothers has been bombarding inboxes with emails filled with disinformation and fearmongering in an attempt to start a “grassroots” campaign to kill net neutrality—at one point suggesting that “Marxists” think that preserving net neutrality is a good idea.

The emails, which come with subject lines like “Stop Obama’s federal Internet takeover,” come from American Commitment, an organization that is nonprofit in name only and has been called out time and time again by journalists and transparency organizations for obscuring where it gets its funding.

In an email I received, American Commitment president Phil Kerpen suggests that reclassifying the internet as a public utility is the “first step in the fight to destroy American capitalism altogether” and says that the FCC is plotting a “federal Internet takeover,” a move that “sounds more like a story coming out of China or Russia.”

From Network World, so there’s more than one born every second?:

Hackers prey on Russian patriotism to grow the Kelihos botnet

The cybercriminal gang behind the Kelihos botnet is tricking users into installing malware on their computers by appealing to pro-Russian sentiments stoked by recent international sanctions against the country.

Researchers from security firms Websense and Bitdefender have independently observed a new spam campaign that encourages Russian-speakers to volunteer their computers for use in distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks against the websites of governments that imposed sanctions on Russia for its involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

“We, a group of hackers from the Russian Federation, are worried about the unreasonable sanctions that Western states imposed against our country,” the spam emails read, according to a translation by Bitdefender researchers. “We have coded our answer and below you will find the link to our program. Run the application on your computer, and it will secretly begin to attack government agencies of the states that have adopted those sanctions.”

Motherboard covers the cyberextortionate:

Hackers Will Leak Syrian Stock Exchange Database Unless Assad Tackles ISIS

A group of hackers took down the website of Syria’s only stock exchange this afternoon and are threatening to leak the exchange’s database unless president Bashar al-Assad takes military action against the Islamic State.

The group, called Project Viridium, says that over the last several weeks, it has infected several Islamic State operatives’ computers and have provided the Assad government with information about their whereabouts.

Earlier today, the group tweeted that it had successfully taken down the Damascus Securities Exchange. At the time of this writing, the exchange’s website is still inaccessible, due to what appears to be a fairly common DoS (Denial of Service) attack.

After the jump, the latest from the Asian Game of Zones, including Indo/Pakistani shelling, internal Pakistani tension, a case of diplomatic hypocrisy against accompanied by a Chinese peace feeler, Sino/Indonesian insular petro tension, an Aussie apology and spooky doings, another aerial line-crossing, supersonic submarines, Chinese military/security realignments, Beijing’s eyes in space, Japanese militarism questions, and much more. . . Continue reading

John Oliver strikes again, this time engendered


This time the subject is equal pay for equal work, and you can predict the outcome. The only thing that leaves us bemused is the rationale for inserting that second line of the program note.

From Last Week Tonight with John Oliver:

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Wage Gap

Program note:

John Oliver explores America’s wage gap between men and women and proposes a possible solution.

Note: Solution proposed is 100% sarcastic.

Chart of the day II: Snowden leaks talk reluctance


From the Pew Research Center’s Social Media and the ‘Spiral of Silence [PDF], source of our first COLTD, a telling look at how the medium shapes the message, in this case, how comfortable we’d be in sharing our thoughts about the implications of all those stunning Snowden leaks in different forums, virtual and physical:

BLOG Reticent

Chart of the day: Snowden’s impact on media


From Social Media and the ‘Spiral of Silence’ a must-read new report [PDF] from the Pew Research Center, on the willingness of Americans to talk Edward Snowden’s revelations of National Security Agency surveillance. Sadly, the report did not specifically address the degree to which reluctance was attributable to fear of being on the record against the intrusions of the shadow state into their most intimate conversations. Instead, reluctance was attributed to a natural hesitancy of people to broach a subject with others on which they might disagree.

The report also found that a slim majority approved Snowden’s revelations.

From the report:

BLOG Spooky

InSecurityWatch: Race, spooks, hacks, Asian heat


Today’s coverage of the things that make governments and citizens insecure [often not the same things in the same ways] begins with a real cause for national insecurity in the U.S. Via MintPress News:

US Has “Much Left to Do” On Racism: Segregation Worse Now Than In 70s

One UN committee member is shocked that “in spite of several decades of affirmative action in the United States to improve the mixing up of colors and races in schools … segregation [is] nowadays much worse than it was in the 1970s.”

An official summary of last week’s discussions between the U.N. experts and civil society groups recorded one committee member’s shock “to realize than in spite of several decades of affirmative action in the United States to improve the mixing up of colors and races in schools … segregation was nowadays much worse than it was in the 1970s.”

Another expert noted that “some 39 million African Americans [are] particularly affected by structural racial discrimination in the United States … part of the broader heritage of slavery,” according to the summary.

Indeed, rights advocates here say that one of the most significant impacts of the race convention has been around the broader understanding of the structural issues of racism that persist in the U.S. — those ways in which institutionalized discrimination becomes considered normal.

Techdirt covers the sadly predictable:

Obama Review Of Military Gear Handed To Law Enforcement; Thinks Real Problem Is ‘Training And Guidance’

  • from the emptiest-of-gestures dept

President Obama, most likely prompted by the invasion of Ferguson by armed forces, has called for a review of military equipment provided to local police departments by the same government he presides over. Presumably, this isn’t the sort of “review” he has in mind.

Not that local law enforcement agencies couldn’t throw an impressive Victory Day parade. The 1033 program, which sends military vehicles, weapons and equipment downstream to law enforcement agencies for pennies on the dollar, has shifted $4.3 billion from the Dept. of Defense to hundreds of police departments across the United States since 1997. Here’s what the President is actually interested in seeing.

“Among other things, the president has asked for a review of whether these programs are appropriate,” said a senior administration official, who was not authorized to speak on the record about the internal assessment. The review also will assess “whether state and local law enforcement are provided with the necessary training and guidance; and whether the federal government is sufficiently auditing the use of equipment obtained through federal programs and funding.”

In other words, don’t expect much to change, and not any time soon (if at all).

From the Latin American Herald Tribune, a response to cross-border flatulism:

No Evidence of Jihadists in Mexico, Foreign Minister Says

There is no evidence to support the comments by Texas Gov. Rick Perry that jihadists could enter the United States via the southern border, Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Jose Antonio Meade said.

“It is very unfortunate that some people make foreign policy on the basis of beliefs, suppositions and completely unfounded and absurd analyses,” Meade said in a press conference on Saturday.

Perry said in an address last week that there was a “very real possibility” that Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, terrorists may have entered the United States by crossing the southern border.

The Intercept covers a spooky search engine:

The Surveillance Engine: How the NSA Built Its Own Secret Google

The National Security Agency is secretly providing data to nearly two dozen U.S. government agencies with a “Google-like” search engine built to share more than 850 billion records about phone calls, emails, cellphone locations, and internet chats, according to classified documents obtained by The Intercept.

The documents provide the first definitive evidence that the NSA has for years made massive amounts of surveillance data directly accessible to domestic law enforcement agencies. Planning documents for ICREACH, as the search engine is called, cite the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration as key participants.

ICREACH contains information on the private communications of foreigners and, it appears, millions of records on American citizens who have not been accused of any wrongdoing. Details about its existence are contained in the archive of materials provided to The Intercept by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

RT talks Turkey:

Not-so NATO-ally? Germany spying on Turkey for ‘38 years’

German foreign intelligence agency has been tapping Turkey for almost four decades, reports Focus amid the ongoing spy scandal between Berlin and Ankara. Some German officials defend the practice, saying that not all NATO allies can be treated as friends.

The German Federal Intelligence Service, BND, has been eavesdropping on Turkey since 1976 following the Social Democrat Chancellor Helmut Schmidt’s government approval, Focus magazine wrote on Saturday.

Passions over previous spying allegations revealed in the media are still running high, but a new report may add fuel to the fire triggering further tensions between the two long-time North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies.

And International Business Times covers a rare case of candor:

Qatar And Terrorism: For Better Or For Worse, A Strong Connection

  • German Development Minister Gerd Mueller blasted Qatar on Wednesday.

“You have to ask who is arming, who is financing ISIS troops?” Mueller said in an interview with German public broadcaster ZDF. “The keyword there is Qatar – and how do we deal with these people and states politically?”

The U.S. has also wrestled with Qatar’s connections to Sunni Muslim terrorist organizations. The State Department described Qatar as “largely passive” in cooperating with efforts to cut terrorist funding in an internal cable dated Dec. 30, 2009. The cable concluded that al-Qaeda, the Taliban “and other terrorist groups exploit Qatar as a fundraising locale. Although Qatar’s security services have the capability to deal with direct threats and occasionally have put that capability to use, they have been hesitant to act against known terrorists out of concern for appearing to be aligned with the U.S. and provoking reprisals.”

More recently, the U.S. signed a $11 billion arms and defense deal with Qatar for Apache helicopters, missile defense systems and more in July. The U.S. also keeps an Army base and an Air Force base in Qatar.

From the New York Times, the tragedy resumes:

Egypt and U.A.E. Said to Secretly Bomb Militias in Libya

Twice in the last seven days, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have secretly launched airstrikes against Islamist-allied militias battling for control of Tripoli, Libya, four senior American officials said, in a major escalation of a regional power struggle set off by Arab Spring revolts.

The United States, the officials said, was caught by surprise: Egypt and the Emirates, both close allies and military partners, acted without informing Washington, leaving the Obama administration on the sidelines. Egyptian officials explicitly denied to American diplomats that their military played any role in the operation, the officials said, in what appeared a new blow to already strained relations between Washington and Cairo.

The strikes in Tripoli are another destabilizing salvo in a power struggle defined by old-style Arab autocrats battling Islamist movements seeking to overturn the old order. Since the military ouster of the Islamist president in Egypt last year, the new government and its backers in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have launched a campaign across the region — in the news media, in politics and diplomacy, and by arming local proxies — to roll back what they see as an existential threat to their authority posed by Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood.

From Reuters, more blowback:

Rival second Libyan assembly chooses own PM as chaos spreads

The Libyan parliament that was replaced in an election in June reconvened on Monday and chose an Islamist-backed deputy as the new prime minister, leaving the chaotic country with two rival leaders and assemblies, each backed by armed factions.

An election in June had been aimed at rebuilding state institutions in an attempt to quell three years of spreading violence since the ouster of long-time ruler Muammar Gaddafi.

But the old General National Congress (GNC), where Islamists had a strong voice, has refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of its successor assembly, the House of Representatives, which is dominated by liberals and federalists.

From the Washington Post, Big Brother R Us:

For sale: Systems that can secretly track where cellphone users go around the globe

Makers of surveillance systems are offering governments across the world the ability to track the movements of almost anybody who carries a cellphone, whether they are blocks away or on another continent.

The technology works by exploiting an essential fact of all cellular networks: They must keep detailed, up-to-the-minute records on the locations of their customers to deliver calls and other services to them. Surveillance systems are secretly collecting these records to map people’s travels over days, weeks or longer, according to company marketing documents and experts in surveillance technology.

The world’s most powerful intelligence services, such as the National Security Agency and Britain’s GCHQ, long have used cellphone data to track targets around the globe. But experts say these new systems allow less technically advanced governments to track people in any nation — including the United States — with relative ease and precision.

The Register covers the ludicrous:

Intelligence blunder: You wanna be Australia’s spyboss? No problem, just walk right in

  • Access control? Yeah, we’ve heard of it

The Australian Security Intelligence Service, ASIS, has seemingly demonstrated a peculiar weakness in its access control systems.

A fluke administrative stuff-up allowed its Director-General – its most senior and therefore most sensitive role – to turn up and function for five days while he wasn’t actually employed by the organization.

As outlined by Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, D-G Nick Warner’s contract ended, effectively sacking him, and the cack-handed public service’s computer systems didn’t notice.

From the Independent, a cyber assault:

Sony hit by cyber attack that closes PlayStation Network as plane carrying top executive is diverted following bomb threat

Federal investigators in the United States were attempting on Monday to get to the bottom of a fresh cyber-based assault against the Sony Corporation on Sunday that saw a brief a shut-down of its PlayStation Network and the emergency diversion of a commercial airliner that was carrying one of its top executives.

The company said its network had been fully restored and that no customer information had been compromised in what it said had been a “large-scale” attack, which normally involves an intruder using multiple computers to overwhelm the system forcing it to shut down. Meanwhile, John Smedley, its Online Entertainment President, was safe after what appeared to be a false bomb threat against his plane.

Sony suffered a similar event in 2011 when hackers stole credit card information from about 77 million of its customers crippling the network for two months.

From Deeplinks, a call for Comcastigation:

Comcast Data Breach Leaks Thousands of Unlisted Phone Numbers, Threatening Customers’ Privacy

Four years ago, users of Comcast’s phone service who had paid for their personal information to be unlisted noticed that something was amiss. Complaints started appearing from these individuals who found their names, addresses, and telephone numbers in phone directories both online and off.

Later, it was revealed that this breach of confidential information affected more than 74,000 individuals and households in California—over half of Comcast’s users in California with unlisted numbers. While the breach hit California the hardest, it also occurred with Comcast customers in other states. These numbers were treated just like ordinary listed phone numbers, licensed by Comcast to “publishers,” directory assistance providers, and apparently passed on to other databases and published for everyone to see.

This is but one example of how a mistake in an industry built upon the acquisition and selling of personal information can hurt people.  And this is why California law requires phone companies to protect their customers’ unlisted or non-published phone numbers.1 The California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has opened up an investigation [pdf] to determine whether and to what extent Comcast may have broken the law in allowing this release of non-published numbers. EFF Senior Staff Attorney Lee Tien has submitted testimony [pdf] as an expert witness for the California PUC in this case.

After the jump, the latest from the Asian Game of Zones, including Sino/American semantic escalation and fears of provocation, a renewed nuclear arms race, two maritime message [one submersible], a Chinese film festival canceled, more Chinese crackdowns and indignation, more Japanese dissent, and more reluctance to acquiesce to Abe’s militarization push. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Ebola, ills, critters, water, nukes


Today’s compendium begins, once again, with that latest on the health crisis consuming a continent, opening with this from the Guardian:

Ebola outbreak: Congo becomes fifth country with confirmed cases

  • Health minister says up to 15 people may have died but virus is not linked to epidemic that has spread through west Africa

The World Health Organisation has sent protective equipment for medical staff to the Democratic Republic of the Congo after it became the fifth African country this year to suffer a deadly outbreak of Ebola.

“The ministry of health has declared an outbreak and we are treating it as such,” Tarik Jasarevic, a WHO spokesman, told Reuters in Geneva on Monday.

Congo declared on Sunday that Ebola had been identified in its northern Équateur province after two patients tested positive for the virus, but the health minister, Felix Kabange Numbi, denied any link to the epidemic raging in west Africa.

Officials believe Ebola has killed 13 other people in the region, including five health workers. Kabange said 11 were ill and in isolation and 80 contacts were being traced, and the Djera area would be placed under quarantine. Djera is about 750 miles (1,200km) from Congo’s capital, Kinshasa, and 375 miles from the provincial capital, Mbandaka.

From Deutsche Welle, a graphic representation:

BLOG Ebola

And the accompanying story from Deutsche Welle:

Ebola outbreak in DRC: same virus, but different

  • New cases of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are spreading fears that the virus will spread further across Africa. Yet, the variety found in Central Africa might be of a different kind.

The Ebola River is a small stream running through the forests of the Equateur province in the northwest of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is in this region that the deadly disease was first recognized by Belgian scientists, who named the worm-looking virus after the river in 1976. Now, the virus has once again returned to the Equateur province with two confirmed cases of people who died from Ebola.

“In this region especially, the Ebola virus is circulating and has caused some smaller and larger outbreaks in the past”, says Dr. Schmidt-Chanasit, head of the viral diagnostic unit at Hamburg’s Bernhard-Nocht-Institute. “So this outbreak, most probably, is not associated with the outbreak in West Africa.

“Case fatality rate is much lower when we compare this to West Africa – it’s around 20 percent,” says Schmidt-Chansit. “So it might be possible that this is a different strain of the Ebola virus that is less pathogenic.”

The London Daily Mail covers a controversial policy:

Quarantined at gunpoint, desperate and hungry, the ordeal of the West African towns in quarantine because of Ebola epidemic

  • Volunteers are being paid four pounds a day to sterilize and bury bodies of Ebola victims in Kenema, Sierra Leone
  • Rigorous quarantine measures being used to stop the virus spreading, as those affected reaches 2,615 worldwide
  • In Liberia, soldiers have created weapon-guarded blockades to ensure thousands of residents stay in quarantine
  • Some 20,000 have been left desperate for food as they wait for rationed deliveries to arrive from the government
  • The enforced quarantines have created ghost towns around the area, as authorities try to stop spread of the virus

CBC News offers a critique:

Ebola outbreak: Why Liberia’s quarantine in West Point slum will fail

  • A relic of the Middle Ages, quarantines do more harm than good

Medical experts say that mass quarantine is rarely if ever effective in stemming the spread of a contagion like Ebola, and the move by Liberia to cordon off a sprawling slum is likely to do more harm than good.

“It’s a measure that basically goes back to the Middle Ages. It’s a reflection really of ignorance and panic,” said Dr. Richard Schabas, formerly chief medical officer for Ontario and now in that role in Hastings and Prince Edward counties.

“Mass quarantine of this kind really has no place at all in disease control”

More from the Independent:

Ebola is inspiring irrational fears that are potentially more damaging than the disease itself

  • We need to look beyond the stigma that attaches to those who have been infected

The bigger danger is the irrational fear which has infected families, communities, towns and cities across West Africa. As the virus has spread so have wild rumours about its cause, which have been variously attributed to witchcraft, a Western plot, and a conspiracy by African governments said to have introduced the disease in order to extract multi-million pound payments in aid from the West.

Irrational fear is posing as a great a threat to the countries affected as the virus itself. In Liberia and Sierra Leone, the two worst affected countries, hospitals and clinics have closed, leaving patients with other diseases such as malaria with nowhere to go for treatment. The official toll of 1,427 deaths and 2,615 cases in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone is certain to understate the real total, as many people with ebola in rural areas will have died and been buried without their ever reaching hospital. But even the real figure is likely to dwarfed by collateral deaths caused by the collapse of the countries’ health systems.

A clinic and quarantine centre in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia,  was attacked a week ago and 29 suspected ebola cases fled while an angry mob looted medical items, instruments and soiled bedding. They were heard chanting that ebola was a hoax by the Liberian president to get money.

And from the New York Times, a video report on those charged with burying the victims:

The Gravediggers of Ebola | Virus Outbreak 2014

Program note:

In Sierra Leone, a group of young men take on the dirtiest work of the Ebola outbreak: finding and burying the dead. Produced by: Ben C. Solomon

From the World Health Organization, another side of the crisis:

Unprecedented number of medical staff infected with Ebola

The outbreak of Ebola virus disease in west Africa is unprecedented in many ways, including the high proportion of doctors, nurses, and other health care workers who have been infected.

To date, more than 240 health care workers have developed the disease in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone, and more than 120 have died.

Ebola has taken the lives of prominent doctors in Sierra Leone and Liberia, depriving these countries not only of experienced and dedicated medical care but also of inspiring national heroes.

Several factors help explain the high proportion of infected medical staff. These factors include shortages of personal protective equipment or its improper use, far too few medical staff for such a large outbreak, and the compassion that causes medical staff to work in isolation wards far beyond the number of hours recommended as safe.

The Associated Press covers a casualty:

Liberia: Doctor given experimental Ebola drug dies

A Liberian doctor who received one of the last known doses of an experimental Ebola drug has died, officials said Monday, as Canada said it has yet to send out doses of a potential vaccine that the government is donating.

Ebola has left more than 1,400 people dead across West Africa, underscoring the urgency for developing potential ways to stop and treat the disease. However, health experts warn these options have not undergone the rigorous testing that usually takes place before drugs and vaccines are approved.

The experimental vaccines are at still at a Canadian laboratory, said Patrick Gaebel, spokesman for the Public Health Agency of Canada, who declined to speculate how many weeks it could be before those are given to volunteers.

Jiji Press lends a hand:

Japan to Offer Relief Goods to Ebola-Hit Liberia

Japan will provide emergency relief goods worth 30 million yen, including tents and blankets, to Liberia in response to a request from the West African country hit by Ebola hemorrhagic fever, the Foreign Ministry said Monday.

The relief goods will be sent through the Japan International Cooperation Agency, the ministry said.

In Liberia, the number of people who were confirmed or suspected to have the Ebola virus stood at 1,802 as of Wednesday while the death toll came to 624, according to the World Health Organization.

And CBC News covers another Japanese contribution:

Ebola outbreak: Japan offers anti-influenza drug for treatment

  • Ebola and influenza viruses are the same general type

Japan said Monday it is ready to provide a Japanese-developed anti-influenza drug as a possible treatment for the rapidly expanding Ebola outbreak.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters that Japan can offer favipiravir, developed by a subsidiary of Fujifilm Holdings Corp., at any time at the request of the World Health Organization.

The drug, with the brand name Avigan, was developed by Fujifilm subsidiary Toyama Chemical Co. to treat new and re-emerging influenza viruses, and has not been proven to be effective against Ebola.

Meanwhile, the Times of India covers prevention:

Mumbai airport to screen Indians coming from Ebola-hit Liberia

Elaborate precautionary arrangements have been put in place at the Mumbai airport here to screen the 112 stranded Indians, who are expected to arrive on Tuesday by various flights from and around the Ebola-hit Liberia, authorities said here on Monday.

“As part of the tentative plan, the aircraft will be first taken to a remote bay and all passengers will be screened at the step-ladder exit after the arrival of flights at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (CSIA),” Mumbai International Airport Limited (MIAL) said here.

Besides, while the passengers without any symptoms will be cleared and shifted to terminal for immigration and customs clearance, those coming from Liberia with symptoms suggestive of EVD, will be directly shifted to designated hospital in ambulance from the bay, it said.

From the Guardian, another cause for anxiety, this time Down Under [in both senses]:

‘Sex superbug’ fears over powerful new drug resistant strain of gonorrhoea

  • Sexual health clinics on alert after patient treated in Cairns found to have the highest level of drug resistance reported in Australia

Concerns are mounting over a powerful new form of gonorrhoea after a patient was found to have the highest level of drug resistance to the disease ever reported in Australia.

It is understood the patient, a tourist from central Europe, contracted the “sex superbug” in Sydney and was eventually treated in Cairns.

The discovery of the case in Australia, which resulted in a health alert in July, has also prompted warnings in New Zealand, where sexual health clinics are on high alert amid fears the new strain will spread there.

While in Pakistan, the Express Tribune covers another threat:

Health and safety: KMC to survey 2,000 houses to check for Congo

At least 2,000 houses surrounding the house of a man who died due to the Congo virus on Thursday are being surveyed to check for possible threats of the virus being present in the area.

Muhammad Kashif was a 24-year-old butcher and a resident of Azizabad who contracted the virus and passed away at a private hospital.

This is the first reported case of the Congo virus in the province this year and it has forced the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) to initiate an epidemiologic and demographic survey to gather details of the area the patient resided in.

On to another environmental threat, this time from BBC News:

‘Widespread methane leakage’ from ocean floor off US coast

Researchers say they have found more than 500 bubbling methane vents on the seafloor off the US east coast.

The unexpected discovery indicates there are large volumes of the gas contained in a type of sludgy ice called methane hydrate. There are concerns that these new seeps could be making a hitherto unnoticed contribution to global warming.

The scientists say there could be about 30,000 of these hidden methane vents worldwide.

From the Guardian again, more methane:

Labour attempts to strengthen regulation of UK fracking industry

  • Opposition party to table amendments to Lords infrastructure bill that would tighten rules for companies drilling for shale gas

The Labour party believes the rules covering fracking – or hydraulic fracturing – for gas are not tight enough and will attempt to strengthen regulation of the controversial drilling method by tabling a series of amendments to the infrastructure bill in the House of Lords on Tuesday.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) says there are adequate safeguards covering drilling for shale gas under existing rules or voluntary agreements. However, Tom Greatrex, the shadow energy minister, believes current agreements do not go far enough.

The opposition wants to see well-by-well disclosure of the fracking fluid being pumped into the well, baseline monitoring of methane levels in the groundwater and environmental impact assessments for all fracking sites.

And from Vocativ, the new methane frontier:

What’s the North Pole Worth, Anyways? We Did the Math

  • It’s more valuable than the entire U.S. economy. No wonder the battle for Arctic is fierce

Natural resources are like catnip for power-hungry governments, which is why rich countries have battled over the North Pole for decades. Beneath the frozen tundra bordered by Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States lies some 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas and 15 percent of its untapped oil.

And each of those countries is hell-bent on getting the biggest slice of the pie. Perhaps the most hotly contested area is the Lomonosov Ridge, which spans 1,800 miles and divides the Amerasian and Eurasian basins. Both Canada and Russia claim that resource-rich ridge is a natural extension of their continental shelves. Meanwhile, Russia’s 2001 claim to the ridge was rejected by the United Nations (the governing body that decides such matters), but that didn’t stop the country from planting its flag on the North Pole in 2007.

It is the Canucks, though, who have made the most recent play for the North Pole. In December, Canada filed an application with the U.N. arguing that the North Pole falls within Canadian territory, and this month it launched two ice-breaking vessels to gather more scientific data to support its claim. The Canadian government has reportedly spent nearly $200 million in expeditions as part of its quest for Arctic sovereignty.

More from Yale Environment 360:

A New Frontier for Fracking: Drilling Near the Arctic Circle

Hydraulic fracturing is about to move into the Canadian Arctic, with companies exploring the region’s rich shale oil deposits. But many indigenous people and conservationists have serious concerns about the impact of fracking in more fragile northern environments.
by ed struzik

Among the dozens of rivers that flow unfettered through the Canadian North, the Natla and the Keele may be the most picturesque and culturally important. They are especially significant to the Dene people of the Sahtu region, which straddles the Arctic Circle in the Northwest Territories. Both of the rivers flow crystal clear out of the Mackenzie Mountains along the Yukon/Northwest Territories border before coming together in their final course to the Mackenzie River.

For hundreds — if not thousands — of years, the Mountain Dene people have been traveling upstream to salt licks that draw caribou, moose, and mountain sheep down from the high country in the early fall. For the Dene, it is the best opportunity to stock up on wild game, fish, and berries for the long winter.

Water woes from Want China Times:

Drought affects half a million in Xinjiang

A prolonged drought in northwest China’s Xinjiang has left about 200,000 people in need of emergency aid, including drinking water, said the region’s civil affairs department Saturday.

In seven counties of the Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture of Ili in northern Xinjiang, more than half a million people and 3.46 million head of livestock have been affected. Some 7,700 cattle have died. Rainfall since May in the Ili valley has been about 50% less than in previous years.

Herders are concerned how their livestock will survive the winter due to the destruction of fodder by the drought. Over 4.3 million mu (287,000 hectares) of crops and 22.8 million mu of pastures have suffered, with direct economic losses of 4.3 billion yuan (US$700 million).

More water woes, this time from Yale Environment 360:

Mideast Water Wars: In Iraq, A Battle for Control of Water

Conflicts over water have long haunted the Middle East. Yet in the current fighting in Iraq, the major dams on the Tigris and Euphrates rivers are seen not just as strategic targets but as powerful weapons of war.

There is a water war going on in the Middle East this summer. Behind the headline stories of brutal slaughter as Sunni militants carve out a religious state covering Iraq and Syria, there lies a battle for the water supplies that sustain these desert nations.

Blood is being spilled to capture the giant dams that control the region’s two great rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates. These structures hold back vast volumes of water. With their engineers fleeing as the Islamic State (ISIS) advances, the danger is that the result could be catastrophe — either deliberate or accidental.

“Managing water works along the Tigris and Euphrates requires a highly specialized skill set, but there is no indication that the Islamic State possesses it,” says Russell Sticklor, a water researcher for the CGIAR, a global agricultural research partnership, who has followed events closely.

After the jump, a radical solution to save the world’s wildlife, saving China’s cranes, an ecological/economic crisis in Southern Europe, the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!, an American nuclear mystery, and life-saving cannabis news. . . Continue reading

Chart of the day II: Low trust in American cops


From the Pew Research Center, dramatic evidence of the collapse of trust in America’s police forces, with African-Americans displaying lower levels of trust than whites:

BLOG Cops