Category Archives: Development

The newest global menace? Property developers


Yes indeedy, beneath the high-toned rhetoric employed by real estate developers and their revolving door allies in municipal and national planning bodies, all this talk about affordable housing arising naturally from development is simply hogwash.

Here in Berkeley we spent some years covering the developer scene and witnessed the large flows of cash that usually ensured victories in city council races for candidates who spouted leftish jargon while enabling the one percenters [and the one percenters of the one percenters] to grow fat off charging exorbitant rents to university students. One such developer is David Teece [previously], a faculty member at the little university up the hill, who bankrolled a front man who navigated through the city regulatory process and won concessions allowing him to build much less affordable housing units that city ordinance supposedly mandated.

Then he and his partner sold their edifices to an ever richer Chicago apartment mogul, Sam Zell, who had just finished destroying a good part of the Otis Chandler legacy at the Los Angeles Times, financing his takeover with employee pension funds and doing irreparable harm to a once great [despite its flaws] newspaper.

To quote from a wonderful article about the plight of the Times:

Zell’s nickname was “Grave Dancer,” and his crassness disgusted many journalists — he once suggested that Tribune papers allow X-rated ads because “everyone loves a good blow job.”

“He was the most vulgar, repellent rich person I’ve ever met,” says Tim Rutten, a journalist at the Times for 40 years, who was laid off in 2011.

So with all that in mind, imagine our delight when we chanced upon this video from the Guardian:

The new global menace: Property developers – Owen Jones

Program notes:

They’re shamelessly greedy, they’re tearing apart communities and they’re one of the main drivers of exploding levels of inequality.

Bankers? Tax dodgers? Actually it’s property developers. If they continue in this way argues Owen Jones, soon housing will become a luxury asset for a few to make billions while ordinary citizens are priced out of their homes.

As an old newsie who was once named the most trusted man in America used to end his CBS Evening News broadcasts:

EnviroWatch: Health, coal, cowboys, oil, nukes


Plus endangered spies and lots more.

We begin with neglect via the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

70 percent of Americans with HIV don’t have virus under control, study finds

Amid ongoing fears of an Ebola outbreak in the United States, Americans got a grim reminder on Tuesday about the ongoing public health threat posed by another deadly virus: HIV.

Seventy percent of Americans who have HIV do not have the disease in check, and many of them are no longer receiving treatment, according to a study published Tuesday.

The study found that of 1.2 million people who were living with HIV in the United States in 2011, fewer than three in 10 had the virus under control. Twenty percent had never even been diagnosed. And about 66 percent of those who had been diagnosed were no longer in care.

From TheLocal.no, an unwanted discovery:

Deadly Enterovirus D68 found in Norway

Cases of the potentially deadly enterovirus D68 has been found in Norway, it was revealed on Tuesday.

The virus, which can cause paralysis and is without cure, and there is no cure, has been found in a few cases affecting Norwegians, informed the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (Nasjonalt Folkehelseinstitutt – FHI).

Senior physician of the Division of Infectious Disease Control at FHI, Trude Arnesen, said to NTB: “Enteroviruses are spread from excrement via hands to food, and also by coughing. Good hand and coughing hygiene will reduce the chance of infection.”

From the London Daily Mail, oops:

Bombshell report reveals a TYPO may have led 5,565 nuclear waste drums to be packed with wrong kitty litter that caused Los Alamos plutonium leak debacle

  • The New Mexico facility switched from a clay-based to a plant-based litter, which caused a drum to leak in February
  • A report from the Santa Fe New Mexican out last week details the bumbling–including an order for the wrong litter–predating the leak
  • The barrels containing the organic litter are also mislabled and say they contain inorganic litter
  • Sixteen of the barrels are believed to contain the other chemical elements that led Waste Drum 68660 to basically become a bomb

A tiny typographical error may have been what led to a plutonium waste barrel packed at Los Alamos National Laboratory to explode, leak through the ground and contaminate 22 workers early this year, says a new report.

An order to use the wrong type of kitty litter in the barrels is the likely culprit and thousands of other barrels were packed with it.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reported last week the unbelievable bumbling that made a minor mixup into a massive problem at America’s only permanent nuclear waste dump.

From Xinhua, dam-nation:

China to accelerate water projects

China will step up work on major water conservation projects, especially in rural areas and central and western regions.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said on Monday that governments should accelerate 172 water conservation programs that have strong economic and social importance, during a visit to the Ministry of Water Resources (MWR).

Li prioritized central and western regions to address regional water issues, which included diversion projects, reservoirs and irrigation.

It will not only conserve water but attract investment, boost employment, improve incomes of rural dwellers, bolster industry and even stabilize the economic growth, Li said.

All projects, both under construction or still at the discussion stage, should be quickened in a bid to provide a sustainable driving force for growth.

An urban air airing from Global Times:

China’s haze directly linked to gaseous pollutants from traffic, industrial emissions: study

Severe air pollution in Beijing and other Chinese cities might be directly related to gaseous pollutants rather than particles emitted from urban transportation and regional industry, researchers from China and the United States said Monday.

Photochemical oxidation of gaseous pollutants, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO2), is primarily responsible for the formation of a large amount of fine particulate matter (PM), called secondary particles, during China’s severe haze pollution events, the researchers said.

The contribution from primary emissions and regional transport of PM, known as primary particles, is small, they reported in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Another cost of coal from Shanghai Daily:

24 killed in coal mine fire in NE China

A coal mine fire killed 24 workers and injured 52 others in northeast China’s Liaoning Province early Wednesday, the state-owned Liaoning Fuxin Coal Corporation told Xinhua.

The fire occurred in a coal mine under Hengda Coal, a subsidiary of Fuxin Coal, a major coal producer in the province.

Fuxin Coal said the rescue has been over and all the injured workers have been hospitalized.

From Homeland Security News Wire, an environmental impact assessment:

California’s transportation infrastructure ability to withstand a major earthquake questioned

A significant number of bridges and elevated roadways lie above or close to active fault lines, and Californians often wonder how the state’s towering interchanges and freeway network would perform during a major earthquake.The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) has spent over $13 billion in the last forty years to reinforce vulnerable bridges and interchanges. Caltrans officials note that during a major earthquake, freeways are likely to sustain significant damage, but engineers feel confident that freeways will not collapse.

Californians often wonder how the state’s towering interchanges and freeway network would perform during a major earthquake. A significant number of bridges and elevated roadways lie above or close to active fault lines. “You see it looming, and as you get closer, it just gets taller and taller,” said Noel Vasquez of Whittier, as he eyes the Harbor Freeway before connecting with the 105 freeway. “You drive by and you think, ‘Man, I’d hate for that thing to break.’”

During the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, a double-decked portion of interstate 880 crumbled in Oakland, killing forty-two people. The 1971 magnitude 6.7 San Fernando temblor destroyed ramps linking the 5 and 14 freeways in the Newhall Pass interchange. After reopening two years later, the interchange collapse during the 1994 Northridge quake.

From Deutsche Welle, a much-needed preservation effort:

South Africa: Saving the Cape Parrots

Program notes:

There are only a thousand or so Cape parrots left. The species is in danger of extinction. The Cape Parrot Project wants to ensure its future.

Action at a distance, via Reuters:

In wake of China rejections, GMO seed makers limit U.S. launches

China’s barriers to imports of some U.S. genetically modified crops are disrupting seed companies’ plans for new product launches and keeping at least one variety out of the U.S. market altogether.

Two of the world’s biggest seed makers, Syngenta AG and Dow AgroSciences, are responding with tightly controlled U.S. launches of new GMO seeds, telling farmers where they can plant new corn and soybean varieties and how can the use them. Bayer CropScience told Reuters it has decided to keep a new soybean variety on hold until it receives Chinese import approval.

Beijing is taking longer than in the past to approve new GMO crops, and Chinese ports in November 2013 began rejecting U.S. imports saying they were tainted with a GMO Syngenta corn variety, called Agrisure Viptera, approved in the United States, but not in China.

The developments constrain launches of new GMO seeds by raising concerns that harvests of unapproved varieties could be accidentally shipped to the world’s fastest-growing corn market and denied entry there. It also casts doubt over the future of companies’ heavy investments in research of crop technology.

From the New York Times, Republican reaction anticipated:

Obama to Introduce Sweeping New Controls on Ozone Emissions

The Obama administration is expected to release on Wednesday a contentious and long-delayed environmental regulation to curb emissions of ozone, a smog-causing pollutant linked to asthma, heart disease and premature death.

The sweeping regulation, which would aim at smog from power plants and factories across the country, particularly in the Midwest, would be the latest in a series of Environmental Protection Agency controls on air pollution that wafts from smokestacks and tailpipes. Such regulations, released under the authority of the Clean Air Act, have become a hallmark of President Obama’s administration.

Environmentalists and public health advocates have praised the E.P.A. rules as a powerful environmental legacy. Republicans, manufacturers and the fossil fuel industry have sharply criticized them as an example of costly government overreach.

After the jump, tar sands oil boom leads to Canadian cowboy shortage, a Canadian pipeline protest, the bill for British air pollution, banking on a coal funding cutoff Down Under, Big Coal and Big Power await the ruling of a mercurial court, then on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with the latest measure to stop of escape of radioactive water, then on to British nuclear power woes, plus a massive Vietnamese haul of dead endangered turtles. . . Continue reading

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

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

Ebola, poverty, and dubious philanthropy


Allyson Pollock is a physician and expert in public health and serves as professor of public health research and policy at Queen Mary University of London. Previously she had founded and served as first director of the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for International Public Health Policy.

She’s uniquely qualified to add a critical perspective to the African public health environment which has been so critically impacted by the Ebola epidemic.

Here she looks at the outbreak in conversation with Sharmini Peries, executive producer for the always-informative Real News Network:

Ebola: A Disease of Extraordinary Poverty

From the transcript:

PERIES: Allyson, what is great about the virus today is that if you contract this virus, you have a 55 percent chance that you will die from it. What is happening to the other 45? Why are they surviving? Is it conditions or is it the virus?

POLLOCK: Well, I don’t know if that’s quite the right question to ask. I suppose we should be asking why are so many people dying of the virus in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia, where the disease is taking hold. And the real issue is that the high case fatality rate is due largely because this is a disease of extraordinary poverty. So there’s malnutrition, poor sanitation, poor nutrition. So that creates poor housing. That creates the economic climate for the spread of the disease.

But on top of that, these three countries, it’s no coincidence that these three countries are among the very poorest in the world. And over the last few decades, the little public health care infrastructure they did have has been gradually hollowed out. The problem is not that people are falling sick so much as when they fall sick there hasn’t been the means to both contain the disease and to nurse them back to proper health. And so [incompr.] low immune systems and poor social conditions, it means their immunity’s reduced and they’re more vulnerable to infection and, of course, disease spreads more easily.

But the real issue, of course, is that it should be managed very easily by isolation and quarantine, and also by barrier nursing. But the problem is that it spreads because the infrastructure, the health care systems, cannot support the sick and the needy at the moment.

PERIES: Allyson, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, they have lots of natural resources. Why are they not able to afford the basic health services required to deal with this problem? What has happened?

POLLOCK: Well, it’s quite a complicated picture, but it really boils down to two or three factors. The first is, of course, some of these countries have had decades of civil war. So money has been spent on fighting, and [civil] wars always are disastrous for countries. They always result in the decay and collapse of economies, and it takes a long time to recover. And, of course, wars also result in displaced people, so you have a lot of migration, you have a lot of refugees moving across the border, and that also creates conditions for the propagation of disease. So that’s the first thing, economic collapse on the back of major civil wars and mass migration.

The second thing, of course, is, as you rightly say, these countries are very rich. They’ve got mines, mineral rights, forests, agriculture, palm oil, rubber, coffee, cocoa. So really they’ve got a lot of natural resources. But we’ve got a second problem going on, which is, increasingly, foreign direct investors and Western governments have been coming in and using public-private partnerships. There’s been sequestration of land and mineral rights and the mines, so that increasingly the people in these countries are being used as employees and as cheap labor. But very little of the resources that are within the country are contained within the country. They’re actually flowing out. And they’re flowing out through very expensive public-private partnerships and deals where you’ve seen the undermining and loss of land. You see this especially, for example, in Sierra Leone. And then [incompr.] collapse of the economy, and you’ve got the foreign direct [snip] coming in. You’ve also got corruption of governments and government officials. So you’ve got a whole undermining of the democratic base of countries and their ability to determine their future.

And really this is what we should be looking at is the issue of self-determination. How do these countries, which are among the poorest in the world, which also are very resource-rich, how do they actually recover?

And Western governments play a big role in the determination of their future. The West has benefited hugely, over centuries, actually, in the scramble for Africa, as it’s called, undermining the resources and the agriculture and the rights. And the West must now begin to put back even a tiny bit of what it’s actually taken away.

And here’s the second part:

Ebola: A Disease of Extraordinary Poverty [2/2]

From the transcript:

PERIES: So here we were talking about the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. One of their approaches is a vertical health program. And explain to us what exactly that is, Allyson, and why it’s not adequately addressing the problem that West Africans are facing.

POLLOCK: Well, vertical disease programs are very fashionable because they’re a way of targeting treatments and diagnostic services. But what happens is they usually have a single-disease focus, such as TB, malaria, and AIDS. And then what happens is that a whole set of interventions are designed to target the disease or to target the populations at risk. But, of course, the problem is that they ignore all the other diseases and conditions that people have, such as diarrheal diseases, which are much–were very common, or injuries, or all the other kinds of diseases. So they don’t provide a comprehensive set of health services. And any health service needs to think about how it’s going to cover everybody and be comprehensive.

So you have to design a system to do that, which means that you begin with the building blocks of primary care and community health services, and then you move up to hospitals and–to clinics and then hospitals and then tertiary hospitals. And the problem with vertical disease programs is that they parachute in treatments and workers who only focus on one disease. They take a very–what one might say [is] a medicalized view but actually is a technocratic view of public health, which is completely inappropriate, because anybody who has TB or malaria in Africa, many of these people will also have a range of other diseases or conditions or malnutritions. So, for example, in Liberia and Sierra Leone, we know that more than half the children are stunted and are not growing due to the diseases of poverty and malnutrition.

So taking a single-disease approach is very, very harmful. But, of course, it’s exactly what technology likes. It’s, like, what the drug industry likes and it’s what technology industry like, the idea of a supply chain, where you’re taking drugs and diagnostic services straight to the patient. And that’s the problem is that health care is seen as a supply chain rather than a set of health services that [incompr.] to provide proper comprehensive health care.

PERIES: Allyson, it used to be that the World Health Organization had programs that were actually more comprehensive, and their approach was more geared to the specific needs of countries, communities. But the WHO has been heavily defunded in recent years and unable to carry out that role, and instead, as you say, we’re getting this kind of approach that is more targeted and not into a systemic solution to the problem. What did you see as the solution? Do you see refunding WHO to a greater level as one of the solutions?

EbolaWatch: Quarantines, panic, pols, & Africa


We begin with root causes, starting with this from the Guardian:

Ebola is a product of a destructive and exploitative global economic system

Deforestation and increasing demands on habitats to produce food don’t just wreck the environment, they are increasing the risk of global pandemics like Ebola

Like a sleepwalker roused from his dream, the world is slowly waking up to the full nightmare of the Ebola outbreak decimating west Africa. With small numbers of cases turning up in western countries, governments here are belatedly pledging action to fight the disease, which has already claimed almost 5,000 lives.

Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea – all countries struggling to recover from wars still fresh in the memory – have buckled under the onslaught of this horrific virus. Inadequate, creaking health services have been no match for a ruthless killer. But while the shocking poverty of these countries provides the fertile ground for the disease to spread, there are bigger issues at play that ought to cause us to think about the macroeconomic conditions that brought us to this point.

Ebola – like HIV, anthrax, Sars, avian flu and other pandemics of recent years – is a zoonotic virus, one that has crossed from animals to humans. It was first identified in 1976 during near-simultaneous outbreaks in Sudan and what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The strain of Ebola implicated in the current outbreak is thought to have originated from a mutant pathogen found in fruit bats. This is where we see a direct connection with economic development. The conflicts which have done so much damage to the affected countries have also attracted a range of activities – both legal and illicit – including logging and extractive industries like bauxite mining, which have deforested large swathes of the region.

More from The Ecologist:

Oil palm explosion driving West Africa’s Ebola outbreak

The medical response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has been monstrously inadequate, writes Richard Kock. But so has been recognition of the underlying causes – in particular the explosive spread of industrial oil palm, which disrupts the ecology of forests and farms, and undermines local economy and traditional governance, leading to a ‘perfect storm’ of disease.

It is poverty that drives villagers to encroach further into the forest, where they become infected with the virus when hunting and butchering wildlife, or through contact with body fluids from bats – this has been seen with Nipah, another dangerous virus associated with bats.

The likelihood of infection in this manner is compounded by inadequate rural health facilities and poor village infrastructure, compounded by the disorganised urban sprawl at the fringes of cities.

The virus then spreads in a wave of fear and panic, ill-conceived intervention and logistical failures – including even insufficient food or beds for the severely ill.

Take for example the global palm oil industry, where a similar trend of deep-cutting into forests for agricultural development has breached natural barriers to the evolution and spread of specific pathogens.

The effects of land grabs and the focus on certain fruit crop species leads to an Allee effect, where sudden changes in one ecological element causes the mechanisms for keeping populations – bats in this case – and viruses in equilibrium to shift, increasing the probability of spill over to alternative hosts.

Next, some possibly good news from the Guardian:

Ebola may have reached turning point, says Wellcome Trust director

  • Dr Jeremy Farrar says international community is belatedly taking the actions necessary to stem the tide of the disease

Writing in the Guardian, Dr Jeremy Farrar says that although there are several bleak months ahead, “it is finally becoming possible to see some light. In the past 10 days, the international community has belatedly begun to take the actions necessary to start turning Ebola’s tide.

“The progress made is preliminary and uncertain; even if ultimately successful it will not reduce mortality or stop transmission for some time. We are not close to seeing the beginning of the end of the epidemic but [several] developments offer hope that we may have reached the end of the beginning.”

Farrar’s comments come as the World Health Organisation confirmed that the number of Ebola cases in Liberia has started to decline, with fewer burials and some empty hospital beds. But the WHO warned against any assumption that the outbreak there was ending.

“I’m terrified that the information will be misinterpreted,” said Dr Bruce Aylward, assistant director-general in charge of the Ebola operational response. “This is like saying your pet tiger is under control. This is a very, very dangerous disease. Any transmission change could result in many, many more deaths.”

Science qualifies the optimism:

Liberia’s Ebola progress real, but epidemic far from under control

The apparent decline in cases could mean that  families are hiding patients and secretly burying the dead, but it is more likely that a combination of factors has reduced the spread of the disease, said Aylward. “There was a rapid scale up in safe burial practices in the month of September,” he said, adding that many people were isolated in Ebola treatment units, further curbing spread. There also has been intensive education of communities about the disease, including how it is spread, the value of seeking care, and self-protection strategies.

The situations in Guinea and Sierra Leone, the other two hard-hit countries, have not changed as dramatically.

In a disconnect with the drop of cases in Liberia, Aylward noted that WHO has tallied 13,703 cases—a jump of more than 3000 from the figures released 25 October. He said the steep increase reflects reporting on a backlog of cases “With the huge surge in cases in certain countries, particularly in September and October, people got behind on their data,” he said. “They ended up with huge piles of paper and we knew we were going to see jumps in cases at certain times that are going to be associated with more new data coming in that are actually old cases.” He said about 2000 of the latest cases came from old data collected in Liberia, where reporting of cases continues to be a problem. “Data for Liberia are missing for 19, 20, 21, 26 and 27 October,” the latest update from WHO notes.

And from Liberia itself, another caution via The NewDawn:

Ellen warns against early excitement – Chinese military team arrives

President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has warned against early jubilation over news of reduction in the infection across the country with news of less than 400 cases nationwide.

The Liberian leader is cautioned citizens and residents against a repeat of a scenario in March this year when people got “too happy too soon” over decline in Ebola infection, thereby giving room for the virus to resurface by June when preventive measures were largely downplayed.

“Yes we feel good, but we want to be cautious. We don’t want people to get happy too soon; we got to continue this fight, and we got to continue it with everything that we got,” President Sirleaf said Tuesday in Monrovia when she received an advance Chinese military delegation of 15 personnel to build ETUs here.

Judging from previous scenario, she warned, “This time we want to be careful, we’ll not be satisfied until we are declared that the last Ebola victim has been cured and is freed of this disease.” President Sirleaf’s warning comes as government prepares to conduct a mid-term election for 15 senators in December.

A video report from euronews:

Ebola: WHO announces ‘slowing rate of new cases’

Program notes:

Liberia may be experiencing a slowdown in the rate of new cases of the deadly Ebola virus according to the World Health Organization.

“We are seeing a slowing rate of new cases, very definitely,” WHO Assistant Director General Bruce Aylward announced.

The African country has reportedly seen a drop in burials and new hospital admissions, while the number of laboratory-confirmed cases has levelled out.

While the Associated Press adds more nuance:

Top UN Ebola official: new cases poorly tracked

Authorities are having trouble figuring out how many more people are getting Ebola in Liberia and Sierra Leone and where the hot spots are in those countries, harming efforts to get control of the raging, deadly outbreak, the U.N.’s top Ebola official in West Africa said Tuesday.

“The challenge is good information, because information helps tell us where the disease is, how it’s spreading and where we need to target our resources,” Anthony Banbury told The Associated Press by phone from the Ghanaian capital of Accra, where the U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response, or UNMEER, is based.

Health experts say the key to stopping Ebola is breaking the chain of transmission by tracing and isolating those who have had contact with Ebola patients or victims. Health care workers can’t do that if they don’t know where new cases are emerging.

“And unfortunately, we don’t have good data from a lot of areas. We don’t know exactly what is happening,” said Banbury, the chief of UNMEER.

Meanwhile, the crisis remains both critical and costly. From Sky News:

Ebola: DEC Launches ‘Unprecedented’ Appeal

The charity group asks the public for money to halt the “explosive” virus – the first time it has done so for a disease outbreak.

The Disasters Emergency Committee is to launch a major television appeal over the Ebola crisis, the first time it has called for donations in response to a disease.

The committee, which is made up of 13 of the UK’s major aid charities, said it took the decision because the killer virus threatens to become a “catastrophe”.

The DEC described the spread of the virus as “explosive”, and said it was devastating communities, health services and people’s ability to support themselves.

Next, California joins the list of states with Ebola quarantine policies, via the San Jose Mercury News:

Ebola: California is latest state to impose 21-day quarantine for those exposed to Ebola

California on Wednesday became the latest state to order a 21-day quarantine for travelers who have been in close contact with Ebola patients.

In an attempt to avoid the criticism lodged against New York, New Jersey and Maine that had blanket quarantine orders, however, California will allow county health agencies to impose the quarantine on a case-by-case basis.

By working with county health departments to assess the individual risks, the California Department of Public Health said it “respects the individual circumstances of each traveler while protecting and preserving the public health.”

And a case at hand, via KCBS in San Francisco:

Stanford Surgeon Under ‘Modified Quarantine’ In San Mateo County After Returning From Liberia

A Stanford surgeon has been put on modified quarantine in San Mateo County after treating Ebola patients in Liberia for the past month.

Dr. Colin Bucks returned to the Bay Area on Friday, but no state or federal quarantine orders were in place at the time. Dr. Bucks is not experiencing any symptoms of Ebola, but he is the first Californian to be quarantined under the new guidelines. Bucks is considered by health officials to be at “some risk.”

The doctor contacted San Mateo County health officials. After consultation with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the California Dept. of Public Health, Dr. Bucks was told to stay away from work and to stay away from others for 21 days. However, he can leave his house to go jogging by himself. He is taking his temperature every day and has not developed any symptoms.

Politics of pain, via the Los Angeles Times:

Obama urges Americans to honor aid workers fighting Ebola in Africa

President Obama on Tuesday urged Americans to set aside their fears of the Ebola virus and make sure U.S. healthcare workers who go to West Africa are “applauded, thanked and supported” when they return home.

If those workers are successful in fighting the virus at the source of the outbreak, he said, “we don’t have to worry about it here.”

“They are doing God’s work over there,” Obama said, “and they are doing that to keep us safe.”

And a fundamental lack from the Associated Press:

Funding to tame an Ebola outbreak has fallen short

“We don’t really have a pharmaceutical response for Ebola,” said retired Air Force Col. Randall Larsen, the former executive director of the Congressional Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction. “But could you imagine if there were 20,000 sick people in 10 cities and we did not have a pharmaceutical response? We would be completely overwhelmed.”

Emergency preparedness programs ramped up significantly in the U.S. after the Sept. 11 attacks and the 2001 anthrax scare, said Dr. Gerald Parker, a former principal deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. Health and Human Services preparedness office. Those efforts included research and development of vaccines and anti-viral drugs.

“It was recognized that there would be a dual benefit from research on vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics to counter bioterror threats and emerging infectious diseases,” said Parker, now a vice president at Texas A&M Health Science Center.

But a combination of budgetary constraints and politics has delayed many of those plans.

Other quarantine news from the New York Times:

New York State Ebola Policy Allows for In-Home Quarantine

Offering the first detailed account of how New York State’s quarantine order for health care workers returning from West Africa will be put into effect, the Cuomo administration has issued guidelines that go beyond federal recommendations but seek to allow individuals to spend their enforced isolation in a location of their choosing.

The state documents, copies of which were obtained by The New York Times, show an effort by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration to portray the quarantine in a humane manner.

The protocols are meant to ensure “a respectful and supportive approach” to arriving travelers, who are supposed to be “treated with the utmost respect and concern,” according to a document prepared by the State Health Department that outlines the screening procedures.

While the Guardian covers a controversy:

Ebola: Maine deploys state police to quarantined nurse’s home

  • Kaci Hickox, who was held for days in an isolation tent in New Jersey, says she doesn’t plan on obeying home quarantine in her home state

A nurse freed from an Ebola isolation tent in a New Jersey hospital declared on Wednesday the she will not comply with a quarantine request imposed by state officials, saying the policy is not based on science and infringes on her civil liberties.

“I don’t plan on sticking to the guidelines,” nurse Kaci Hickox told the Today show from her home in Maine. “I remain appalled by these home quarantine policies that have been forced upon me, even though I am in perfectly good health and feeling strong and have been this entire time completely symptom-free.”

The governor’s office said in a statement that Maine state police would monitor Kickox’s home “for both her protection and the health of the community”. A TV reporter with the local WLBZ news channel said as of 1pm ET on Wednesday at least two police cars were parked out front of the home.

More from the Washington Post:

Maine Gov. Paul LePage is seeking legal authority to enforce Ebola quarantine on nurse

Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) is looking for ways to force a nurse released from mandatory Ebola isolation in New Jersey to abide by a similar 21-day quarantine in Maine.

“The Office of the Governor has been working collaboratively with the State health officials within the Department of Health and Human Services to seek legal authority to enforce the quarantine,” LePage’s office said in a statement Wednesday. “We hoped that the health-care worker would voluntarily comply with these protocols, but this individual has stated publicly she will not abide by the protocols.”

Still more from the Guardian:

Maine prepared to go to court to enforce nurse’s Ebola quarantine order

  • Officials plead with Kaci Hickox to abide by 21-day order
  • ‘I have been this entire time completely symptom-free’

Maine’s top public health official has said the state will if necessary seek a court order to ensure a nurse stays quarantined in her home after returning from treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone.

Mary Mayhew, the commissioner of the state department of health and human services, pleaded with Hickox to abide by the state’s 21-day at-home quarantine order.

“We do not want to legally enforce an in-home quarantine unless absolutely necessary,” Mayhew said on Wednesday afternoon.

More quarantine politics from Reuters:

Obama sees different Ebola rules for U.S. military than for civilians

President Barack Obama on Tuesday appeared to back more rigorous procedures for dealing with soldiers returning from missions to Ebola-hit West African countries, even as he criticized moves by some U.S. states to quarantine returning civilian health workers.

Obama said that American military personnel were in a “different situation” compared with healthcare workers. While civilians may be discouraged from volunteering to help fight the Ebola if they are facing quarantine on their return, troops were sent as part of their mission and could expect such inconveniences.

“They are already by definition if they are in the military under more circumscribed conditions,” Obama told reporters at the White House. “We don’t expect to have similar rules for our military as we do for civilians.”

More from USA Today:

Quarantine ordered for troops returning from W. Africa

U.S. troops returning from Ebola-stricken nations will be isolated for 21 days, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Wednesday, a day after the White House raised concerns about states imposing strict quarantines of health care workers returning from West Africa.

Top commanders for the Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps made the recommendation to Hagel on Tuesday. The Army instituted an isolation requirement for 21 days — the incubation period for the deadly virus — on Monday.

Hagel directed the isolation policy be reviewed in 45 days to see whether it was necessary to continue with it, said Rear Adm. John Kirby, Pentagon press secretary.

Still more from the Guardian:

Conflicting Ebola guidelines put US defense secretary in a tough spot

  • Hagel’s choice on quarantining troops returning from west Africa involves rebuking either government scientists or military leaders

The Ebola outbreak has placed the US secretary of defense on the horns of a dilemma: whether to back the military service chiefs about a quarantine for troops or to support the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which recommends no such thing.

Defense chief Chuck Hagel has received a recommendation for a “quarantine-like program” for all US servicemembers returning from Liberia and Senegal, where they are supporting civilian efforts to contain the disease, Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said on Tuesday.

The recommendation, made by the heads of the military services, would expand across the military a directive made on Monday from the army chief, General Raymond Odierno, to keep soldiers returning from Operation United Assistance in Liberia and Senegal under a 21-day period of “controlled monitoring”.

Kirby said Hagel has yet to make a decision, having received the quarantine recommendation earlier on Tuesday. But imposing a broader military quarantine for returning servicemembers goes beyond new guidance set on Monday by the CDC, which urged a home quarantine only for high-risk individuals, such as those whose body fluids have been directly exposed to Ebola. US troops have not been involved in treating Ebola patients.

And yet more from Reuters:

US isolates troops

The U.S. military has started isolating soldiers returning from an Ebola response mission in West Africa and Australia became the first rich nation to impose a visa ban on the affected countries amid global anxiety about the spread of the virus.

The latest measures, along with decisions by some U.S. states to impose mandatory quarantines on health workers returning home from treating Ebola victims in West Africa, have been condemned by health authorities and the United Nations as extreme.

The top health official in charge of dealing with Washington’s response to Ebola warned against turning doctors and nurses who travel to West Africa to tackle Ebola into “pariahs”.

From Reuters, intranational man of mystery:

In Ebola response, Obama’s ‘czar’ stays behind the curtain

It’s not often that a White House official gets mocked on both Saturday Night Live and a major daily newspaper before he makes his first public appearance.

But Ron Klain’s low-profile first week as President Barack Obama’s behind-the-scenes Ebola “czar” has become another attack point for a White House struggling to show it’s on top of the crisis.

Since starting last Wednesday, Klain has been seen only once, in a photo op on his first day, leaving health officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institutes of Health – and Obama himself – to be the public “face” of the response.

The White House has declined to give details about his activities, especially what role he played as governors Andrew Cuomo of New York and Chris Christie of New Jersey undermined the White House’s attempt to keep the nation calm about the risk posed by healthcare workers returning from Ebola-stricken West Africa.

More predictable politics from the Associated Press:

Jeb Bush: Obama handling of Ebola ‘incompetent’

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on Tuesday criticized President Barack Obama’s initial handling of the Ebola crisis as “incompetent,” saying it gave rise to unneeded fears among the American public about the virus.

Bush, who is the latest potential Republican presidential candidate to attack the president over Ebola, also said in a wide-ranging discussion at Vanderbilt University that he supports travel restrictions for people who have been to the most severely affected countries in Africa.

Bush said Obama should have been more “clear and concise” about his plans, and lent more credibility to health officials leading the response.

“It looked very incompetent to begin with, and that fueled fears that may not be justified,” Bush said. “And now you have states that are legitimately acting on their concerns, creating a lot more confusion than is necessary.”

Meanwhile, the Obama administration made a notable symbolic move sure to piss off some of Bush’s former Florida constituents, via the Associated Press:

US sends health official to Cuban Ebola meeting

The United States has sent a health official to a Cuban meeting on coordinating Latin America’s response to Ebola. The participation of the Centers for Disease Control’s Central America director is the most concrete sign to date of the two nations’ expressed desire to cooperate against the disease.

The two-day meeting that began Tuesday in Havana is sponsored by ALBA, a forum of left-leaning Latin countries founded by Cuba and Venezuela as a counterweight to U.S. influence in the region.

Cuba is sending at least 256 medical workers to West Africa to treat and prevent Ebola. The World Health Organization says it’s the largest contribution by a single government, although there may be more doctors of other nationalities who are sent by non-governmental organizations.

The U.S. has welcomed Cuba’s response.

Ebolaphobia from the New York Times:

Connecticut Child Barred From School After Trip to Africa; Father Sues

The father of a Connecticut third grader filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday, saying his daughter has been unfairly barred from school amid fears she may have been exposed to the Ebola virus while in Africa.

The daughter, Ikeoluwa Opayemi, and her family, who live in Milford, visited Nigeria for a wedding from Oct. 2 to 13, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in Federal District Court in New Haven.

When the girl tried to return to the Meadowside Elementary School, she was told by the school district’s health director that she would have to stay home until Nov. 3 “due to concern from certain parents and teachers that she could transmit Ebola to other children,” according to the lawsuit.

More from Ebolaphobics from Science:

Been to an Ebola-affected country? Stay away from tropical medicine meeting, Louisiana says

Ebola fears are interfering with the world’s premier scientific meeting on tropical diseases. Today, Louisiana state health officials asked anyone who has traveled to Liberia, Sierra Leone, or Guinea in the past 21 days, or has treated Ebola patients elsewhere, to stay away from the annual meeting of the American Society for Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH), which begins on Sunday in New Orleans.

ASTMH doesn’t know exactly how many scientists will be affected, but there are several, says incoming president Christopher Plowe, including representatives from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “They are quite disappointed,” says Plowe, a malaria researcher at the University of Maryland. ASTMH sent all meeting registrants an email today containing a letter from Kathy Kliebert, secretary of Louisiana’s Department of Health & Hospitals, and Kevin Davis, director of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness, that outlines the state’s position. ASTMH referred registrants to the state’s health department for further information.

“Given that conference participants with a travel and exposure history for [Ebola] are recommended not to participate in large group settings (such as this conference) or to utilize public transport, we see no utility in you traveling to New Orleans to simply be confined to your room,” the letter says.

After the jump, an infectious lie, a sole supplier, North Korean Ebolaphobia, Hong Kong preparedness, fast-tracking a vaccine, anger at Aussie exclusion, Japanese angst leads to a task force, then on to Africa and vigilance in the newest addition to the ranks of the stricken while a border remains open, a study of who survive in Sierra Leone, Tokyo lends mobile assistance, Brits train “Ebola warriors,” missing funds, and survivors are shunned, then on to Liberia and the crisis personified, the healthcare worker’s painful conundrum, another blow to overstretched police resources, long overdue pay for healthcare workers, a cultural belief hampering prevention efforts with specific voices heard, Christian leaders call a three-day fast, a Christian tradition invoked, a change in command of American boots on the ground, and a presidential birthday is deferred, thence to Nigeria and an unanticipated arrival, followed by a precipitous tourism decline in Kenya. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Ills, climate, critters, & nukes


With begin with an enigma, via the Atlantic Monthly:

The Mysterious Polio-Like Disease Affecting American Kids

  • Doctors are stumped about the condition’s origins—and its treatment

More than 100 cases of a polio-like syndrome causing full or partial paralysis of the arms or legs have been seen in children across the United States in recent months, according to doctors attending the annual meeting of the Child Neurology Society.

Symptoms have ranged from mild weakness in a single arm to complete paralysis of arms, legs, and even the muscles controlling the lungs, leading in some cases to a need for surgery to insert a breathing tube, doctors said.

The outbreak, which appears to be larger and more widespread than what has largely been previously reported by medical and news organizations, has neurologists and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scrambling to find out what is causing these cases and how best to treat it.

“We don’t know how to treat it, and we don’t know how to prevent it,” said Keith Van Haren, a child neurologist at Stanford University School of Medicine. “It actually looks just like polio, but that term really freaks out the public-health people.”

And another outbreak spreads, via MercoPress:

France reports four cases of chikungunya locally acquired infections

On 21 October 2014, WHO was notified by the National IHR Focal Point for France of 4 cases of chikungunya locally-acquired infection in Montpellier, France. The cases were confirmed by tests conducted by the French National Reference Laboratory for arboviruses on 20 October 2014. This is the first time that locally-acquired transmission of chikungunya has been detected in France since 2010.

The 4 cases of chikungunya infection occurred within the same family, with symptoms onset between 20 September and 12 October. The cases live in Montpellier in the vicinity of a chikungunya case imported from Cameroon. The cases have no history of travel out of their district of residence in the 15 days prior to the onset of symptoms.

Big Agra, deep pockets, via the Guardian:

Pro-GM labelling campaign hugely outspent in Colorado and Oregon ballot

  • Industry giants are spending more than $25m to defeat campaigns for mandatory GM food labelling in the two states, in the runup to next month’s vote

Biotech and supermarket giants are spending more than $25m (£15.6m) to defeat ballot initiatives in two western states that would require labelling of foods containing genetically modified organisms.

In Colorado, Dupont and Monsanto food companies are outspending supporters of mandatory labelling by 22-1 ahead of the 4 November vote, according to state campaign finance records.

In Oregon, meanwhile, industry is outspending supporters of the ballot measure by about 2-1.

The heavy industry spending resembles the last-minute infusions of cash for television ads, direct mail, and campaign staff that helped defeat earlier campaigns for mandatory GM labelling in California and Washington state.

From the Los Angeles Times, the first of two California Scorched headlines:

A parched farm town is sinking, and so are its residents’ hearts

Beneath this small farm town at the end of what’s left of the Kings River, the ground is sinking.

Going into the fourth year of drought, farmers have pumped so much water that the water table below Stratford fell 100 feet in two years. Land in some spots in the Central Valley has dropped a foot a year.

In July, the town well cracked in three places. Household pipes spit black mud, then pale yellow water. After that, taps were dry for two weeks while the water district patched the steel well casing.

In September, the children of migrant farmworkers who usually come back to Stratford School a few weeks late, after the grape harvest, never came back at all. By October, there were new faces in the drought relief line in front of the school, picking up boxes of applesauce, canned tomatoes, peanut butter, rice.

And the second, via the Los Angeles Times:

For Sierra resident, the well runs dry — along with her options

Things were bad enough for Rochelle Landers before her well went dry. No job. No money for eye glasses or dentures. And now, for the last month and a half, no water.

Landers, a onetime school secretary, does not live in the parched heart of the state: the San Joaquin Valley, where some people get sand when they turn on the faucet.

She has an acre in the Sierra foothills, in a sparsely populated town an hour northeast of Sacramento with a seemingly abundant water supply despite the drought. Except for one thing: Her water comes from a well. And her well, which is shallow, has gone dry.

Last month, when her faucet stopped working, Landers thought her water pump was broken. What did she know? She’d purchased her dilapidated home 18 months earlier, moving back to California after a stint in Virginia. Four men from the drilling company slid the heavy concrete cover off her well and peered inside.

“Can you believe it?” she said. “They charged me $150 to tell me it was dry.”

Going, going, and how soon gone? From the Washington Post:

Collapse of Antarctic ice sheet is underway and unstoppable but will take centuries

The collapse of the giant West Antarctica ice sheet is underway, two groups of scientists said Monday. They described the melting as an unstoppable event that will cause global sea levels to rise higher than projected earlier.

Scientists said the rise in sea level, up to 12 feet, will take centuries to reach its peak and cannot be reversed. But they said a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions could slow the melt, while an increase could speed it slightly.

Warm, naturally occurring ocean water flowing under the glaciers is causing the melt. “We feel it is at the point that it is . . . a chain reaction that’s unstoppable,” regardless of any future cooling or warming of the global climate, said Eric Rignot, a professor of Earth science at the University of California at Irvine. He was the lead author of a NASA-funded study that was one of the two studies released Monday.

The only thing that might have stopped the ice from escaping into the ocean and filling it with more water “is a large hill or mountains,” Rignot said. But “there are no such hills that can slow down this retreat,” he added.

And on a parallel note, via the Ecologist:

Experts ‘stunned’ at how fast oceans are warming

Southern hemisphere oceans are warming at double the expected rate, a new study has found. This may explain why surface warming has slowed over the last decade – the oceans have absorbed the ‘missing’ heat.

Southern Hemisphere ocean temperatures have been rising much more quickly than previously thought, so much so that global ocean warming may have been underestimated by as much as 24 – 55%, according to a new study.

Published by the journal Nature Climate Change and carried out by researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the study sought to determine just how much we’ve underestimated long-term upper-ocean warming given the scarcity of data collected on Southern Hemisphere ocean temperature increases.

“It’s likely that due to the poor observational coverage, we just haven’t been able to say definitively what the long-term rate of Southern Hemisphere ocean warming has been”, said the study’s lead author, Dr. Paul Durack.

Likewise, via VICE News:

Here’s How San Francisco is Bracing for Sea Level Rise Estimated to Impact $48 Billion in Assets

San Francisco’s Capital Planning Committee (CPC) has adopted what is being called the most comprehensive guidelines in the nation for preparing for the impacts of sea level rise on a city’s infrastructure.

“This is the first time that I’ve seen a city really actively assessing the risks to new public investments,” Jessica Grannis of Georgetown’s Climate Center told VICE News.

The guidelines assume sea level rise of 11 inches, plus or minus 4 inches, by 2050 and as much as 66 inches by 2100.

San Francisco’s Pacific coastline, the Embarcadero, a roadway and pedestrian promenade along the city’s eastern and northern coastline, the Port of San Francisco, and the San Francisco International Airport already experience periodic flooding.

From CCTV America, a battle for the land:

Indigenous groups fight Illegal logging in Peru

Program notes:

In Peru, officials estimate that nearly 80 percent of the country’s timber exports are harvested illegally. Often this takes place on the lands of local populations where indigenous residents are not only intimidated, but sometimes killed.

Invaders digging in Down Under, via the Guardian:

Biosecurity gaps led to 36 invasive species entering Australia since 2000

  • Invasive Species Council says Australia has not heeded lessons from decision to introduce cane toad in Queensland in 1935

Large gaps in Australia’s biosecurity regime have led to 36 invasive species entering the country since 2000, with potentially ruinous consequences for the environment, documents lodged with the Senate have warned.

Creatures such as the yellow crazy ant, the red-eared slider turtle and the smooth newt have either established themselves in Australia or threaten to do so, while Mexican feathergrass and Myrtle rust pose a threat to Australia’s plant life.

The Invasive Species Council has warned that Australia has not heeded the lessons from the decision to introduce the cane toad in Queensland in 1935, a move that has proved disastrous for native mammals and snakes in northern Australia.

On the wrong track, from the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

Facing lawsuit, California oil train terminal to shut down

A legal victory in California this week over crude oil operations could have a spillover effect, emboldening critics of crude-by-rail shipments to press their concerns in other jurisdictions.

EarthJustice, a San Francisco-based environmental group, won its battle to halt crude oil train operations in the state as InterState Oil Co., a Sacramento fuel distributor, agreed to stop unloading train shipments of crude oil next month at the former McClellan Air Force Base.

Sacramento County’s top air quality official said his agency mistakenly skirted the state’s environmental rules by issuing a permit for the operation.

EcoWatch covers the inevitable:

Outrage Continues at Susan G. Komen’s ‘Frack for the Cure’ Pinkwashing Campaign

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and in what seems to be getting to be a regular occurrence, it’s bringing unwanted awareness to the activities of Susan G. Komen for the Cure (SGK), the behemoth of breast cancer charities, founded in 1982.

Charges of “pinkwashing”—slapping their pink-ribbon logo on hundreds of items manufactured in their signature hot pink—reached a whole new level earlier this month when a story came out that the foundation had made a deal with Houston-based oilfield services company Baker Hughes to launch a “Doing Our Bit for the Cure” campaign. The centerpiece of the campaign is painting 1,000 fracking drill bits hot pink and packing them with information about breast cancer which presumably the mostly male oilfield workers will devour eagerly. “Baker Hughes supports Susan G. Komen’s Mission to End Breast Cancer Forever,” the campaign website proclaimed.

“For the second consecutive year, Baker Hughes is donating $100,000 to support Susan G. Komen, the world’s leading breast cancer organization,” said Baker Hughes. “The year-long partnership with Komen is an extension of the company’s participation each year in the Komen Houston Race for the Cure, where Baker Hughes sponsors the Survivor Pin Celebration. This year, the company will paint and distribute a total of 1,000 pink drill bits worldwide. The pink bits serve as a reminder of the importance of supporting research, treatment, screening and education to help find the cures for this disease, which claims a life every 60 seconds.”

From RT, the perfect transition to Fukushimapocalypse Now!:

Insulated undies: Radiation-proof, sperm-friendly boxers launched

While harm from cell-phone rays has so far been lacking sufficient scientific proof, a US firm wants men to take no chances with radiation – at least when it comes to the most precious of male body parts.

Boxer shorts made with the use of thin silver textile “absorb radiation” will help “protect men’s reproductive organs and maintain fertility health,” according to their producer, Manhattan-based Belly Armor company.

It only launched its male underwear sales this week, but among the company’s earlier products are radiation-proof blankets, belly bands and tops for pregnant women and nursing mothers.

From Reuters, yeah, what could be wrong with that?:

Japan’s Suga: See no problem with trade minister holding Tepco shares

Japan’s top government spokesman said on Friday he does not see any problem with the trade minister holding shares of Tokyo Electric Power, the operator of the tsunami-wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference that newly appointed trade minister Yoichi Miyazawa is following the appropriate procedures for holding the shares during his tenure based on rules for ministers.

Miyazawa said on Thursday that his political support group spent funds at a sado-masochism-themed bar in his home district and that he owned shares in the power company, known as Tepco.

Miyazawa said earlier on Friday that there is no change in his stance towards Tepco despite his owning shares in the firm.

Protesting with Jiji Press:

Radioactive Waste Facility Surveys Put Off Again in Miyagi

The Environment Ministry, again on Saturday, failed to begin drilling surveys in three candidate sites in Miyagi Prefecture for a final facility to store radioactive waste produced by the March 2011 nuclear accident.

As was on Friday, a survey team in the town of Kami, where one of the candidate sites is located, was blocked from entering the site by some 60 protesters.

Also in the city of Kurihara and the town of Taiwa, the ministry refrained from taking soil samples to study geographic conditions.

In the northeastern prefecture, the ministry selected government-owned land tracts in the three municipalities as candidate sites to dump waste tainted with fallout from the triple meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s <9501> Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Reuters foreshadows:

Japan warns of increased activity at volcano near nuclear plant

Japan warned on Friday that a volcano in southern Japan located roughly 64 km (40 miles) from a nuclear plant was showing signs of increased activity that could possibly lead to a small-scale eruption and warned people to stay away from the summit.

The warning comes nearly a month after another volcano, Mt Ontake, erupted suddenly when crowded with hikers, killing 57 people in Japan’s worst volcanic disaster in nearly 90 years.

Ioyama, a mountain on the southwestern island of Kyushu, has been shaken by small tremors and other signs of rising volcanic activity recently, including a tremor lasting as long as seven minutes, an official at the Japan Meteorological Agency’s volcano division said.

For our final item, NHK WORLD hedges its bets:

Japan to ratify nuclear compensation treaty

The Japanese government decided at a cabinet meeting on Friday to seek Diet approval for a treaty to share liability with other countries in compensation for nuclear accidents.

The government will ask the Diet to approve the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage during the current session.

Five countries, including the United States, have signed the treaty. The pact will take effect once it is ratified by Japan.

The treaty obliges each signatory to set aside at least 430 million dollars in the event of a nuclear accident.

If the cost of paying compensation for an accident in Japan exceeds that reserve, the other signatories would provide an additional 65 million dollars.