Category Archives: Governance

EnviroWatch: Drought, plague, nukes, woes


For our compendium of headlines from the world of nature and its most dangerous predator [us], we begin with the latest on California’s epochal drought, via CNBC:

California drought: ‘May have to migrate people’

It’s going from worse to worst each week in California.

Suffering in its third year of drought, more than 58 percent of the state is currently in “exceptional drought” stage, according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor map. That marks a huge jump from just seven days ago, when about 36 percent of the state was categorized that way.

Exceptional drought, the most extreme category, indicates widespread crop and pasture losses and shortages of water in reservoirs, streams and wells. If the state continues on this path, there may have to be thoughts about moving people out, said Lynn Wilson, academic chair at Kaplan University and who serves on the climate change delegation in the United Nations.

“Civilizations in the past have had to migrate out of areas of drought,” Wilson said. “We may have to migrate people out of California.”

Meanwhile back at the tap, with the Los Angeles Times:

Water-use restrictions take effect in California; daily fines possible

Tough new statewide regulations restricting outdoor water use took effect Tuesday, the same day millions of gallons of water gushed from a ruptured water main near the UCLA campus.

Under the emergency conservation restrictions, which were approved July 15 and were prompted by the statewide drought, hosing down driveways and sidewalks is prohibited, as is watering outdoor landscapes if it causes excess runoff.

In addition, water can’t be added to a decorative water feature unless it uses a recirculating system. Californians can use a hose to wash their cars only if the hose has a shut-off nozzle.

Offenders can be subject to a daily fine of $500.

And then there’s EbolaWatch, first with this from BBC News:

Ebola crisis: WHO to announce $100m emergency response

The head of the World Health Organization and leaders of West African nations affected by the Ebola outbreak are to announce a joint $100m (£59m; 75m euro) response plan.

They will meet in Guinea on Friday to launch the initiative aimed at tackling a virus which has claimed 729 lives.

Sierra Leone’s president has declared a public health emergency over the outbreak after 233 people died there.

CBS News imports:

White House Looking Into Medevac Options To Bring 2 American Aid Workers Diagnosed With Ebola Back To US

U.S. health officials on Thursday warned Americans not to travel to the three African countries hit by an outbreak of Ebola.

The travel advisory applies to non-essential travel to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The outbreak in those West Africa countries has killed more than 700 people this year.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the risk of the deadly disease coming to the United States remains small. The last time the federal agency issued such a travel warning was in 2003 because of a SARS outbreak in Asia.

At the White House, press secretary Josh Earnest said the U.S. is looking into Medevac options to bring two American aid workers diagnosed with Ebola back to the U.S. While the U.S. government would facilitate the response, private companies would be used.

And from Reuters, contagion explained:

Taxis, planes and viruses: How deadly Ebola can spread

For scientists tracking the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa, it is not about complex virology and genotyping, but about how contagious microbes – like humans – use planes, bikes and taxis to spread.

So far, authorities have taken no action to limit international travel in the region. The airlines association IATA said on Thursday that the World Health Organisation is not recommending any such restrictions or frontier closures.

The risk of the virus moving to other continents is low, disease specialists say. But tracing every person who may have had contact with an infected case is vital to getting on top of the outbreak within West Africa, and doing so often means teasing out seemingly routine information about victims’ lives.

From the Guardian, an environmental alarm:

Wading birds declining in the UK

  • Conservationists say climate change could be partly to blame for big drop in numbers in eight of the main species over 10 years

Results from the Wetland Bird Survey reveals that ringed plovers, oystercatchers, redshank and dunlin are among the eight most abundant species overwintering on UK estuaries to suffer significant and consistent population drops over 10 years.

Conservationists believe several factors are responsible, including climate change forcing the birds to areas outside the UK, and say collaborative international research is imperative. Examinations of the traditional sites, the largest of which include the Wash, Morecambe Bay and Thames Estuary, are also required to determine if there are site-specific issues.

Ringed plovers have suffered a decline of 39% in 10 years in over-wintering birds and those breeding in the UK. Redshank have fallen by 26% and Dunlin by 23%.

While the Guardian reminds us of one of yesterday’s toxic blessings:

BHP ordered to make record $2.2m asbestos compensation payment

  • The latest Dust Diseases Tribunal decision marks the largest payout in its 25-year history

Mining giant BHP Billiton will pay a record $2.2m to a man who was exposed to asbestos at a New South Wales steelworks.

The compensation was ordered on Thursday by the state’s Dust Diseases Tribunal, and is understood to be the largest payment in the tribunal’s 25-year history.

The decision is also the first time BHP Billiton has been ordered to pay financial compensation to a former employee of the Newcastle steelworks who has contracted mesothelioma, an incurable cancer.

Off to Japan and the latest edition of Fukushimapocalypse Now! With the Mainichi:

3 ex-TEPCO execs recommended for indictment by citizens’ committee

A committee for the inquest of prosecution announced on July 31 that it had recommended three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), including its former chairman, be indicted for their criminal responsibility over the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant disaster.

The citizen-composed Tokyo No. 5 Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution said that while it was impossible to predict specifically that a tsunami like the one that struck on March 11, 2011, would hit the plant, the TEPCO executives should have been better prepared for the coming of a tsunami. It said that research done before the Great East Japan Earthquake was scientifically-based, but TEPCO, while knowing that it shouldn’t ignore this research, avoided taking disaster-prevention measures due to reasons including their cost.

The recommendation was adopted on July 23. It overrides a former decision by the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office not to indict the three former executives on charges that included causing death and injury through professional negligence, and requires them to re-examine the former executives’ cases and make a new decision on their indictment. If they again decide not to indict and the committee again decides in favor, indictment will proceed forcibly.

Kyodo News covers a long-delayed start date:

Water treatment to get into full swing at Fukushima facility in Dec.

The operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant said Thursday it will begin full-scale operation of its trouble-plagued radioactive water treatment facility in December after taking steps to improve its performance.

Tokyo Electric Power Co., which began a test-run of the facility in March last year, initially planned to start its full-scale operation in April to accelerate efforts at tackling the toxic water buildup at the complex. But it was forced to delay the plan as the facility was hit by a series of problems.

The water treatment performance of the facility, which is said to be capable of removing 62 types of radioactive substances from toxic water generated in the process of cooling the reactors that suffered meltdowns in the 2011 nuclear crisis, has also not been as good as expected because some of the substances remain untreated.

From the Asahi Shimbun, yet another debacle:

Radioactive dust released during Fukushima cleanup reaches as far as Miyagi Prefecture

Airborne radioactive materials released during debris-clearing work at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant were found in a town 60 kilometers away on seven occasions since December 2011.

Led by Teruyuki Nakajima, a professor of atmospheric physics at the University of Tokyo’s Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute, the team noted a surge in concentration of airborne radioactive cesium during clean-up activities that reached the town of Marumori in neighboring Miyagi Prefecture.

The researchers said the findings show that radioactive materials were repeatedly released into the environment and reached extensive areas during debris-clearing operations.

And on the health side of things, this from the Japan Times:

Experts question Fukushima thyroid screening

The iodine-131 released into the air by the meltdowns accumulates in the thyroid gland, increasing the risk of thyroid cancer. The gland is responsible for regulating hormone levels in the body.

Children are considered especially vulnerable. After the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, more than 6,000 children were diagnosed with thyroid cancer by 2005, according to the U.N. Scientific Committee of the Effects of Atomic Radiation.

Given the local anxiety, the Fukushima Prefectural Government in October 2011 started offering free thyroid screenings for everyone who was 18 or younger at the time of the disaster. The prefecture has 370,000 residents in that age group, and 300,000 had received voluntary checkups by the end of March.

The program may look good on paper, but it has drawn flak from medical experts who say it is far from adequate in determining a link between the cancers found and radiation exposure.

The Mainichi unsettles:

Shioya residents angry over proposed radioactive waste disposal site

Residents here gathered in front of the Shioya Town Hall on July 30 to protest the Environment Ministry’s announcement the same day that the government was looking to make the town a final disposal site for radioactive waste.

The ministry has been searching for a location to construct a facility to store “designated waste” including radioactive materials from the disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. On July 30, Deputy Environment Minister Shinji Inoue visited the Shioya town office and asked Mayor Kazuhisa Mikata to agree to a detailed inspection of the area.

The ministry is apparently eyeing 3 hectares of state-owned land in Shioya to construct the storage site. The ministry says it picked the site because it had the highest score on a 5-point suitability scale in four categories — including a lack of local active faults and distance from settlements and water sources.

And our final item, via the Asahi Shimbun, importing the hot stuff:

India seeks Japan’s approval to reprocess spent nuclear fuel

Japan has been asked to approve reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel in India as part of negotiations to conclude a nuclear power agreement between the two nations.

But though the Abe administration is eager to export nuclear power generation infrastructure as a pillar of its economic growth strategy, some Japanese government officials are cautious about approving the request from India.

The reprocessing produces plutonium that can be used as raw materials for nuclear weapons, which India already possesses.

InSecurityWatch: Liars, spyers, bluffs, triers


Today’s collection of tales from the dark side begins with actions that in some other countries might be considered treasonous.

From the Guardian:

CIA admits to spying on Senate staffers

  • CIA director apologises for improper conduct of agency staff
  • One senator calls on John Brennan to resign in wake of scandal

The director of the Central Intelligence Agency, John Brennan, issued an extraordinary apology to leaders of the US Senate intelligence committee on Thursday, conceding that the agency employees spied on committee staff and reversing months of furious and public denials.

Brennan acknowledged that an internal investigation had found agency security personnel transgressed a firewall set up on a CIA network, which allowed Senate committee investigators to review agency documents for their landmark inquiry into CIA torture.

Among other things, it was revealed that agency officials conducted keyword searches and email searches on committee staff while they used the network.

The London Daily Mail has the inevitable mea culpa:

CIA director apologizes after government spooks snooped on US Senate computers

  • John Brennan said he’s investigating the CIA employees who hacked into Senate Intelligence Committee PCs
  • CIA created a fake user account to retrieve documents they believed Senate staffers had improperly accessed
  • Department of Justice has no plans to prosecute anyone

And from The Hill, a reasonable call:

Senators call for CIA chief’s resignation

Pressure is building on CIA Director John Brennan to resign following the agency’s admission Thursday that it spied on the computers of Senate staffers.

Two members of the Senate Intelligence Committee called for Brennan’s resignation on Thursday after a classified briefing on an agency watchdog report that concluded five CIA staffers had “improperly accessed” Senate computers.

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) became the first senator to make the call when he issued a statement declaring that he had “no choice but to call for the resignation of CIA Director John Brennan.”

“The CIA unconstitutionally spied on Congress by hacking into Senate Intelligence Committee computers,” he said.

More details from the Associated Press:

Leaked White House file addresses ‘torture by CIA’

The State Department has endorsed the broad conclusions of a harshly critical Senate report on the CIA’s interrogation and detention practices after the 9/11 attacks that accuses the agency of brutally treating terror suspects and misleading Congress, according to a White House document.

“This report tells a story of which no American is proud,” says the four-page document, which contains the State Department’s preliminary proposed talking points in response to the classified Senate report, a summary of which is expected to be released in the coming weeks.

“But it is also part of another story of which we can be proud,” adds the document, which was circulating this week among White House officials and which the White House accidentally e-mailed to an Associated Press reporter. “America’s democratic system worked just as it was designed to work in bringing an end to actions inconsistent with our democratic values.”

Still more from Techdirt:

CIA Torture Report Reveals That State Department Officials Knew About Torture; Were Told Not To Tell Their Bosses

  • from the loose-lips-stop-war-crimes dept

We continue to wait and wait for the White House to finish pouring black ink all over the Senate’s torture report, before releasing the (heavily redacted) 480-page executive summary that the Senate agreed to declassify months ago. However, every few weeks it seems that more details from the report leak out to the press anyway. The latest is that officials at the State Department were well aware of the ongoing CIA torture efforts, but were instructed not to tell their superiors, such that it’s likely that the top officials, including Secretary of State Colin Powell, may have been kept in the dark, while others at the State Department knew of the (highly questionable) CIA actions.

A Senate report on the CIA’s interrogation and detention practices after the 9/11 attacks concludes that the agency initially kept the secretary of state and some U.S. ambassadors in the dark about harsh techniques and secret prisons, according to a document circulating among White House staff.

The still-classified report also says some ambassadors who were informed about interrogations of al-Qaida detainees at so-called black sites in their countries were instructed not to tell their superiors at the State Department, the document says.

Still more from the Guardian:

CIA initially ‘kept Colin Powell in the dark’ about torture practices

  • It’s not entirely clear exactly which US officials knew about the practices at the time they began, a Senate report concludes

A Senate report on the CIA’s interrogation and detention practices after the 9/11 attacks concludes that the agency initially kept the secretary of state and some US ambassadors in the dark about harsh techniques and secret prisons, according to a document circulating among White House staff.

The still-classified report also says some ambassadors who were informed about interrogations of al-Qaida detainees at so-called black sites in their countries were instructed not to tell their superiors at the State Department, the document says.

The 6,300-page Senate report on the CIA’s interrogation program has been years in the making. The findings are expected to reveal additional details about the CIA’s program and renew criticisms that the US engaged in torture as it questioned terrorism suspects after the 2001 attacks.

From Wired threat level, Keeping us ignorant:

U.S. Marshals Seize Cops’ Spying Records to Keep Them From the ACLU

A routine request in Florida for public records regarding the use of a surveillance tool known as a stingray took an extraordinary turn recently when federal authorities seized the documents before police could release them.

The surprise move by the U.S. Marshals Service stunned the American Civil Liberties Union, which earlier this year filed the public records request with the Sarasota, Florida, police department for information detailing its use of the controversial surveillance tool.

Stingrays, also known as IMSI catchers, simulate a cellphone tower and trick nearby mobile devices into connecting with them, thereby revealing their location. A stingray can see and record a device’s unique ID number and traffic data, as well as information that points to its location. By moving a stingray around, authorities can triangulate a device’s location with greater precision than is possible using data obtained from a carrier’s fixed tower location.

And from Techdirt, in cyberspace nobody can hear you scream:

Court Says Who Cares If Ireland Is Another Country, Of Course DOJ Can Use A Warrant To Demand Microsoft Cough Up Your Emails

  • from the say-what-now? dept

A NY judge has ruled against Microsoft in a rather important case concerning the powers of the Justice Department to go fishing for information in other countries — and what it means for privacy laws in those countries. As you may recall, back in April, we wrote about a magistrate judge first ruling that the DOJ could issue a warrant demanding email data that Microsoft held overseas, on servers in Dublin, Ireland. Microsoft challenged that, pointing out that you can’t issue a warrant in another country. However, the magistrate judge said that this “warrant” wasn’t really a “warrant” but a “hybrid warrant/subpoena.” That is when the DOJ wanted it to be like a warrant, it was. When it wanted it to be like a subpoena, it was.

Microsoft fought back, noting that the distinction between a warrant and a subpoena is a rather important one. And you can’t just say “hey, sure that’s a warrant, but we’ll pretend it’s a subpoena.” As Microsoft noted:

This interpretation not only blatantly rewrites the statute, it reads out of the Fourth Amendment the bedrock requirement that the Government must specify the place to be searched with particularity, effectively amending the Constitution for searches of communications held digitally. It would also authorize the Government (including state and local governments) to violate the territorial integrity of sovereign nations and circumvent the commitments made by the United States in mutual legal assistance treaties expressly designed to facilitate cross-border criminal investigations. If this is what Congress intended, it would have made its intent clear in the statute. But the language and the logic of the statute, as well as its legislative history, show that Congress used the word “warrant” in ECPA to mean “warrant,” and not some super-powerful “hybrid subpoena.” And Congress used the term “warrant” expecting that the Government would be bound by all the inherent limitations of warrants, including the limitation that warrants may not be issued to obtain evidence located in the territory of another sovereign nation.

Off to Germany and humor with serious intent from the Guardian:

Bug spotting: Germans hold ‘nature walks’ to observe rare NSA spy

  • Weekly walks from Griesheim to nearby US Dagger Complex lead way in multi-generational protest against digital surveillance

One morning last July, the German intelligence service knocked on Daniel Bangert’s door. They had been informed by the US military police that Bangert was planning to stage a protest outside the Dagger Complex, an American intelligence base outside Griesheim in the Hesse region. Why hadn’t he registered the protest, and what were his political affiliations? they asked.

Bangert explained that he wasn’t planning a protest and that he didn’t have any links to political groups. All he had done was put a message on Facebook inviting friends to go on a “nature walk” to “explore the endangered habitat of NSA spies”. Eventually, the agents left in frustration.

Twelve months later, Bangert’s nature trail has not only become a weekly ritual in Griesheim, but also the frontrunner of a new multi-generational German protest movement against digital surveillance.

RT covers another German NSA-related story:

Germany rolls out surveillance-proof phone after NSA spying debacle

Program notes:

Germany is looking to take-on the NSA on its own ground – technology. It has come up with a cell phone which is claimed to be spy-proof. RT’s Peter Oliver talks to Karsten Nohl, crypto specialist, Security Research Labs.

And from the Guardian, a new lower profile:

NSA keeps low profile at hacker conventions despite past appearances

  • Though agency actively recruits security engineers and experts, NSA chiefs won’t speak at Black Hat or Def Con this year

As hackers prepare to gather in Las Vegas for a pair of annual conventions, the leadership of the National Security Agency won’t make the trek.

While the technically sophisticated US surveillance entity has often mingled in recent years with some of the world’s elite engineers and digital security experts at Black Hat and Def Con, Admiral Mike Rogers and Rick Ledgett, the newly minted director and deputy director of the agency, won’t prowl the Mandalay Bay and Rio hotel-casinos this year.

Vanee Vines, a spokeswoman for the NSA who confirmed Rogers and Ledgett’s absences, said she was unaware of any invitations the hacker conferences extended to NSA officials, and did not know if staffers would attend, either.

From BBC News, a whistleblower’s uncertain fate:

Snowden’s temporary asylum status expires in Russia

Fugitive US whistleblower Edward Snowden’s year-long leave to stay in Russia has expired without confirmation that it will be extended.

His lawyer said he could stay in the country while his application for an extension was being processed.

The man who exposed US intelligence practices to the world’s media won leave to remain in Moscow a year ago.

From the London Telegraph, a Cold War tradition continues:

Vienna named as global spying hub in new book

  • Vienna is the world leader in espionage with at least 7,000 spies plying their trade in the Austrian capital

Its reputation as a centre of espionage long predates its notoriety as the setting for the 1949 film The Third Man but only now can a figure be put on the number of spies operating in Vienna.

A survey compiled by experts in spying activities in the Austrian capital shows that at least 7,000 agents work undercover in the city.

As neutral country, Vienna was a Cold War spying hub where both sides were able to ply their trade and openly dealt with each other. Its allure was explained in the opening sequence in the Third Man when the narrator observed that Vienna allows agents a free run: “We’d run anything if people wanted it enough, and had the money to pay.”

From EurActiv, secrecy in the interest of corporadoes and banksters:

EU Ombudsman demands more TTIP transparency

The European Ombudsman today (31 July) opened two investigations into the EU Council and Commission over a lack of transparency around the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

Emily O’Reilly investigates complaints about maladministration in the EU institutions. She called on both Council and Commission to publish EU negotiating directives related to the EU-US trade deal, and take measures to ensure timely public access to TTIP documents, and stakeholder meetings.

It is a blow to the Commission, which has regularly protested that the talks are the most open ever held. MEPs, pressure groups, unions and other organisations have said that they are not transparent enough.

RT covers a symbolic hack:

Anonymous ‘knocks out’ Mossad website over Israel’s Gaza offensive

Hacker group Anonymous has reportedly taken down the website of the Israeli secret service Mossad in protest of Israel’s military incursion in Gaza. The ‘hacktivists’ have already targeted a number of organizations in their mission to stop the “genocide.”

Mossad’s website went offline at around 00:40 GMT and is still down at the time of writing. The Israeli government has yet to make any comment on the supposed hack attack.

In a previous attack on Monday, Anonymous knocked out multiple Israeli government sites after one of the organization’s members died in the West Bank over the weekend. 22-year-old Tayeb Abu Shehada was killed during a protest in the village of Huwwara in the West Bank after Israeli settlers and soldiers opened fire on demonstrators, reported Bethlehem-based Ma’an News Agency.

Off to Asia and still more NSA-directed ire — this time from India. Via the Hindu:

Sushma confronts Kerry with snooping

In India’s strongest statement on the issue yet, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj called the U.S. surveillance of Indian entities “unacceptable”, and said she had taken up the issue of “snooping” by the National Security Agency (NSA) with Secretary of State John Kerry during the India-U.S. strategic dialogue here on Thursday.

“I did raise the snooping issue with Mr. Kerry,” Ms. Swaraj told presspersons at a joint press conference. “I told him that people in India were angry. I told him that since we are friendly nations, it is not acceptable to us.”

In reply, Mr. Kerry said, “We do not discuss intelligence matters in public. We value our relationship with India. President [Barack] Obama has undertaken a unique and unprecedented review of our intelligence.”Ms. Swaraj said India and the U.S. had now hit a “new level” in their relationship.

From the Associated Press, adding some spin, the latest from a militarized Thailand:

Thai junta appoints army-dominated legislature

Thailand’s junta has appointed a military-dominated interim legislature in another step in the slow return of promised electoral democracy. The junta announced Thursday night that King Bhumibol Adulyadej has officially endorsed the appointments.

The junta, which took power on May 22, announced a timetable a month ago for the gradual return to nominally civilian rule, culminating in a general election late next year.

Just over half of the 200 members of the interim legislature, formally known as the National Legislative Assembly, hold military ranks, and 11 are police. It is to convene on Aug. 7 and is to nominate an interim prime minister. The junta, officially called the National Council for Peace and Order, has already given itself what amounts to supreme power over political developments.

Want China Times draws a trans-Pacific line:

Canada has to pick between China and the US

Former Canadian ambassador to Beijing David Mulroney said recently that the intensifying relationship between Canada and China has been seen in both a positive and a negative light in his country.

Mulroney said that although the economic and trade relationship between the two countries has improved since 2012, especially in light of Canada’s increased uranium exports to China, and a memorandum of understanding on cooperation in agricultural technologies and agricultural trade signed during agricultural minister Gerry Ritz’s trip to Beijing in June of this year and the additional trade service offices that Canada plans to set up in China, boosting the number from four to 15, suspicion between the two countries is on the rise.

The Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement, which has already been ratified by Beijing, is yet to be adopted by the Canadian government pending a legal challenge. The intensifying strategic contest between the US and China in the Asia-Pacific is also putting a damper on the Sino-Canadian economic and trade relationship.

From Xinhua, another trans-Pacific tension:

China accuses U.S. over military reconnaissance

China’s Defense Ministry on Thursday accused the United States of regular reconnaissance by naval ships and aircraft in Chinese waters and airspace.

“Vessels and aircraft of the U.S. military have for a long time carried out frequent reconnaissance in waters and airspace under Chinese jurisdiction, which seriously affects China’s national security and could easily cause accidents,” spokesman Geng Yansheng said at a monthly briefing.

His comments came in response to a question regarding a Chinese naval ship’s sailing in areas near the ongoing U.S.-organized RIMPAC (Exercise Rim of the Pacific) maritime exercise.

From South China Morning Post, a military concomitant:

Millions of Hong Kong fliers delayed by mainland military restrictions

  • About 100,000 flights using Chek Lap Kok each year have up to 20 minutes added to flight time thanks to height restrictions, analysis shows

About 100,000 flights carrying almost 15 million passengers to and from Hong Kong airport each year are affected by military airspace restrictions, analysis of official civil aviation data shows.

Environmental group Green Sense and the Airport Development Concern Network revealed their analysis yesterday, pointing out that a so-called “sky wall” imposed by the PLA was extending flight times by between 10 and 20 minutes.

“We found that, between 2010 and 2012, about 30 per cent of planes needed to fly through this ‘sky wall’. It is not the 23 per cent the Airport Authority has claimed,” network spokesman Michael Mo said.

From NHK WORLD, a pointed gesture:

Japan’s GSDF, Australian troops plan joint drills

Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force will hold a disaster-preparedness drill with US and Australian forces in northeastern Japan in November.

Chief of Staff Kiyofumi Iwata of the Ground Self-Defense Force made the announcement at a news conference on Thursday.

Iwata said Japanese, US, and Australian troops will simulate a response to a massive earthquake in Miyagi Prefecture and other areas for 4 days starting from November 6th.

And a vulnerability reminder from WIRED:

Hackers Can Control Your Phone Using a Tool That’s Already Built Into It

A lot of concern about the NSA’s seemingly omnipresent surveillance over the last year has focused on the agency’s efforts to install back doors in software and hardware. Those efforts are greatly aided, however, if the agency can piggyback on embedded software already on a system that can be exploited.

Two researchers have uncovered such built-in vulnerabilities in a large number of smartphones that would allow government spies and sophisticated hackers to install malicious code and take control of the device.

The attacks would require proximity to the phones, using a rogue base station or femtocell, and a high level of skill to pull off. But it took Mathew Solnik and Marc Blanchou, two research consultants with Accuvant Labs, just a few months to discover the vulnerabilities and exploit them.

Plus a puzzler from TMZ:

Hollywood Cops, Prosecutors Stumped Over Drones

Hollywood cops and prosecutors want to go after a guy who flew a drone over the Hollywood police dept., but we’ve learned they’re stumped.

Law enforcement sources tell TMZ … several people have become a thorn in the side of the LAPD — trying to expose what they claim are police misdeeds.  One of them flew a drone over the Hollywood Division Tuesday afternoon, shooting video of the parking lot with prisoners and undercover officers.

The parking lot is shielded by a wall for security reasons — so it’s not visible from the street.

We’re told police detectives and lawyers from the L.A. County D.A. and the L.A. City Attorney had a meeting to figure out what criminal laws might have been violated, but they concluded as long as the drone flies lower than 400 feet … there’s nothing they can do.  Anything above is covered by the FAA.

For our final item, cross-border security hypocrisy from the Washington Post:

House GOP leaders spike border bill rather than see it defeated

House Republican leaders were ambushed by another conservative insurrection on Thursday, forced to scrap a pivotal vote on a border security bill and scramble to find a solution amid a familiar whirlwind of acrimony and finger-pointing.

The failure to move forward with legislation aimed at coping with a surge of unaccompanied minors at the U.S.-Mexico border left Republicans unable to act on a problem that they have repeatedly described as a national crisis. As the drama unfolded in the House, the Senate also failed to advance legislation to address the immigration crisis, unable to overcome a procedural hurdle and then leaving town for five-week summer break.

The congressional chaos ensured that President Obama’s administration will not have the resources necessary to stem the recent tide of tens of thousands of migrants from Central America, many of them children entering the United States alone, until mid-September at the earliest. The only two significant measures approved by Congress as of Thursday were bills authorizing broad reforms at the Department of Veterans Affairs and a nine-month -extension of federal highway-construction funding.

EnviroWatch: Water, weather, plagues, nukes


Today’s compendium of headlines from the intersection of people and planet begins with more of the most compelling story of the moment, via Sky News:

Liberia Closes Schools To Halt Ebola Spread

  • Security forces are ordered to enforce new anti-ebola rules as government workers are made to take compulsory leave.

Liberia has closed all schools and quarantined several communities as it attempts to stop the spread of the deadly ebola virus.

All non-essential government workers were also put on 30 days compulsory leave as the country announced its anti-ebola action plan.

Security forces across the country have been ordered to enforce the new rules.

Liberia had recorded 129 of the 672 deaths blamed on ebola as of July 23, according to the World Health Organisation.

Al Jazeera America covers the later on another subject of ongoing and considerable interest:

Report: World faces water crises by 2040

Wind, solar power increase needed to avoid global drought

The world will face “insurmountable” water crises in less than three decades, researchers said Tuesday, if it does not move away from water-intensive power production.

A clash of competing necessities — drinking water and energy demand — will cause widespread drought unless action is taken soon, researchers from Denmark’s Aarhus University, Vermont Law School and the U.S.-funded Center for Naval Analyses Corporation said in the reports.

“There will be no water by 2040 if we keep doing what we’re doing today,” researcher Benjamin Sovacool, director of the Center for Energy Technology at Aarhus University said in a press release on two new reports released Tuesday.

Globally, there has been a three-fold population increase in the past century and a six-fold increase in water consumption, the report said. If trends in population and energy use continue, it could leave a 40 percent gap between water supply and demand by the year 2030.

Another water story, this time from MercoPress:

Sao Paulo faces water rationing; in 100 days the system could run dry

  • Federal prosecutors have asked the government of Sao Paulo to present water rationing plans for Brazil’s most populous state to prevent the collapse of its main reservoir. If such plans are not presented in 10 days, the prosecutor’s office said on its website it may ask courts to force rationing.
  • Sao Paulo is facing the worst drought in more than 80 years. The key Cantareira water system, which provides water to some 9 million of the 20 million people living in the metropolitan area of Sao Paulo city, is at less than 16% of its capacity of 1 trillion liters.

Citing a study prepared by the state university of Campinas, the prosecutor’s office said that the Cantareira system could run dry in 100 days unless rationing is implemented.

The Sao Paulo state government’s water utility said in an emailed statement that it disagrees with the “imposition of water rationing, for it would penalize the population.”

From Public Radio International, a Brazilian environmental body count:

Activists in Brazil are fighting to protect the environment — and their lives

908. That’s the number of environmental and land-reform activists assassinated worldwide between 2003 and 2013, according to a study by the NGO Global Witness. The number might shock you, but perhaps even more shocking is that nearly half of those murders — 448 — took place in one country: Brazil.

What is it that makes Brazil the most dangerous place in the world to be an activist?

You’ll find clues in the story of Guarabana Bay. The bay, just minutes from downtown Rio’s world famous beaches, is a study in pollution and filth. Dark sludge cakes the shoreline. Garbage floats everywhere. It’s so bad that some sailors set to compete here in the 2016 Summer Olympics are warning colleagues not to let this water touch their ski

While an item in yesterday’s EnvrioWatch noted strong opposition to GMO rice in china, an MIT Technology Review indicates GMO receptivity for another staple:

Chinese Researchers Stop Wheat Disease with Gene Editing

  • Researchers have created wheat that is resistant to a common disease, using advanced gene editing methods.

Advanced genome-editing techniques have been used to create a strain of wheat resistant to a destructive fungal pathogen—called powdery mildew—that is a major bane to the world’s top food source, according to scientists at one of China’s leading centers for agricultural research.

To stop the mildew, researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences deleted genes that encode proteins that repress defenses against the mildew. The work promises to someday make wheat more resistant to the disease, which is typically controlled through the heavy use of fungicides. It also represents an important achievement in using genome editing tools to engineer food crops without inserting foreign genes—a flashpoint for opposition to genetically modified crops.

The gene-deletion trick is particularly tough to do in wheat because the plant has a hexaploid genome—that is, it has three similar copies of most of its genes. That means multiple genes must be disabled or the trait will not be changed. Using gene-editing tools known as TALENs and CRISPR, the researchers were able to do that without changing anything else or adding genes from other organisms.

On to the latest Fukushimaposcalypse Now!, starting with a chilly item from NHK WORLD:

Ice put into utility tunnels at Fukushima plant

The operator of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has begun putting ice into underground utility tunnels to help freeze radiation-contaminated wastewater.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company began work in April to create a wall of ice between the basement of the No. 2 reactor building and its utility tunnel.

TEPCO initially planned to freeze radioactive wastewater that’s been flowing into underground utility tunnels at the plant. It hoped the measure would prevent the wastewater from mixing with groundwater and flowing out to sea.

Followed by a hotter reception from NHK WORLD:

Emergency radiation exposure limit may be raised

Japan’s nuclear watchdog is considering raising the radiation exposure maximum limit for nuclear plant workers for serious accidents.

Nuclear Regulation Authority Chairman Shunichi Tanaka told at the body’s regular meeting on Wednesday that the possibility of a nuclear accident, where workers could be exposed to radiation beyond the current legal accumulative limit of 100 millisieverts, cannot be denied. His proposal to study raising the limit was approved at the meeting.

The authority will decide on the level by referring to overseas standards. It will also confer on how to get prior consent from workers and train them for such cases. If a legal amendment is necessary, it plans to send its findings to a relevant government panel for deliberations.

Jiji Press disposes, unhappiness ensues:

Shioya Picked as Candidate Site for Designated Waste Disposal

Japan’s Environment Ministry said Wednesday it has picked state-owned land in the town of Shioya in Tochigi Prefecture as a candidate site for building a final disposal facility for designated waste contaminated by radioactive substances from the March 2011 nuclear accident.

Senior Vice Environment Minister Shinji Inoue visited Shioya Mayor Kazuhisa Mikata to explain the ministry’s decision and to seek the eastern Japan town’s understanding for the conducting of a detailed field investigation.

“I can’t help but feel regret,” Mikata said, expressing the town’s opposition to construction of the facility.

From the Guardian, a fractious fracking flap:

EC serves notice to Poland over shale gas defiance

  • Warsaw accused of breaching EU law on assessing environmental impact of fracking, reports EurActiv

The European commission has begun legal proceedings against Poland for amending its national laws to allow shale drills at depths of up to 5,000 metres without first having assessed the potential environmental impacts, EurActiv has learned.

In June, Brussels sent Poland formal notice that it was opening a case against it for infringing the environmental impact assessment (EIA) directive.

If Warsaw does not now satisfy the commission’s concerns by the end of August, the case could reach the European court of justice (ECJ).

Truthout ponders a rising crisis alert:

Does NASA’s Data Show Doomsday for New York City?

If we don’t do something quick to stop global warming, some of the biggest cities in America could go the way of Atlantis in just a matter of decades.

Sam Carana over at Arctic News has taken the time to analyze the latest data from NASA, and what’s he’s projecting from that data is startling.

Sam suggests that global sea levels may rise rapidly over the next few decades; so rapidly, in fact, that we could see more than 2.5 meters of seal level rise by 2040, which is just 26 years from now.

And because, as Sam Carana points out, sea levels now look like they’re going rise exponentially – on a curve – as opposed to on a straight line, they will continue to rise even faster after 2040.

And for our final item, from CNBC, an alert from left field:

Paul Singer: This threat is ‘head-and-shoulders’ above all others

Billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Singer has issued an unusual warning for investors, calling the threat of a widespread blackout from an electromagnetic surge the “most significant danger” in the world.

Called an “electromagnetic pulse” or EMP, the events can occur naturally from solar storms or artificially from a high-altitude explosion of nuclear weapons.

“While these pages are typically chock full of scary or depressing scenarios, there is one risk that is head-and-shoulders above all the rest in terms of the scope of potential damage adjusted for the likelihood of occurrence,” Singer wrote to clients of his $24.8 billion Elliott Management on Monday in a standard investment update letter. “Even horrendous nuclear war, except in its most extreme form, can [be] a relatively localized issue, and the threat from asteroids can (possibly) be mitigated.”

Quote of the day: The non-barking watchdog


From “The Secrecy Complex and The Press in Post-9/11 America,” a Chattaqua Institution speech delivered earlier this month by recently fired New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson. The full summary and an audio of the speech are here:

In her long career of covering Washington and in her executive role at the Times, Abramson has frequently been charged with deciding whether to print sensitive stories, calling this dilemma a “balancing test” in which members of the press weigh national security concerns against the public’s right to know about government activities.

In the aftermath of 9/11, Abramson said, the press listened closely to the government in deciding what to print. 

“In some ways, it wasn’t complicated to make that agreement, because the press always will not reveal certain sensitive intelligence information about, for instance, troop movements,” she said. “In general, you do not publish stories where you know publishing details are going to put anybody’s life in immediate danger.”

But as the Iraq War coalesced in 2003, Abramson admitted to a failure of the press to maintain true skepticism of the government.

“The press, in some ways, let the public down,” she said. “The press, including The New York Times , I will freely say, was not skeptical enough about the so-called ‘evidence’ about Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction.”

The torture and prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib in 2003 and 2004 was another wake-up call to the press, Abramson said. Then, in 2005, the Times ran a Pulitzer Prize-winning story that revealed warrantless wiretapping by the National Security Agency — a report that had been held for a year at the behest of personnel within the Bush administration. 

Mark Fiore: Flying high with a high flyer


Another cheery animation from editorial cartoonist Mark Fiore and a perfect accompaniment for our Chart of the Day below.

From Mark Fiore:

Blasty the Drone, To Protect & Swerve

Program notes:

The rise of killer drones abroad continues, as does the rise of fireworks-photographing, beer-delivering drones at home. With a huge variety of uses and a very politicized, lethal start, these robots in the sky promise to be one of the most difficult-to-regulate gadgets in the United States.

Chart of the day: Global drone opposition


From the Pew Research Center [PDF], dramatic evidence that American drone strikes on alleged terrorists are wildly and almost universally unpopular:

Microsoft Word - Pew Research Center Balance of Power Report FIN

The epochal hypocrisy of pot legaliation foes


First, a video report from Abby Martin’s Breaking the Set:

Big Pharma Wants You High on Pills Not Weed | Interview with Sam Sacks

Program notes:

Abby Martin speaks with RT political commentator, Sam Sacks, discussing the shift in state policy on marijuana use, citing a report by journalist Lee Fang that outlines why marijuana is such a threat to the bottom line of American pharmaceutical companies.

And from that lengthy report by Lee Fang in the Nation here’s an excerpt examining on the largest group of pot legalization opponents, the Community Anti-Drug Coalition of America:

Given that CADCA is dedicated to protecting society from dangerous drugs, the event that day had a curious sponsor: Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of Oxy-Contin, the highly addictive painkiller that nearly ruined [pot leglatization foe and CADCA event speaker then-Rep. Patrick] Kennedy’s congressional career and has been linked to thousands of overdose deaths nationwide.

Prescription opioids, a line of pain-relieving medications derived from the opium poppy or produced synthetically, are the most dangerous drugs abused in America, with more than 16,000 deaths annually linked to opioid addiction and overdose. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that more Americans now die from painkillers than from heroin and cocaine combined. The recent uptick in heroin use around the country has been closely linked to the availability of prescription opioids, which give their users a similar high and can trigger a heroin craving in recovering addicts. (Notably, there are no known deaths related to marijuana, although there have been instances of impaired driving.)

People in the United States, a country in which painkillers are routinely overprescribed, now consume more than 84 percent of the entire worldwide supply of oxycodone and almost 100 percent of hydrocodone opioids. In Kentucky, to take just one example, about one in fourteen people is misusing prescription painkillers, and nearly 1,000 Kentucky residents are dying every year.

So it’s more than a little odd that CADCA and the other groups leading the fight against relaxing marijuana laws, including the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids (formerly the Partnership for a Drug-Free America), derive a significant portion of their budget from opioid manufacturers and other pharmaceutical companies. According to critics, this funding has shaped the organization’s policy goals: CADCA takes a softer approach toward prescription-drug abuse, limiting its advocacy to a call for more educational programs, and has failed to join the efforts to change prescription guidelines in order to curb abuse. In contrast, CADCA and the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids have adopted a hard-line approach to marijuana, opposing even limited legalization and supporting increased police powers.

Read the rest.

Ah, the breathtaking hypocrisy of it all.

EnviroWatch: Outbreaks, nukes, GMOs, toxins


We’re really cheery in this edition. . .or not.

Consider first this from CBC News:

Ebola outbreak: More than doctors needed to contain West Africa’s unprecedented crisis

  • Over 1,200 cases already in deadly epidemic, including prominent physicians

Doctors alone aren’t enough to contain West Africa’s deadly Ebola outbreak, which has already infected, and in some instances killed, key medical personnel, including prominent Western and local physicians.

Quebec doctor Marc Forget, who has been on the front lines of the epidemic in Guinea for seven weeks, told CBC News that past Ebola outbreaks were contained quite quickly with the intervention of international groups such as Doctors Without Borders working in conjunction with a country’s ministry of health.

This time, he says, “the magnitude of the disease is unprecedented,” and a stronger response is required, both in resources and personnel — including water, sanitation and logistics specialists, as well as medical staff.

Here’s a Reuters map of Ebola outbreaks via CBC News. Click on the image to enlarge:

Untitled-1

The Independent watches the borders:

Is Ebola coming to Britain? UK health officials issue warning to doctors as outbreak fears grow

  • One of world’s deadliest viruses – which makes people bleed from their eyes, nose and mouth – has now been flown out of main affected countries

Public health experts have issued urgent warnings to British doctors and border officials to watch for signs of the Ebola virus arriving in the UK.

It comes after an infected man in Liberia was allowed to fly from disease-affected West African country to the major international travel hub of Lagos, Nigeria.

Experts from Public Health England (PHE) are meeting with representatives from the UK Border Agency and individual airports to make sure they are aware of the signs to look for and what to do if “the worst happens”.

United Press International covers a notable casualty:

Top Ebola doctor in Sierra Leone dies from infection

  • Dr. Sheikh Umar Khan, Sierra Leone’s leading medical expert on the Ebola virus, has died after becoming infected with the disease.

Dr. Sheikh Umar Khan, a doctor in Sierra Leone who was actively working to control the deadly outbreak of the Ebola virus, died Tuesday of the disease.

Khan became infected last week and had been in quarantine in an Ebola ward run by Medecins Sans Frontiere.

His death was confirmed by chief medical officer Dr. Brima Kargbo, who said his passing “is a big and irreparable loss to Sierra Leone as he was the only specialist the country had in viral hemorrhagic fevers.”

Corporate contagion challenged, via Shanghai Daily:

China vows zero tolerance and harsh punishment for rule-violating sales and growing of GM rice

CHINESE authorities have vowed zero tolerance and harsh punishment for rule-violating sales and growing of genetically modified (GM) crops days after a media exposure of GM rice on sale at a supermarket in central China.

“The ministry will punish any companies or individuals that ignore regulations to grow or sell GM grains,” the Ministry of Agriculture said Tuesday in a statement. “There will be no tolerance for those violating practices.”

China Central Television (CCTV) found GM rice, which is not allowed to be commercialized in China, on sale in the supermarket in Wuhan, capital of Hubei Province, the broadcaster reported on Saturday.

And from Common Dreams, a GMO-no:

Brazil Farmers Say GMO Corn No Longer Resistant to Bugs

  • Farm lobby group calls on Monsanto and other biotech companies to reimburse for additional pesticide treatments

Brazilian farmers say their GMO corn is no longer resistant to pests, Reuters reported Monday.

The Association of Soybean and Corn Producers of the Mato Grosso region said farmers first noticed in March that their genetically modified corn crops were less resistant to the destructive caterpillars that “Bt corn” — which has been genetically modified to produce a toxin that repels certain pests — is supposed to protect against. In turn, farmers have been forced to apply extra coats of insecticides, racking up additional environmental and financial costs.

The association, which goes by the name Aprosoja-MT, is calling on Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta, and Dow companies to offer solutions as well as compensate the farmers for their losses. In a release posted to the Aprosoja-MT website, spokesman Ricardo Tomcyzk said farmers spent the equivalent of $54 per hectare to spray extra pesticides, and that the biotech companies promised something they didn’t deliver, “i.e. deceptive advertising.” (via Google Translate)

Another Brazilian story about another plague, from BBC News:

Amazon: Yanomami tribe’s Davi Kopenawa gets death threats

Davi Kopenawa of the Yanomami tribe in the Amazon rainforest said armed men had raided the offices of lawyers working with him. He said they were hired gunmen who had asked for him and wanted to kill him.

In February a major operation began to evict hundreds of gold miners from Yanomami land. Davi Kopenawa has been at the forefront of the struggle to protect Yanomami land for decades.

He told the BBC: “Illegal gold miners are still invading our land. They have leaders who organise the supplies and transport and support the invasion of our land. Ranchers have also invaded with their cattle.

Killing species to sate fashionable appetites, via the Independent:

African Pangolins at risk of extinction after becoming east Asian food favourites

  • More than a million pangolins are believed to have been snatched from the wild over the past decade

The pangolin, or scaly anteater, has become such a popular dish in affluent Asian circles that it is in danger of becoming extinct, according to a stark warning from a leading conservation organisation.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has just added the four African pangolin species to its list of species threatened with extinction after an escalation of poaching driven by the rapid economic growth across much of the East. This means that all eight pangolin species – the other four from Asia – are now on the list, raising the prospect of the anteater being wiped out altogether.

Pangolins have long been caught and killed for their purported medicinal properties, which include being a treatment for psoriasis and poor circulation.

From the Guardian, another kind of extinction:

New Zealand’s ‘dramatic’ ice loss could lead to severe decline of glaciers

  • Study says Southern Alps mountain range has lost 34% of permanent snow and ice since 1977

New Zealand’s vast Southern Alps mountain range has lost a third of its permanent snow and ice over the past four decades, diminishing some of the country’s most spectacular glaciers, new research has found.

A study of aerial surveys conducted by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa) discovered that the Southern Alps’ ice volume has shrunk by 34% since 1977.

Researchers from the University of Auckland and University of Otago said this “dramatic” decrease has accelerated in the past 15 years and could lead to the severe decline of some of New Zealand’s mightiest glaciers.

On to those pesky Japanese nuclear woes, first from NHK WORLD:

Poor quake resistance to keep Ikata plant offline

The restart of a nuclear power plant in western Japan has been put off until at least early next year after its emergency control room failed to pass a more rigorous quake resistance review.

Shikoku Electric Power Company made the announcement about its Ikata nuclear power plant in Ehime Prefecture on Friday.

The room failed the review when the utility raised the estimated peak ground acceleration from a potential earthquake at the plant to 620 gals.

The review was part of the ongoing safety screening of the No. 3 reactor being undertaken by the Nuclear Regulation Authority.

NHK WORLD again, disposing:

Agency: Nuclear waste can be directly disposed of

The Japan Atomic Energy Agency is reported to be looking at the direct disposal of spent nuclear fuel instead of reprocessing it.

NHK has obtained a draft report compiled by the agency which analyzed the environmental impact of disposing of spent nuclear fuel.

The conclusion of the analysis is expected to touch off controversy, because the government has long maintained the policy of reprocessing all spent nuclear fuel. It has conducted few studies about disposing of it as waste.

Spent nuclear fuel is known to have higher radiation levels than high-level radioactive waste.

More fuelishness, this time from the Japan Times:

U.S. energy secretary defends possible German nuclear waste imports

U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz on Monday defended his agency’s controversial move to consider processing spent nuclear fuel from Germany at South Carolina’s Savannah River Site nuclear facility, saying the proposal is consistent with U.S. efforts to secure highly enriched uranium across the globe.

The United States has for years accepted spent fuel from research reactors in various countries that was produced with uranium of U.S. origin as a part of U.S. nuclear nonproliferation policy and treaties.

Receiving the German spent fuel would be “very much in line with our mission of removing the global danger of nuclear weapons material,” Moniz told reporters before a visit to the South Carolina nuclear facility.

Displacing history for the yachting crowd, via the Asahi Shimbun:

Tahiti memorial commemorating those impacted by French nuclear tests in danger of removal

The French Polynesian government’s decision to remove a monument on Tahiti dedicated to those who suffered from repeated French nuclear testing in the South Pacific is facing growing opposition, including from survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

On June 11, the government, headed by French Polynesia President Gaston Flosse, decided to rescind permission to use the current location in a park that sits along the ocean in the capital, Papeete.

“It is desirable to construct new facilities to accept yachts and boats and renovate (current) facilities for tourists,” Flosse said.

MintPress News covers other problems from other fuels:

Western Penn. Residents Request Fracking-Related Illness Probe

  • Scientists are asked to either prove or refute theories connecting a range of health problems with nearby fracking operations.

Across the nation, communities are challenging claims that fracking is safe. Residents living near the litany of well pods that are being built or are already in operation continue to report nosebleeds, headaches, skin rashes, dizziness and nausea. Research is increasingly supporting theories connecting such symptoms to fracking well proximity. According to a Jan. 28 Colorado School of Public Health report, for example, mothers living close to a cluster of fracking wells have as much as a 30 percent additional risk of their child being born with a birth defect. A second study, released by the Endocrine Society in December, found that exposure to fracking fluid could disrupt hormone functioning, leading to a greater chance of infertility, cancer and other health problems.

While some states, such as New York and Maryland, have taken these health concerns seriously, and have issued statewide moratoriums on fracking, other states, drawn to the revenue the expanded oil and natural gas drilling would bring to their coffers, have allowed fracking operations to set up with virtually no state regulation and no vetting of the safety of the process. The drive toward making America energy-independent has also led to the federal government taking a hands-off approach in regards to dealing with fracking, with several pieces of legislation in place to make it difficult for federal agencies to impose safety regulations on oil and gas companies.

In fracking-heavy Washington County, Pennsylvania, residents have reached out to a group of local scientists to prove definitively that their illnesses are being caused by the fracking well pods. The group, the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, is offering free health evaluations to families local to the drilling sites. In Pennsylvania, there are no planned or ongoing health studies in place with the state’s Department of Environmental Protection — which oversees the state’s oil and gas industries — and none of the impact fees the state collects from drilling operations go toward health programs or initiatives.

And for our final item, there’s exxxcellent news for Montgomery Burns from the Independent:

Luxury cruise line accused of offering ‘environmental disaster tourism’ with high-carbon footprint Arctic voyage

A luxury cruise operator in the US has announced it will offer a “once-in-a-lifetime” trip to experience the environmental devastation of the Arctic – using a mode of transport that emits three times more CO2 per passenger per mile than a jumbo jet.

It will be the first ever leisure cruise through the Northwest Passage, only accessible now because of the melting of polar ice, and is being marketed at those with an interest in witnessing the effects of climate change first-hand.

Tickets for the trip, scheduled for 16 August 2016 and organised by Crystal Cruises, will cost between $20,000 (£12,000) and $44,000.

Yet there is no mention on Crystal Cruises’ promotion or FAQ for the journey of the boat’s own carbon footprint.

The other Holocaust: Hitler’s war on the Roma


We’ve explored at some length previously Hitler’s other Holocaust, the one targeting those peoples often grouped under the name “Gypsy,” a term assigned them because of their once-supposed Egyptian origin.

We are therefore pleased with a new to the University of California Television channel on YouTube, featuring Ian Hancock, European-born Roma professor from the University of Texas:

From University of California Television:

Porrajmos: The Romani and the Holocaust with Ian Hancock – Holocaust Living History 

Program notes:

The Holocaust claimed anywhere between 500,000 and 1.5 million Romani lives, a tragedy the Romani people and Sinti refer to as the Porrajmos, or “the Devouring.” Notwithstanding the scope of the catastrophe, the Romani genocide was often ignored or minimized until Ian Hancock and others exposed this misfortune. A Romani-born British citizen, activist, and scholar, Hancock has done more than anyone to raise awareness about the Romani people during World War II. Now a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, Hancock is presented here as part of the Holocaust Living History Workshop, a partnership between Judaic Studies at UCSD and the UC San Diego Library.

Recorded on 05/07/2014. Series: “The Library Channel”

In light of Hancock’s insights on the common links the Nazis drew between the Romani people and Jews, another UCTV video recorded at an address for CARTA [the Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny] makes an interesting point.

University of Southern California social anthropologist Christopher Boehm looks at patterns of aggression among hunter/gatherer peoples and friends that ethnic identity was the cause of most in intergroup violence. He notes that virtually every foraging group self-identifies as “the people” and other groups as something less.

From UCTV:

Violence in Human Evolution – Christopher Boehm: Warfare and Feuding in Pleistocene Society

Program notes:

In this talk, Christopher Boehm (USC) discusses how today’s hunter-gatherers are used to portray likely patterns of male aggression among culturally-modern foragers in the Late Pleistocene epoch. Patterns of aggressive behavior are considered at three levels: within groups, between groups of the same ethnicity, and between groups that consider one another strangers.

Recorded on 05/16/2014. Series: “CARTA – Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny”

InSecurity Watch: Censors/spooks/zones/deals


Today’s collection of tales from the worlds of spooks, deep politics, resurgent militarism, and more opens with the latest — stunning — revelation from WikiLeaks:

Australia bans reporting of multi-nation corruption case involving Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam

Today, 29 July 2014, WikiLeaks releases an unprecedented Australian censorship order concerning a multi-million dollar corruption case explicitly naming the current and past heads of state of Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam, their relatives and other senior officials. The super-injunction invokes “national security” grounds to prevent reporting about the case, by anyone, in order to “prevent damage to Australia’s international relations”. The court-issued gag order follows the secret 19 June 2014 indictment of seven senior executives from subsidiaries of Australia’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA). The case concerns allegations of multi-million dollar inducements made by agents of the RBA subsidiaries Securency and Note Printing Australia in order to secure contracts for the supply of Australian-style polymer bank notes to the governments of Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and other countries.

The suppression order lists 17 individuals, including “any current or former Prime Minister of Malaysia”, “Truong Tan San, currently President of Vietnam”, “Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (also known as SBY), currently President of Indonesia (since 2004)”, “Megawati Sukarnoputri (also known as Mega), a former President of Indonesia (2001–2004) and current leader of the PDI-P political party” and 14 other senior officials and relatives from those countries, who specifically may not be named in connection with the corruption investigation.

The document also specifically bans the publication of the order itself as well as an affidavit affirmed last month by Australia’s representative to ASEAN Gillian Bird, who has just been appointed as Australia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations. The gag order effectively blacks out the largest high-level corruption case in Australia and the region.

The last known blanket suppression order of this nature was granted in 1995 and concerned the joint US-Australian intelligence spying operation against the Chinese Embassy in Canberra.

Wikileaks has posted the court order here.

The Christian Science Monitor covers a concession:

US is no safer after 13 years of war, a top Pentagon official says

The outgoing head of the Defense Intelligence Agency says that new players on the scene are more radical than Al Qaeda, and the core Al Qaeda ideology has lost none of its potency.

The nation is no safer after 13 years of war, warns a top US military official who leads one of the nation’s largest intelligence organizations.

“We have a whole gang of new actors out there that are far more extreme than Al Qaeda,” says Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, which employs some 17,000 American intelligence collectors in 140 countries around the world.

That the United States is no safer – and in some respects may be less safe – even after two wars and trillions of dollars could prove to be disappointing news for Americans, noted the journalist questioning General Flynn at the Aspen Security Forum last week.

From the Guardian, a legislative battle against The Most Transparent Administration in History™:

Senators consider obscure rule in CIA torture report declassification debate

  • Mark Udall said procedure could be invoked to compel Obama administration to release more of landmark Senate report

Senators are considering the use of an obscure parliamentary procedure to compel the Obama administration to release more of a landmark Senate report into the Central Intelligence Agency’s abusive post-9/11 interrogations should they be unsatisfied with the administration’s first version.

“If the redacted version of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s study that we receive appears to be an effort to obscure its narrative and findings — and if the White House is not amenable to working toward a set of mutually agreed-upon redactions — I believe the committee must seriously consider its other option,” Senator Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat on the intelligence committee, told the Guardian on Monday.

It is believed that the White House will provide its completed redactions to sections of the Senate intelligence committee’s landmark torture report in the coming days. The committee will subsequently review the redactions as preparation for the report’s public release, something chairwoman Dianne Feinstein of California, a Democrat, had wanted to happen in early May.

From The Hill, groping toward compromise?:

Leahy unveils ‘historic’ NSA reform bill

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Tuesday introduced legislation to put sweeping new limits on U.S. surveillance and peel back the curtain on controversial spying programs.

The aggressive bill seeks to address concerns that tech companies and civil liberties proponents had over the House’s attempt to rein in the National Security Agency (NSA) by restricting agents to narrow, targeted searches of records about people’s phone calls as well as making the spying regime more transparent.

For civil libertarians, it is the best hope for reining in the NSA this year, though defenders of the spy agency in Congress are likely to push back.

“If we can enact this bill, get it signed into law, it would represent the most significant reform of government surveillance authorities since Congress passed the USA Patriot Act 13 years gap,” Leahy said on the Senate floor

But Ars Technica notes a subtlety with deep significance:

Analysis: Bill banning phone metadata collection gives NSA access to it

  • Proposal “is not perfect” but less surveillance is better than mass surveillance.

A prominent senator unveiled legislation Tuesday that would end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of all telephone metadata—a package that still provides the nation’s spooks limited access to the data of every phone call made to and from the US. And the probable-cause standard under the Fourth Amendment is not present.

Conceding the realpolitik, civil rights groups and others are backing the proposal from Patrick Leahy, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, even though the NSA may acquire the data absent constitutional protections.

And signs of repair efforts from Techdirt:

Senators Wyden And Udall Pledge To Strengthen USA Freedom Act By Closing Surveillance Backdoor

  • from the that-would-be-good dept

By now, it should be well known that Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall are the two key truth-tellers in Congress when it comes to what kind of surveillance is being done by the intelligence community. If they ask a question, assume the answer is “yes.”

With the introduction of the new USA Freedom Act in the Senate, we noted that, while it does take a big step forward, there is a lot more that can be done.

Wyden and Udall have released a statement noting that they plan to seek to strengthen the bill with an amendment to close the backdoor search “loophole” which is used by the entire intelligence community to spy on Americans. It’s unfortunate that Leahy didn’t include that in the original bill — and it suggests that there might not (yet) be enough support to close the backdoor. But

From The Verge, a profitable but hardly surprising transition:

Former NSA chief makes up to $1 million a month selling cybersecurity services

  • Gen. Keith Alexander stepped down from the NSA after the Snowden leaks, now he’s back with a new security firm related to his government work

General Keith Alexander was in charge of the National Security Agency when all hell broke loose and former security contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents showing the organization was spying far beyond the extent to which most people were aware (or comfortable with). But he’s not letting that episode stop him from launching what looks to be an exceptionally lucrative private career selling…you guessed it, cybersecurity software.

As Bloomberg first reported last week, Alexander has spent the last few months since his retirement as NSA head in March giving paid talks on cybersecurity to banks and other large financial institutions. Bloomberg also noted that Alexander has charged up to $1 million a month for his services, and even co-founded his own private security firm, IronNet Cybersecurity, Inc. In a more recent interview with Foreign Policy, Alexander admitted that his firm has developed “unique” technology for detecting and fighting so-called “advanced persistent threats” — cyberattacks that can extend for months or years at a time without being noticed, and are directed against specific targets like big companies or governments.

Beyond the somewhat uncomfortable optics created by America’s leading spymaster turning his skill-set to the private security sector, there are other problems with Alexander’s new job. As Foreign Policy points out, the former NSA chief plans to file patents on his firm’s technology, patents that are “directly related to the job he had in government.” In other words, Alexander stands to profit directly off of his taxpayer-funded experience, and may do so with a competitive advantage over other competing private firms.

From the Dept. Of Extremely Curious, via the Guardian:

US government increases funding for Tor, giving $1.8m in 2013

  • Despite attempts by the National Security Agency to crack the anonymous browser, the US increased state funding through third parties

Tor, the internet anonymiser, received more than $1.8m in funding from the US government in 2013, even while the NSA was reportedly trying to destroy the network.

According to the Tor Project’s latest annual financial statements, the organisation received $1,822,907 from the US government in 2013. The bulk of that came in the form of “pass-through” grants, money which ultimately comes from the US government distributed through some independent third-party.

Formerly known as “the onion router”, Tor is software which allows its users to browse the internet anonymously. It works by bouncing connections through encrypted “relays”, preventing any eavesdropper from determining what sites a particular user is visiting, or from determining who the users of a particular site actually are. That makes it popular amongst organisations trying to promote freedom of speech in nations like China and Syria – but also popular amongst users trying to evade surveillance in the West.

CBC News covers a trans-Pacific hack

Chinese cyberattack hits Canada’s National Research Council

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird raises issue during visit to Beijing

A “highly sophisticated Chinese state-sponsored actor” recently managed to hack into the computer systems at Canada’s National Research Council, according to Canada’s chief information officer, Corinne Charette.

The attack was discovered by Communications Security Establishment Canada.

In a statement released Tuesday, Charette, confirmed that while the NRC’s computers operate outside those of the government of Canada as a whole, the council’s IT system has been “isolated” to ensure no other departments are compromised.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird was in Beijing as news of the cyberattack became public.

The Guardian covers a done deal:

UK-US sign secret new deal on nuclear weapons

  • Closed contents of updated Mutual Defence Agreement
  • Vital for Britain’s Trident nuclear weapons system
  • MPs also demand debate on UK’s future world role

A new agreement critical to Britain’s Trident nuclear weapons system, was signed the other day by British and US officials.

Whitehall was silent. We had to rely on the White House, and a message from Barack Obama to the US Congress, to tell us that the 1958 UK-US Mutual Defence Agreement (MDA) had been updated.

A new amendment to the treaty will last for 10 years. Obama told Congress it will “permit the transfer between the United States and the United Kingdom of classified information concerning atomic weapons; nuclear technology and controlled nuclear information; material and equipment for the development of defense plans; training of personnel; evaluation of potential enemy capability; development of delivery systems; and the research, development, and design of military reactors.”

From intelNews, high crime by a vanished regime?:

Did South African spy services kill Swedish prime minister in 1986?

The usually tranquil waters of Swedish national politics were stirred violently on February 28, 1986, when the country’s Prime Minister, Olof Palme, was shot dead. He was walking home from the cinema with his wife when he was gunned down by a single assassin who shot him from behind in Stockholm’s central street of Sveavägen. Following the 1988 acquittal of Christer Pettersson, who had been initially convicted of the assassination, several theories have been floating around, but the crime remains unsolved to this day.

Now the BBC has aired an investigation into the incident, which revisits what some say is the most credible theory behind the killing: that Palme was targeted by the government of apartheid-era South Africa because of his strong support for the African National Congress (ANC). Palme was among the leading figures of the left wing in Sweden’s Social Democratic Party.

He had served as Prime Minister from 1969 to 1976, and was reelected in 1982 on a left-wing program of “revolutionary reform” that included expanding the role of the trade unions and increasing progressive taxation rates. He was also a strong international opponent of South Africa’s apartheid system and under his leadership Sweden became the most ardent supporter of the ANC.

On to the Asian security from, starting with suspicion of security crimes from the New York Times:

China Says Zhou Yongkang, Former Security Chief, Is Under Investigation

In President Xi Jinping’s most audacious move yet to impose his authority by targeting elite corruption, the Communist Party on Tuesday announced an investigation of Zhou Yongkang, the retired former head of domestic security who accumulated vast power while his family accumulated vast wealth.

Mr. Zhou, who retired from the Politburo Standing Committee in late 2012, is the most senior party figure ever to face a formal graft inquiry. Until now, no standing or retired member of the Standing Committee has faced a formal investigation by the party’s anticorruption agency.

The party leadership has “decided to establish an investigation of Zhou Yongkang for grave violations of discipline,” Xinhua, the state-run news agency, reported Tuesday, citing a decision by the party’s anticorruption agency. The terse announcement gave no details of the charges against Mr. Zhou.

Want China Times covers a goose getting gander sauced:

‘Cradle of Chinese hackers’ sees 70-80 cyber attacks a day

Shandong Lanxiang Vocational School’s ties with the military have led it to be seen increasingly as an incubator for Chinese hackers, and as a result the school has experienced frequent cyber attacks.

The school began assisting the People’s Liberation Army in training soldiers in various fields shortly after its establishment in 1984.

The school has also worked with state businesses and agencies under the State Council.

School founder Rong Lanxiang acknowledges that the school worked with the military during its early days and had introduced members of the military into its management.

The Japan Times covers the latest symptoms of centuries’ old tensions:

Japan feels ‘strong concern’ over France-Russia warship deal

The government on Tuesday expressed “strong concern” about the planned sale of French helicopter carriers to Russia, joining some EU countries in opposing the deal as the West believes Russia has failed to meet international demands to end violence in Ukraine.

President Francois Hollande has defied allies Britain and the United States by confirming plans to deliver a helicopter carrier to Russia.

A €1.2 billion ($1.62 billion) contract for two warships, signed by France’s then-President Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative government in 2011, was the first by a NATO member country to supply Russia with military equipment.

Jiji Press question resurgent militarism:

DPJ’s Noda Urges Abe to Clarify Risks of Collective Self-Defense

Former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda called on incumbent Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Tuesday to explain the risks involved in Japan exercising its right to collective self-defense.

“Obviously, risks increase when the scope of activities by the Self-Defense Forces is extended. Abe should fully explain if he raised the issue out of concern for the future of Japan,” Noda said in a speech to the Research Institute of Japan, a Jiji Press affiliate.

Noda, a member of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, urged Abe to tell the public about the risks including the possibility that the SDF may become involved in combat.

While the Japan Times covers a possible militarism-enabler:

Abe eyes Ishiba for new Cabinet post on defense legislation

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to replace Shigeru Ishiba as the No. 2 man in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and has sounded him out about assuming a newly created Cabinet post for defense legislation, a party source said Tuesday.

The envisioned changes would be part of Abe’s Cabinet reshuffle scheduled for the first week of September, his first since taking office in December 2012. Abe, who heads the LDP, also plans to reshuffle party executives.

Ishiba, the LDP’s secretary-general, is widely regarded as a potential future prime minister. He has refrained from making his stance clear on the proposed move, the LDP source said.

Nikkei Asian Review courts compromise:

Europe sees rule of law as key in South China Sea disputes

The European Union (EU) on Tuesday prodded countries with competing territorial claims in the South China Sea to resolve their disputes peacefully through the rule of law.

In a joint briefing with Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario following a bilateral meeting, Catherine Ashton, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, restated the EU position:

“The European Union encourages all parties to seek peaceful solutions through dialogue and cooperation in accordance with the international law, in particular with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea,” Ashton said.

From Want China Times, a remarkable statistic:

North Korea has largest fleet of submarines worldwide

North Korea has the largest fleet of submarines in the world, with 78 currently in its arsenal, according to the Global Firepower Index of the Business Insider based in New York.

The United States has six fewer at 72, while China came in third place with 69 submarines. Russia was ranked fourth with 63 and Iran was in fifth place fifth with around 31 submarines, while Japan has 16 and South Korea has 14.

The Global Security website run by a group of defense and intelligence experts estimated that the Korean People’s Navy is in possession of at least 78 submarines, including eight semi-submersible infiltration crafts.

And for our final item, the London Daily Mail covers a costly security gesture:

Rick Perry: National Guard on US-Mexico border can’t make arrests but serve as ‘a powerful reminder that what you are doing is a crime’

  • Texas governor deployed up to 1,000 National Guard troops to the US-Mexico border this month but didn’t give them arrest powers
  • He argues that their deterrent factor alone is worth the exercise
  • Troops will work alongside state police agencies Perry activated as a supplement to what he says are inadequate measures from Washington
  • Hundreds of children and teens pour across the border from Mexico every day, following a 2012 amnesty announcement from President Obama that only affects illegal immigrants brought to America as children before 2007

Keiser Report: What recovery? And hold on!


All that talk of recovery is a fraud, says a leading British financial journalist, and Crash II is on it’s way.

While the meat of this latest edition of Max’s long-running RT show is in the second half interview with scribe Liam Halligan, in the opening minutes Max and Stacy Herbert do a deft debunking of the language of traders and economists to reveal the meaning of all those words so blithely bandied about.

But it’s Halligan who gets to the root of the recovery myth, and what he has to say will throw a sizable chill on your day.

From RT:

Keiser Report: Casino Gulag

Program notes:

In this episode of the Keiser Report, Max Keiser and Stacy Herbert the nouns, like ‘poor,’ who want to be known as verbs, like ‘can’t make ends meet,’ and the thieving verbs (i.e., ‘defrauding investors,’ ‘manipulating markets’) who want to be called nouns, like ‘wealth creator.’ In the second half, Max interviews Liam Halligan about his recent Spectator cover story, “The Next Crash: We could be on the brink of another financial crisis.” They look at derivatives, leverage, GDP and more.

Quote of the day: The madness of pot busts


Following up on Sunday’s lead editorial call for an end to federal marijuana prohibition, the New York Times is back again today with an editorial on pot possession busts, which includes this:

From 2001 to 2010, the police made more than 8.2 million marijuana arrests; almost nine in 10 were for possession alone. In 2011, there were more arrests for marijuana possession than for all violent crimes put together.

The costs of this national obsession, in both money and time, are astonishing. Each year, enforcing laws on possession costs more than $3.6 billion, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. It can take a police officer many hours to arrest and book a suspect. That person will often spend a night or more in the local jail, and be in court multiple times to resolve the case. The public-safety payoff for all this effort is meager at best: According to a 2012 Human Rights Watch report that tracked 30,000 New Yorkers with no prior convictions when they were arrested for marijuana possession, 90 percent had no subsequent felony convictions. Only 3.1 percent committed a violent offense.

The strategy is also largely futile. After three decades, criminalization has not affected general usage; about 30 million Americans use marijuana every year. Meanwhile, police forces across the country are strapped for cash, and the more resources they devote to enforcing marijuana laws, the less they have to go after serious, violent crime. According to F.B.I. data, more than half of all violent crimes nationwide, and four in five property crimes, went unsolved in 2012.

The editorial also calls out the radical racial disparities in pot possession arrests, nothing that in some counties, blacks are 30 times more likely that whites to be arrested.

EnviroWatch: Fires, toxins, nukes, crops


Our compendium of news environmental begins with Golden State burning, via the Christian Science Monitor:

California fire threatens 500 homes, more high temps forecast

California fire crews are battling the so-called Sand Fire, which doubled in size over the weekend, as well as a fire near Yosemite National Park. Intense heat is expected to continue in the state this week.

More than 1,000 residents have been evacuated from the Sierra Nevada foothills as wildfire threatens 500 homes.

The so-called Sand Fire doubled in size over the weekend, burning 13 homes and outbuildings and scorching six square miles of grassland and timber near Plymouth, Calif., some 30 miles east of Sacramento. Nearly 2,000 firefighters are battling the blaze with the help of a DC-10 air tanker, but high temperatures and gusting winds continue to fan the flames. The blaze, which began on Friday, is currently 50 percent contained.

The intense heat is expected to continue throughout the week, further complicating efforts to battle the fire and heightening the potential for other outbreaks, Sacramento-based National Weather Service meteorologist Drew Peterson told the Los Angeles Times.

From CBC News, corporate poisoning north of the border:

Mercury survivors neglected by government, Grassy Narrows First Nation claims

A northwestern Ontario First Nation has released a five-year-old report confirming the community suffers ongoing effects from mercury poisoning, but it says the government has never acted on the findings.

At a news conference in Toronto on Monday, members of Grassy Narrows First Nation presented the 2009 report that they say should have been made public long ago.

The report was commissioned by the Mercury Disability Board, an organization established in 1986 through an out-of-court settlement to assess and manage claims related to mercury contamination in the Wabigoon/English River system.

A Dryden-based paper company dumped mercury into the river between 1962 and 1970, contaminating the main source of fish for Grassy Narrows First Nation and Wabesemoong Independent Nations.

And from EcoWatch, troubled waters on the northern border:

Plastic Pellets Pollute Lake Erie

Millions of industrial plastic pellets pollute the sands beneath our feet, but you can’t see them unless you look closely, and no beach cleanup will ever make it better.

“We picked up all the bags and bottles already,” said one young volunteer that collected trash on Whiskey Island at Wendy Park’s Sandy Beach, along the shore of Lake Erie in Cleveland as part of the Burning River Fest. I was sitting next to her on the ground sifting through leaf litter picking up the little pieces. I yelled, “I’ll give a dollar to the first person to find a pellet!” Within a few minutes a dozen volunteers were on their hand and knees picking up thousands of them. The amount of pellets on this beach is equivalent to a least one plastic bottle every three feet.

Industries that make or use preproduction plastic pellets contribute to the problem of uncontrolled pellet loss. Preproduction plastic is the raw plastic resin materials that are molded into finished plastic products, according to the California Environmental Protection Agency. Preproduction plastics are often produced in a resin pellet format, occasionally termed as “nurdles.” These small, 1- to 5- mm diameter pieces are produced in various shapes, colors and plastic types. Preproduction plastics can be produced in powder, granule and flake form.

From the Guardian, the best “science” money can buy:

Bee research tainted by corporate funding, MPs say

  • Report warns against letting pesticide companies fund key research for government plan to boost pollinators

Criticial future research on the plight of bees risks being tainted by corporate funding, according to a report from MPs published on Monday. Pollinators play a vital role in fertilising three-quarters of all food crops but have declined due to loss of habitat, disease and pesticide use. New scientific research forms a key part of the government’s plan to boost pollinators but will be funded by pesticide manufacturers.

UK environment ministers failed in their attempt in 2013 to block an EU-wide ban on some insecticides linked to serious harm in bees and the environmental audit select committee (EAC) report urges ministers to end their opposition, arguing there is now even more evidence of damage. Millions of member of the public have supported the ban.

“When it comes to research on pesticides, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is content to let the manufacturers fund the work,” said EAC chair Joan Walley. “This testifies to a loss of environmental protection capacity in the department responsible for it. If the research is to command public confidence, independent controls need to be maintained at every step. Unlike other research funded by pesticide companies, these studies also need to be peer-reviewed and published in full”.

On to Latin America for two contrasting agricultural stories via Public Radio International:

Brazil is set to become the world’s biggest soy producer — and that might be bad news for its forests

In the soy bean world, all eyes are now on the state of Mato Grosso in Brazil.

It’s covered by millions of acres of industrial farms and deep green soy fields. If this year’s harvest — the best in Brazilian history — comes in as expected, Brazil is poised to surpass the US and become the world’s largest soy producer. Soy beans have boosted Brazil’s economy and even brought President Dilma Roussef to Mato Grosso to congratulate farmers in person.

But in a nearby indigenous village, no one is celebrating. The boom in soy production coincided with a spike in deforestation. And Hiparidi Toptiro, an activist from the indigenous Xavante people, says local soy farmers are willing to do anything for a chunk of the forest where the Xavante live.

“Throughout our lands, people show up wielding false deeds to the area,” Toptiro says.  “And they have begun to plant soybeans inside our lands. They pay off one of our villages with a little money, which complicates the relationship between all of us in the reserve. “ He calls it dividing and conquering with trinkets.

The Guardian looks at the alternative:

Can ‘agroecology’ bring food security to Latin America?

  • A home-grown, alternative approach to farming is bad news for pesticides, monoculture and food poverty in Brazil

In response to problems caused by agribusiness, including contamination of natural resources, increases in food prices, soil infertility and health problems, agroecology has emerged as a marriage between science, traditional agriculture and social movements.

Family farming, the practice which agroecology is based on, involves about 500 million people worldwide, according statistics from UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Agroecological farmers produce relatively more food. In South America, family farming takes place on 18% of the territory and produces about 40% of its food.

María de Los Angeles is an Ecuadorian representative of the agroecological movement of Latin America and the Caribbean. She says conventional production is not sustainable because it degrades the soil and is based on fossil fuels.

“Agroecology recovers elements of each territory and knowledge developed by farmers for thousands of years. Instead of monoculture, we’re talking about preserving biodiversity and humankind itself.”

Off to Japan for the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!, starting with an offering from Jiji Press:

No Clear Effect of Fukushima Groundwater Bypass: TEPCO

Tokyo Electric Power Co. admitted Monday that it still cannot confirm whether a so-called groundwater bypass operation at its crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant is working.

In May, the utility began the operation to pump untainted groundwater into the sea so that the water will not flow into reactor buildings and increase the amount of radioactive water at the plant.

TEPCO official Teruaki Kobayashi told a news conference Monday that the company is still unable to see tangible results from the operation in reactor buildings.

From the Asahi Shimbun, justifiable skepticism:

ASAHI POLL: 59% oppose planned restart of Kyushu reactors

Nearly 60 percent of citizens are opposed to the planned restart of reactors at the Sendai nuclear power plant in Kagoshima Prefecture, the first such restart under tougher standards introduced after the Fukushima crisis, according to an Asahi Shimbun survey.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority on July 16 concluded that reactors at the Kyushu Electric Power Co. plant meet the safety standards introduced after the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami triggered the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

It is the first time since the Fukushima nuclear disaster began that a nuclear plant has passed the NRA’s stricter inspections.

The Asahi Shimbun again, with cause for even more skepticism:

Former Kansai Electric Power executive reveals 18 years of secret payments to prime ministers

A former top official at Kansai Electric Power Co. has come forward to reveal a nearly 20-year history of doling out “top secret” huge donations to Japanese prime ministers, funded on the backs of ratepayers.

Chimori Naito, 91, a former KEPCO vice president, said that for 18 years from 1972, seven prime ministers received 20 million yen (about $200,000 now) annually from Yoshishige Ashihara, who served as both KEPCO president and chairman.

At that time, political donations to individual lawmakers were not illegal. However, in 1974, electric power companies declared a ban on corporate donations to politicians because of strong public opposition to the use of electricity fees to pay for such contributions.

Naito had long taken pride in working closely with Ashihara in making the donations as part of efforts to promote nuclear energy and to further develop the electric power industry.

NHK WORLD covers a hot real estate deal:

Govt. won’t nationalize radioactive storage site

The government says it will allow landowners to keep their property rights for the land where it will build temporary storage facilities for radioactive debris in Fukushima Prefecture. It had originally planned to buy the land for the facilities.

Environment Minister Nobuteru Ishihara and Reconstruction Minister Takumi Nemoto met Fukushima Prefecture Governor Yuhei Sato and the mayors of Futaba and Okuma in Tokyo on Monday. The two towns host the crippled nuclear power plant.

The government had planned to buy land from landowners in the towns to build the intermediate storage facilities for radioactive soil and waste from the nuclear power plant. But some landowners had refused to sell.

From the Guardian, fracking Britain’s heritage:

Fracking: oil exploration already occurs in national parks, says energy minister

  • Tory MP Matthew Hancock’s remark comes as firms are invited to bid for first onshore oil and gas licences in six years

Ministers are right to leave the door open to fracking in national parks because oil and gas have been exploited uncontroversially in such areas for decades, Matthew Hancock, the new energy minister, has said.

Unveiling the first new competition for onshore oil and gas licences for six years, the Conservative MP said there would need to be exceptional circumstances for shale drilling in protected countryside but people should remember that national parks cover 16% of the UK.

The government is on Monday to advertise around half of the UK to companies which want to exploit shale gas, in the first sale of new onshore licences since experts discovered the scale of the UK’s reserves.

And for our final item, a chiller from News Corp Australia:

The arrival of an Ebola-infected air passenger in Nigeria has airlines and airports scrambling to respond around the world

A MAN collapses at an international airport: It’s a hackneyed scene from almost every plague film ever made. But now it has happened — airports around the world are on high alert as fears mount that the deadly Ebola virus is on the move.

Nigerian health authorities are racing to stop the spread of the flesh-eating Ebola virus after a man sick with one of the world’s deadliest diseases carried it by plane to Lagos, Africa’s largest city with 21 million people.

Nigeria is so concerned it has ordered the establishment of “disease isolation centres” at international airports across the country to prevent any further entry of the untreatable disease.

But the horse may have already bolted.

And to make you really, really insecure. . .


Just watch this chilling compendium assembled by John Oliver for the latest installment of his HBO series Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.

By the time you’ve finished his debunking of the purported security of America’s nukes, you’ll be thoroughly disabused of any lingering doubt that, as Pogo famously said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

From Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Nuclear Weapons

Program notes:

America has over 4,800 nuclear weapons, and we don’t take terrific care of them.

It’s terrifying, basically.

InSecurity Watch: Spies, pols, laws, flaws


Lots of ground to cover and the hour’s growing late, so on with the show, starfing with the latest from the Asian wild card via SINA English:

North Korea threatens nuclear strike on White House

A top-ranking North Korean military official has threatened a nuclear strike on the White House and Pentagon after accusing Washington of raising military tensions on the Korean peninsula.

The threat came from Hwang Pyong-So, director of the military’s General Political Bureau, during a speech to a large military rally in Pyongyang on Sunday on the anniversary of the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.

Hwang, who holds the rank of vice marshal in the Korean People’s Army, said a recent series of South Korea-US military drills, one of which included the deployment of a nuclear-powered US aircraft carrier, had ramped up tensions.

Heading to the other wise of the Pacific and the not-so-surprising but tragic, via the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

Obama’s crackdown on leakers damages constitutional protections, activists say

Recent revelations of the U.S. government’s pervasive surveillance program and its crackdown on leaks are making it increasingly difficult for American journalists and lawyers to do their jobs, the advocacy group Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union said in a report released Monday.

It’s becoming impossible to ensure privacy for sources and clients by protecting their information, the report found. Government officials not only are substantially less willing to be in contact with journalists than they were a few years ago, but they also are even refusing to discuss unclassified matters or personal opinions.

“They are afraid of losing their security clearances, being fired or even being prosecuted,” Alex Sinha, the author of the report and a fellow at Human Rights Watch, said in a news conference at the National Press Club.

More from Common Dreams:

Government Surveillance Threatens Journalism, Law and Thus Democracy: Report

  • Interviews with dozens of leading journalists and attorneys found that U.S. government overreach is eroding critically important freedoms

The impunity with which the American government spies on journalists and attorneys is undermining the American people’s ability to hold their leaders accountable, thus threatening the core of our democracy, charged a joint report published Monday by two leading rights organizations.

The report—With Liberty to Monitor All: How Large-Scale US Surveillance is Harming Journalism, Law, and American Democracy, published by the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch—draws from extensive interviews with dozens of top journalists, lawyers and senior government officials. What the authors found is that recent revelations of widespread government surveillance have forced many professionals to alter or abandon work related to “matters of great public concern.”

According to the report, “Surveillance has magnified existing concerns among journalists and their sources over the administration’s crackdown on leaks.” With increasing prosecution of whistleblowers, restrictions on communication between intelligence officials and the media, and snitch programs for federal workers, journalists say that their sources have become “increasingly scared to talk about anything.”

On a related note, there’s this from MintPress News:

You’ve Got Mail: Judge Grants Feds Unrestricted Access To Gmail Account

In giving law enforcement unfettered access to search for “some needles” in one individual’s “computer haystack,” a judge fans the flames of the data debate.

Privacy advocates were dealt a major blow on July 18, when a federal judge in New York ruled that law enforcement has the legal authority to search the entire email account of an unnamed individual who police believe was involved in a money laundering scheme.

Google is now legally required to hand over the entire contents of the unnamed individual’s Gmail account — including all emails sent, received and drafted, all contacts, and other information —  to federal prosecutors.

In his 23-page ruling, U.S. Magistrate Judge Gabriel Gorenstein wrote that email accounts should be treated like hard drives when it comes to search and seizure principles. In other words, Gorenstein believes law enforcement should be able to go through an individual’s entire email account if prosecutors can demonstrate probable cause showing a “sufficient chance of finding some needles in the computer haystack.”

Next up, the latest on the iSpy — er, iPhone, via PandoDaily:

Apple hit with class action suit for spying on iPhone users

Apple has been hit with a class action suit on behalf of 100 million iPhone users who, allegedly, are being spied on by the phone’s location tracking tools.

According to the suit, filed in Federal Court in San Jose by lead plaintiff Chen Ma…

In or around September 2012, Apple released iPhone 4 which contains an iOS operating system software that enables iPhone 4 to track its users’ whereabouts down to every minute, record the duration that users stay at any given geographical point, and periodically transmit these data stored on the users’ devices to Apple’s data base for future references.

…Plaintiff alleges that while using her iPhones, including her current iPone [sic] 5S, she was not given notice that her daily whereabouts would be tracked, recorded, and transmitted to Apple database to be stored for future reference. She was not asked for and thus has not given her consent, approval and permission nor was she even made aware that her detailed daily whereabouts would be tracked, recorded and transmitted to Apple database.

Want China Times adds insult to injury:

Apple admits iPhone security flaw

Consumer electronics giant Apple has admitted for the first time that company employees can circumvent backup encryption to extract personal data including text messages, contact lists and photos from user iPhones, according to a report from Reuters.

Tech researcher Jonathan Zdziarskiv said at a conference presentation last week that because Apple is collecting a lot more data as part of its diagnostic services than necessary, the company’s staff, law enforcement agencies or anyone else with access to “trusted” computers to which Apple devices have been connected can use the same methods to gain access to this highly personal data.

The problem is compounded by the fact that Apple users are not notified that the services are running, meaning there is no way they can know what computers have been granted trusted status. They also cannot disable the service by “unpairing” a device from a computer unless the phone is formatted, Zdziarski said.

From CNN, making out like bandits:

Pentagon security clearance holders owe $730M in taxes

About 83,000 Defense Department employees and contractors with security clearances to protect the nation’s secrets have delinquent federal tax debts totaling $730 million, according to an internal government audit.

The findings in the new Government Accountability Office study raise security concerns for the U.S. government. Officials say employees and contractors who have financial problems are top targets of foreign intelligence agents.

Federal regulations governing security clearances say that a person “who is financially overextended is at risk of having to engage in illegal acts to generate funds” and that indebtedness should be among factors considered when someone applies for a clearance, the GAO study said. But the study found that government agencies in charge of the issue can’t readily collect data on tax debt, in part because IRS privacy rules prohibit sharing certain taxpayer data.

And from intelNews, a blast from the past that fortunately fizzled:

FBI searched for Soviet atom bombs in 1950s’ New York, files show

American authorities suspected that Soviet intelligence had smuggled atom bombs in New York City and that Moscow was planning to detonate them “at an expedient time”, according to declassified documents. The revelation comes from a set of internal FBI files, which were declassified and released in redacted form in 2010.

Copies of the documents, which date from the early 1950s, were posted (.pdf) on The Government Attic, a website specializing in publishing US government files obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests. The documents were then noticed last week by The Village Voice’s Anna Merlan. The file, titled “Atomic Bomb in Unknown Consulate, New York City”, is nearly 80 pages-long. It indicates that the search for a supposed Soviet atomic weapon in New York began shortly after the summer of 1950, when the FBI received a tip from a source in Brazil. The source reportedly told the Bureau that Soviet operatives had “placed an atom bomb in a consulate [...] in New York City to be detonated at such time as the Soviets consider expedient”.

The problem was that the FBI was not aware of the identity of the consulate, which was presumed to belong to the USSR or to a country politically aligned with it. The Bureau thus actively engaged in searching for the bomb during the years of 1951 and 1952.

Off to Europe and a more contemporary blast [of sorts] from TheLocal.no:

Swedish terror expert slams Norway terror alert

A Swedish terrorism researcher has blasted Norway’s handling of its recent terror threat, saying the day the threat began was a “total intelligence failure”.

Sweden has started analysing Norway’s reaction to its recent threat.

“It created unnecessary anxiety in Norway,”  Magnus Ranstorp, terrorist expert at the Swedish National Defence College, told The Local.

Norway has been on high-powered, ultra-defensive tip-toe for the past few days, since its intelligence service (PST) said last Thursday that it suspected an “imminent” terror attack.

And from TheLocal.se, a pullback:

Norway set to reduce terror alert

Norway’s terror alert level will be reduced from Tuesday, but security will still be somewhat tighter than normal, police chiefs said on Monday.

Police director Odd Reidar Humlegård informed at a press conference on Monday afternoon in Oslo that all police forces have received a directive to lower security across Norway.

Humlegård said: “The police are still going to be armed, but we are to start preparing for a reduction of visible presence.”

He announced a gradual reduction and change of measures, now more focused towards intelligence and analysis. Humlegård said that the increased security alert level has already come at the cost of several tens of millions of kroner of police resources.

The Guardian covers a setback for Washington:

Venezuelan government joy as Aruba frees former military intelligence head

  • President Maduro’s supporters jubilant after Hugo Carvajal is released instead of facing extradition to the US

Venezuela’s former military intelligence head Hugo Carvajal, wanted by the United States over drug accusations and arrested four days ago on the Caribbean island of Aruba, was released on Sunday.

Instead of being extradited to the US, the retired general flew home after the Netherlands government ruled he had diplomatic immunity, his lawyer and Venezuelan officials said.

Jubilant Venezuelan officials at a congress of the ruling Socialist Party celebrated the release as a “victory” over their ideological foes in Washington who wanted to extradite him.

And from the Independent, playing by the rules of a familiar game:

The secret report that helps Israelis to hide facts

  • The slickness of Israel’s spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by the pollster Frank Luntz

Israeli spokesmen have their work cut out explaining how they have killed more than 1,000 Palestinians in Gaza, most of them civilians, compared with just three civilians killed in Israel by Hamas rocket and mortar fire. But on television and radio and in newspapers, Israeli government spokesmen such as Mark Regev appear slicker and less aggressive than their predecessors, who were often visibly indifferent to how many Palestinians were killed.

There is a reason for this enhancement of the PR skills of Israeli spokesmen. Going by what they say, the playbook they are using is a professional, well-researched and confidential study on how to influence the media and public opinion in America and Europe. Written by the expert Republican pollster and political strategist Dr Frank Luntz, the study was commissioned five years ago by a group called The Israel Project, with offices in the US and Israel, for use by those “who are on the front lines of fighting the media war for Israel”.

Every one of the 112 pages in the booklet is marked “not for distribution or publication” and it is easy to see why. The Luntz report, officially entitled “The Israel project’s 2009 Global Language Dictionary, was leaked almost immediately to Newsweek Online, but its true importance has seldom been appreciated. It should be required reading for everybody, especially journalists, interested in any aspect of Israeli policy because of its “dos and don’ts” for Israeli spokesmen.

Off to Asia and the latest on the Game of Zones, starting with a headline from Kyodo News:

Japan announces additional sanctions on Russia over Ukraine

Japan will impose additional sanctions on Russia for failing to defuse the crisis in Ukraine, where the recent downing of a Malaysia Airlines jet killed all 298 people aboard, the government said Monday.

Assets held in Japan by individuals or groups directly involved in Russia’s annexation of Crimea or the instability in eastern Ukraine will be frozen, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said during a daily press briefing.

Japan will also follow the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development’s recent decision to freeze funding for new projects in Russia, and limit imports of Crimea-made products, Suga said.

But the McClatchy Washington Bureau makes an interesting point:

U.S. sales to Russia have only risen since sanctions imposed

In the months since the United States imposed sanctions on Russian businesses and close associates of President Vladimir Putin’s, an odd thing has happened: U.S. exports to Russia have risen.

U.S. Census Bureau foreign trade data show that exports rose 17 percent from March through May _ the most recent months for which the data is available _ compared with the previous three months, before sanctions were imposed. The value of exports has risen in each consecutive month this year, an unusual trend in a trade relationship that historically fluctuates on a monthly basis.

Russian markets account for less than 1 percent of U.S. exports, but what the U.S. sells to Russia is largely high-tech and expensive goods, including technology and equipment for the energy sector, which faces the threat of targeted sanctions.

Meanwhile, Japan makes a push ion a new venue. From Nikkei Asian Review:

Japan moves to counter China, Russia influence in Caribbean

Japan’s prime minister met here Monday with leaders and top officials representing 14 Caribbean nations, in a bid to shore up ties in a region where Russia and China have recently made robust overtures of their own.

Attending a summit of the Caribbean Community, or Caricom, Shinzo Abe pledged continued economic assistance and sought support for Japan’s bid for a nonpermanent seat in the United Nations Security Council election next year.

As an ally of the U.S., Japan also aims to counter recent moves by China and Russia to strengthen their influence in what is effectively “America’s backyard.”

And from Xinhua, another blast from the past:

Japanese war criminal confession reveals persecution of Chinese

A written confession by Japanese war criminal Ryusuke Sako made public on Sunday revealed the persecution of thousands of Chinese including underground anti-Japanese operators during World War II.

The document is the latest in a series published on the website of China’s State Archives Administration (SAA) following denials of war crimes by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Japanese right-wing politicians.

According to Sako’s confession, before his capture in August 1945, he served as section chief of Inspection Department of the Railway Security Police Forces of the “Manchukuo” puppet state and major general and brigade commander of Railway Security Forces in Jilin and Mudanjiang.

And for our final item, Frontera NorteSur covers a travesty of justice:

Massive Rights Violations Charged at New Mexico Detention Facility

After touring a New Mexico detention facility housing Central American refugees, immigrant advocates and lawyers have charged the Obama Administration with violating due process rights.

In a July 24 telephonic press conference hosted by the National Immigration Law Center, representatives of an advocates’ group that were allowed to conduct a short visit July 22 of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLTEC) in Artesia, New Mexico, where hundreds of Central American women and children are being held, detailed a laundry list of grievances.

In comments to reporters, advocates said women and children were held in crowded conditions; not adequately informed of their due process rights or given timely access to legal counsel, as per U.S. refugee law;  hustled through deportation proceedings; and forced to read  complex forms in English.  Additionally, serious concerns were raised about the physical and emotional health of children and their mothers.

EnviroWatch: Loans, drought, laws, radiation


Today’s first item, via the Guardian, covers the sad but not so surprising:

Leaked World Bank lending policies ‘environmentally disastrous’

  • New ‘light touch’ rules on bank’s $50bn annual lending have been gutted to remove protections, watchdogs claim

Radical plans by the World Bank to relax the conditions on which it lends up to $50bn (£29bn) a year to developing countries have been condemned as potentially disastrous for the environment and likely to weaken protection of indigenous peoples and the poor.

A leaked draft of the bank’s proposed new “safeguard policies”, seen by the Guardian, suggests that existing environmental and social protection will be gutted to allow logging and mining in even the most ecologically sensitive areas, and that indigenous peoples will not have to be consulted before major projects like palm oil plantations or large dams palm go ahead on land which they traditionally occupy.

Under the proposed new “light touch” rules, the result of a two year consultation within the bank, borrowers will be allowed to opt out of signing up to employment safeguards, existing protection for biodiversity will be shredded, countries will be allowed to assess themselves, and harmful projects are much more likely to occur, according to World Bank watchdog groups including the Bank Information Centre (BIC), the Ulu Foundation and the International Trade Union Confederation.

And on to our ongoing coverage of the drought parching the Golden State and the West, first with a scorcher from BBC News:

Two California wildfires destroy 10 homes

Two fast-moving wildfires in California have destroyed 10 homes and have forced the evacuation of hundreds more, US officials say.

In the Sacramento region, a fire has spread to cover an area of about 4,000 acres, while another blaze threatens homes around Yosemite National Park.

The Sacramento fire is around 35% contained, officials told local media.

Months of drought have caused more fires in California this year – some 1,400, twice the usual number.

The Los Angeles Times digs down:

Farmers drilling deeper for water as drought drags on

California’s three-year drought has sparked a surge in demand for wells in the state’s agricultural heartland. With federal and state allocations of surface water reduced to a trickle, growers are searching deeper underground for sources of water to keep their farms from ruin.

The clamor has overwhelmed California drillers and pump installers, forcing some farms to hire contractors from neighboring states.

It’s also setting the stage for more problems later as groundwater supplies are shrinking faster than they can be replenished. In parts of the Central Valley, the water table has plummeted, drying up old wells and sinking the land above, a phenomenon called subsidence.

That’s resulted in even deeper wells that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to build and require more energy to pump water to the surface. As recently as two decades ago, a well several hundred feet would suffice. Today, large farms are drilling to depths of 2,000 feet in anticipation of falling water levels.

“We’re going bigger horsepower every year,” said Charles Barber, president of Caruthers Pump south of Fresno, who has customers on a three-month waiting list. “We’ve lost 30 feet of groundwater in a year in some places. We keep that up for 10 years and we won’t be farming like this anymore.”

From Al Jazeera America, a crackdown:

Cali water cops: What you gonna do when they come for you?

  • State resources officials are aggressively policing the dire shortage by imposing fines on drought rule violators

But the Los Angeles Times covers the scofflaws:

California officials admit they have incomplete water usage data

When state regulators tried to tally water use across California recently, they didn’t exactly get a flood of cooperation.

Of the 440 water agencies in the state, only 276 provided water consumption data. And officials in San Diego made a point of formally refusing the request, saying the state’s method for measuring water use in California’s second-largest city was “misleading and technically inappropriate.”

The State Water Resources Control Board released the result of its survey earlier this month, showing an 8% increase in water use in Southern California in May while most of the rest of the state was using less water.

And what water there in the Midwest, is increasingly likely to be toxic, reports Common Dreams:

Notorious ‘Neonics’ Pervasive in Midwest Waters: Study

Researchers from the USGS found the insecticides in waterways of nation’s corn, soy region.

A new study has added to mounting evidence against a class of insecticides called neonicotinoids, or “neonics.”

Linked in numerous studies to bee declines, the new research looks at neonics’ impacts on surface water.

Researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey looked at 9 rivers and streams in the U.S. Midwest—home to vast plantings of corn and soybeans as well as widespread use of neonics—in the 2013 growing season.

On to the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!, starting with this bit of ominous news from the Asahi Shimbun:

Water leaks continue to plague No. 5 reactor at Fukushima plant

A leak of radioactive water was found in the piping of water used to cool the spent fuel pool in the undamaged No. 5 reactor building of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, its operator said on July 19, a sign of possible deterioration in the system.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said water from the cooling pond leaked, citing comparable levels of the concentration of radioactive substances in the leak and the pool.

A TEPCO employee found a pool of water in each of two boxes–75 centimeters by 50 cm–that house a control valve in the cooling water piping system on the fifth floor of the No. 5 reactor building at 1:25 a.m. on July 19.

From the Asahi Shimbun again, why are we not surprised?:

Restarts of reactors in Ehime delayed due to insufficient safety standards

Restarts of reactors at the Ikata nuclear power plant in Ehime Prefecture will be delayed until at least next year because the site does not meet safety standards.

Its operator, Shikoku Electric Power Co., is being forced to construct a new emergency headquarters building at the facility as the current one, which was completed after the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, fails to meet the new criteria.

The new building is scheduled to be completed in January 2015 at the earliest. Given that procedures for safety screening take time, the utility said it was doubtful the reactors could be reactivated this fiscal year, which ends in March 2015.

From Kyodo News, a measure sure to inspire confidence — or not:

Local gov’ts give iodine tablets to residents as reactor restart looms

Local governments started Sunday handing out iodine tablets to residents living within 5 kilometers of an offline nuclear power plant in Kagoshima Prefecture, southwestern Japan, that may restart in the fall.

It is the first time iodine tablets have been distributed under Nuclear Regulation Authority guidelines instituted following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. Iodine tablets help protect thyroids from radiation.

The move by the Kagoshima prefectural and Satsumasendai city governments came after Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai plant cleared a safety hurdle key to its restart earlier this month.

The Asahi Shimbun withdraws:

Plan dropped for land purchases to host nuclear debris storage sites

In the face of strong opposition, the government has abandoned its plan to purchase all of the land needed to build temporary storage sites for radioactive debris, sources said.

The idea was dropped after some landowners at prospective sites refused to sell, fearing the storage facilities located near the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant would end up being permanent.

Instead of purchasing all of the plots, the government now plans on leasing some of the land from landowners.

And from the Japan Times, looking across the Pacific:

Problems dog plans for U.S. nuclear plants

The U.S. nuclear industry has started building its first new plants in decades using prefabricated Lego-like blocks meant to save time and money and revive the once promising energy source.

But so far, it is not working.

Quality and cost problems have cropped up again, raising questions about whether nuclear power will ever be able to compete with other electricity sources. The first two reactors built after a 16-year lull, Southern Co.’s Vogtle plant in Georgia and SCANA Corp.’s VC Summer plant in South Carolina, are being assembled in large modules. Large chunks of the modules are built off-site, in an effort to improve quality and avoid the chronic cost overruns that all but killed the nuclear industry when the first wave of plants was being built in the 1960s and 1970s.

Analysts say engineers created designs that were hard or impossible to make, according to interviews and regulatory filings reviewed by AP. The factory in Louisiana that constructed the prefabricated sections struggled to meet strict quality rules. Utility companies got early warnings but proved unable to avoid the problems. Now the firms leading the project are phasing out the Louisiana factory for work on the biggest modules and contracting with new manufacturers.

While the Los Angeles Times covers another, surprising source of radioactive waste, fracking:

Oil drilling in North Dakota raises concerns about radioactive waste

Every weekday, about a dozen large garbage trucks peel away from the oil boom that has spread through western North Dakota to bump along a gravel road to the McKenzie County landfill.

Nearly 1,000 radioactive filters were found last year at the landfill, part of a growing tide of often toxic waste produced by the state’s oil and gas rush. Oil field waste includes drill cuttings — rock and earth that come up a well bore — along with drilling fluids and wastewater laced with chemicals used in fracking.

To many local and tribal officials, environmentalists and some industry managers in North Dakota, the dumping of the socks and the proliferation of other waste shows the government falling short in safeguarding the environment against oil field pollution.

And for our final item, the New York Times reminds us who’s footing the bill:

The Typical Household, Now Worth a Third Less

Economic inequality in the United States has been receiving a lot of attention. But it’s not merely an issue of the rich getting richer. The typical American household has been getting poorer, too.

The inflation-adjusted net worth for the typical household was $87,992 in 2003. Ten years later, it was only $56,335, or a 36 percent decline, according to a study financed by the Russell Sage Foundation. Those are the figures for a household at the median point in the wealth distribution — the level at which there are an equal number of households whose worth is higher and lower. But during the same period, the net worth of wealthy households increased substantially.

The Russell Sage study also examined net worth at the 95th percentile. (For households at that level, 94 percent of the population had less wealth and 4 percent had more.) It found that for this well-do-do slice of the population, household net worth increased 14 percent over the same 10 years. Other research, by economists like Edward Wolff at New York University, has shown even greater gains in wealth for the richest 1 percent of households.

InSecurity Watch: Spies, lies, laws, zones, drones


Our latest edition of tales form the dark side begins with a legal question from Wired:

New Ruling Shows the NSA Can’t Legally Justify Its Phone Spying Anymore

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals said no this week to tracking your movements using data from your cell phone without a warrant when it declared that this information is constitutionally protected.

The case, United States v. Davis , is important not only because it provides substantive and procedural protections against abuse of an increasingly common and highly invasive surveillance method. It also provides support for something Christopher Sprigman and I have said before — that the government’s other “metadata” collection programs are unconstitutional.

The Davis decision, in effect, suggests that the U.S. government’s collection of all kinds of business records and transactional data — commonly called “metadata” — for law enforcement and national security purposes may also be unconstitutional.

The Washington Post raises more legal questions:

4 senators worry about NSA collection of Americans’ e-mails, phone calls

Four Democratic senators have sent a letter to the director of national intelligence expressing concerns about the scope of the collection of Americans’ e-mails and phone calls under a National Security Agency program that targets foreigners overseas.

The lawmakers, led by Jon Tester (D-Mont.), told Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. that they were concerned by recent reports by The Washington Post and an independent executive branch panel about the surveillance.

The Post examined 160,000 communications intercepted under the program, which was authorized by Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 2008. The law does not require individualized warrants.

The Post found that “nearly half of the surveillance files . . . contained names, e-mail addresses or other details that the NSA marked as belonging to U.S. citizens or residents.”

And Wired offers opposition:

A Convicted Hacker and an Internet Icon Join Forces to Thwart NSA Spying

The internet is littered with burgeoning email encryption schemes aimed at thwarting NSA spying. Many of them are focused on solving the usability issues that have plagued complicated encryption schemes like PGP for years. But a new project called Dark Mail plans to go further: to hide your metadata.

Metadata is the pernicious transaction data involving the “To”, “From” and subject fields of email that the NSA finds so valuable for tracking communications and drawing connections between people. Generally, even when email is encrypted, metadata is not. Dark Mail ambitiously aims to revamp existing email structures to hide this data while still making the system universally compatible with existing email clients.

The project has made for an interesting pairing between Texas technologist Ladar Levison and convicted hacker Stephen Watt, whom he’s hired to help develop the code. Both have had previous battles with the government in very different ways.

From Social Science Research Network, a research summary raises troubling questions:

Government Surveillance and Internet Search Behavior

This paper uses data from Google Trends on search terms from before and after the surveillance revelations of June 2013 to analyze whether Google users’ search behavior shifted as a result of an exogenous shock in information about how closely their internet searches were being monitored by the U. S. government.

We use data from Google Trends on search volume for 282 search terms across eleven different countries. These search terms were independently rated for their degree of privacy-sensitivity along multiple dimensions.

Using panel data, our result suggest that cross-nationally, users were less likely to search using search terms that they believed might get them in trouble with the U. S. government. In the U. S., this was the main subset of search terms that were affected. However, internationally there was also a drop in traffic for search terms that were rated as personally sensitive. These results have implications for policy makers in terms of understanding the actual effects on search behavior of disclosures relating to the scale of government surveillance on the Internet and their potential effects on international competitiveness.

From The Hill, another agency, another challenge:

Ex-officials demand to see CIA report

Former top officials at the CIA want to make sure that they get a chance to see an upcoming report about the spy agency’s “enhanced interrogation techniques,” according to new reports on Saturday.

Former CIA Directors George Tenet, Porter Goss and Michael Hayden drafted a letter asking to see the Senate’s executive summary of the so-called “torture report,” which they sent to Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the New York Times reported.

The three chiefs and two former acing directors, John McLaughlin and Michael Morell, did reportedly get a chance to see the document, which reviews how controversial practices such as waterboarding were used. But many other top staffers did not.

About a dozen former officials who are named in the report were initially promised the chance to read it, according to the Associated Press. That offer was taken back on Friday, however, due to what CIA officials said was miscommunication.

More from Techdirt:

Senator Wyden Toying With The Idea Of Releasing The Senate’s CIA Torture Report

  • from the the-pressure’s-on dept

Senator Ron Wyden is apparently getting tired of waiting for the White House to use up its buckets of black ink in redacting everything important in the Senate’s big torture report. He’s publicly pondering the idea of using Senate privilege to just release it himself.

As you may recall, the Senate Intelligence Committee spent years and $40 million investigating the CIA’s torture program, and the 6,000+ page report is supposedly devastating in highlighting (1) how useless the program was and (2) how far the CIA went in torturing people (for absolutely no benefit) and (3) how the CIA lied to Congress about all of this. The CIA, not surprisingly, is not too happy about the report. At all. Still, despite its protests, the Senate Intelligence Committee voted to declassify the executive summary of the report.

However, the CIA got to take first crack at figuring out what to redact, which seemed like a massive conflict of interest. Either way, the CIA apparently finally ran out of black ink in late June, and asked the White House to black out whatever else was left. The State Department has already expressed concerns that releasing anything will just anger the public (our response: probably should have thought of that before sending the CIA to torture people). And, now it appears the report is being held up due to “security” concerns.

From Motherboard, Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane ! It’s Fibbie Drone!:

Do the FBI’s Drones Invade Your Privacy? Sorry, That’s Private

The FBI has been flying drones since 2005, according to a trickle of documents released over the last eight months. Agents called in a small surveillance drone on a hostage situation in Alabama in February 2013, and to monitor a dog-fighting scheme in August 2011.

But despite a mandatory process designed to mitigate privacy concerns, the question of how FBI drones may be impacting Americans’ privacy rights remains unanswered.

Federal law requires the FBI to assess its own surveillance technologies for potential privacy and civil liberties snags. While these technology assessments are typically prepared for public consumption, the FBI has refused to release its privacy reviews on drones.

The E-Government Act of 2002 obliges federal agencies to conduct a privacy impact assessment (PIA) prior to deploying any information technology that collects personal information. Per Department of Justice guidelines, the PIA process ensures that privacy protections “are built into the system from the start—not after the fact,” in order to “promote trust between the public and the Department by increasing transparency of the Department’s systems and missions.”

Meanwhile, another conflict, another sanction from South China Morning Post:

EU hits Russian intelligence chiefs in new round of sanctions over Ukraine

  • European Union announces broadened sanctions on Russia targeting 15 new individuals and 18 entities with asset freezes and visa bans

The European Union announced on Saturday it had widened its sanctions against Russia over Moscow’s role in conflict-torn Ukraine to include the heads of intelligence services.

The Russian foreign ministry responded later on Saturday, saying the measures put at risk international cooperation over security issues

The director of the FSB security service, Alexander Bortnikov, and the head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, Mikhail Fradkov are on the new list of 15 people and 18 entities targeted by an asset freeze and visa bans, the EU’s Official Journal said. Also on the list is Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov.

And from Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, mythbusters:

The evidence that shows Iron Dome is not working

In the early weeks of July, the conflict between Palestinians in Gaza and Israel flared up again, resulting in a new round of large-scale rocket attacks, launched by Hamas, operating from Gaza, against Israeli population centers. The last such large-scale rocket attacks occurred in November 2012.

Initially, the Israeli military responded to the rocket attacks with air strikes in Gaza, and with protective measures that include deployment of the Iron Dome rocket-defense system and a civil defense effort that includes an efficient system for early warning and sheltering of citizens. As of this writing, only one Israeli had died from Hamas fire, apparently from a mortar round (although that number increased with the Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip begun late last week).

During the November 2012 conflict, a detailed review of a large number of photographs of Iron Dome interceptor contrails revealed that the rocket-defense system’s success rate was very low—as low as 5 percent or, perhaps, even less. A variety of media outlets have attributed the low casualty number to the supposed effectiveness of the Iron Dome system, quoting Israeli officials as saying it has destroyed 90 percent of the Hamas rockets it targeted. But close study of photographic and video imagery of Iron Dome engagements with Hamas rockets—both in the current conflict and in the 2012 hostilities—shows that the low casualties in Israel from artillery rocket attacks can be ascribed to Israeli civil defense efforts, rather than the performance of the Iron Dome missile defense system.

From the Associated Press, who do they think they are? The NSA?:

Turkey: 20 police arrested for illegal wiretaps

Turkey’s state-run news agency says an Istanbul court has charged 20 police officers with illegal wiretapping and ordered their arrest pending a trial.

The Anadolu Agency says 49 other officers are still waiting on Saturday to be questioned and face possible charges.

The officers were detained on July 22 in raids to their homes on suspicion of wiretapping officials, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

After the jump, off to Asia for the latest installment of the Games of Zones, Google’s persistent cyberstalking, cops in the Klan, and so much more. . . Continue reading

Quote of the day: The smoking lamp is lit


BLOG Times

Or at least it should be, says today’s New Work Times lead editorial, calling for an end to the repressive federal laws against marijuana [the graphic is theirs, too]:

It took 13 years for the United States to come to its senses and end Prohibition, 13 years in which people kept drinking, otherwise law-abiding citizens became criminals and crime syndicates arose and flourished. It has been more than 40 years since Congress passed the current ban on marijuana, inflicting great harm on society just to prohibit a substance far less dangerous than alcohol.

The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana.

>snip<

While waiting for Congress to evolve, President Obama, once a regular recreational marijuana smoker, could practice some evolution of his own. He could order the attorney general to conduct the study necessary to support removal of marijuana from Schedule I. Earlier this year, he told The New Yorker that he considered marijuana less dangerous than alcohol in its impact on individuals, and made it clear that he was troubled by the disproportionate number of arrests of African-Americans and Latinos on charges of possession. For that reason, he said, he supported the Colorado and Washington experiments.

“It’s important for it to go forward,” he said, referring to the state legalizations, “because it’s important for society not to have a situation in which a large portion of people have at one time or another broken the law and only a select few get punished.”

But a few weeks later, he told CNN that the decision on whether to change Schedule I should be left to Congress, another way of saying he doesn’t plan to do anything to end the federal ban. For too long, politicians have seen the high cost — in dollars and lives locked behind bars — of their pointless war on marijuana and chosen to do nothing. But many states have had enough, and it’s time for Washington to get out of their way.

At the end of the editorial is a note reporting that editorial page editor Abe Rosenthal will be taking part in an online discussion about the paper’s new position.

The session begins, appropriately, at 4:20 p.m. EDT.

Chart of the day: China boosts rare earth exports


Without rare earths, production of military technology, cell phones,  solar cells, wind turbines, and countless other technologies would collapse, and China just happens to sit on the globe’s largest reserves of the precious elements. China had imposed a cap on exports, one of the measures that had sparked more tensions between Beijing and Washington [developments we have covered here]. But the Global Times reports that the Chinese government has abruptly raised exports, which, esnl presumes, has a deeper context yet to emerge:

BLOG Rare earths

EnviroWatch: Scofflaws, nuke woes, more


Our second headline collection focuses on the environment, and the costs of living a world where consumption — and the attendant damages to the earth, our fellow living creatures, and ourselves — has become the driving impetus of the systems of power and control.

First up, MintPress News covers stark reality:

Criminal Prosecution Rates For Corporate Environmental Crimes Near Zero

Grappling with a shrinking budget and limited manpower, the EPA pursues criminal charges in “fewer than one-half of one percent” of total legal violations.

While U.S. regulators are actively flagging and tracking corporate violations of federal environmental laws, the government is rarely pursuing criminal penalties for those infractions.

The Environmental Protection Agency, the key department in safeguarding the country’s health from pollutants, pursues criminal charges in fewer than one-half of one percent of total violations, according to new research. Both the EPA and the Department of Justice do continue to score high-visibility accountability successes for environmental crimes every year, but most of these are civil charges, which require less evidence to prove and fewer resources to prosecute.

Yet critics worry that civil proceedings, which typically result in fines but no jail time or restitution, don’t offer the robust deterrent effect necessary to substantively impact corporate decision-making or offer compensation to affected communities.

“More than 64,000 facilities are currently listed in agency databases as being in violation of federal environmental laws, but in most years, fewer than one-half of one percent of violations trigger criminal investigations,” according to a newinvestigation from the Crime Report, a publication of the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

BBC News combines the deplorable and the devastating:

Global decline of wildlife linked to child slavery

New research suggests the global decline in wildlife is connected to an increase in human trafficking and child slavery.

Ecologists say the shortage of wild animals means that in many countries more labour is now needed to find food.

Children are often used to fill this need for cheap workers, especially in the fishing industry.

The decline in species is also helping the proliferation of terrorism and the destabilisation of regions.

From Mother Jones, a subject of our ongoing concern:

California Farms Are Sucking Up Enough Groundwater to Put Rhode Island 17 Feet Under

In addition to affecting agricultural production the drought will cost the state billions of dollars, thousands of jobs, and a whole lot of groundwater, according to a new report prepared for the California Department of Food and Agriculture by scientists at UC-Davis. The authors used current water data, agricultural models, satellite data, and other methods to predict the economic and environmental toll of the drought through 2016.

  • The drought will cost the state $2.2 billion this year: Of these losses, $810 million will come from lower crop revenues, $203 million will come from livestock and dairy losses, and $454 million will come from the cost of pumping additional groundwater. Up to 17,100 seasonal and part-time jobs will be lost.
  • California is experiencing the “greatest absolute reduction in water availability” ever seen: In a normal year, about one-third of California’s irrigation water is drawn from wells that tap into the groundwater supply. The rest is “surface water” from streams, rivers, and reservoirs. This year, the state is losing about one-third of its surface water supply. The hardest hit area is the Central Valley, a normally fertile inland region. Because groundwater isn’t as easily pumped in the Valley as it is on the coasts, and the Colorado River supplies aren’t as accessible as they are in the south, the Valley has lost 410,000 acres to fallowing, an area about 10 times the size of Washington, DC.
  • Farmers are pumping enough groundwater to immerse Rhode Island in 17 feet of it: To make up for the loss of surface water, farmers are pumping 62 percent more groundwater than usual. They are projected to pump 13 million acre-feet this year, enough to put Rhode Island 17 feet under.
  • “We’re acting like the super-rich:” California is technically in its third year of drought, and regardless of the effects of El Niño, 2015 is likely to be a dry year too. As the dry years accumulate, it becomes harder and harder to pump water from the ground, adding to the crop and revenue losses. California is the only western state without groundwater regulation or measurement of major groundwater use. If you can drill down to water, it’s all yours. (Journalist McKenzie Funk describes this arcane system in an excerpt from his fascinating recent book, Windfall.) “A well-managed basin is used like a reserve bank account,” said Richard Howitt, a UC-Davis water scientist and co-author of the report. “We’re acting like the super-rich, who have so much money they don’t need to balance their checkbook.”

The report is posted online here [PDF]:

From Project Syndicate, another ravaged continent:

Antarctica’s Point of No Return

Recent satellite observations have confirmed the accuracy of two independent computer simulations that show that the West Antarctic ice sheet has now entered a state of unstoppable collapse. The planet has entered a new era of irreversible consequences from climate change. The only question now is whether we will do enough to prevent similar developments elsewhere.

What the latest findings demonstrate is that crucial parts of the world’s climate system, though massive in size, are so fragile that they can be irremediably disrupted by human activity. It is inevitable that the warmer the world gets, the greater the risk that other parts of the Antarctic will reach a similar tipping point; in fact, we now know that the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica, as big or even bigger than the ice sheet in the West, could be similarly vulnerable.

There are not many human activities whose impact can reasonably be predicted decades, centuries, or even millennia in advance. The fallout from nuclear waste is one; humans’ contribution to global warming through greenhouse-gas emissions from burning fossil fuels, and its impact on rising sea levels, is another.

Indeed, the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report stated, in uncharacteristically strong terms, that the sea level is “virtually certain” to continue to rise in the coming centuries or millennia. Moreover, the greater our emissions, the higher the seas will rise.

Via DutchNews.nl, Big Pharma strikes again:

Criminal investigation begun into banned antibiotic in animal feed

The public prosecution department has launched a criminal investigation into the use of a banned antibiotic in Dutch animal feed from a producer near Utrecht.

In a statement on Friday the department said business premises and a private house have been searched as part of the investigation.

Food safety inspectors have shut 102 Dutch pig and veal farms and 11 in Germany because they were delivered feed containing the antibiotic furazolidone, the Financieele Dagblad said earlier on Friday.

From the Economic Times, conditional reistance to the globalization regime in the name of food autonomy:

US sees ‘crisis’ in WTO over customs disaccord with India, others

The World Trade Organisation is facing a “crisis” because of disagreement, most notably with India, over improved customs procedures, the United States said Friday.

“We are deeply disappointed that backsliding on Trade Facilitation has brought the WTO to the brink of crisis,” the US ambassador to the world trade body, Michael Froman, said in a statement.

“The current state of play on Trade Facilitation threatens to deal a serious blow to the credibility of the multilateral trading system and to set back the development needs of many countries around the world,” he said.

Off to Japan and the latest installment of Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first from NHK WORLD:

TEPCO: Groundwater bypass showing limited effects

Work to pump up groundwater to keep it from flowing into the contaminated Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is apparently having limited effects.

Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, reported the results of the operation so far at a meeting of experts at the industry ministry on Friday.

TEPCO began the so-called groundwater bypass operation in May. It involves draining water from wells and releasing it into the sea to keep it from flowing into reactor buildings and becoming contaminated.

NHK WORLD reassures

Agency: Nuclear waste can be directly disposed of

The Japan Atomic Energy Agency is reported to be looking at the direct disposal of spent nuclear fuel instead of reprocessing it.

NHK has obtained a draft report compiled by the agency which analyzed the environmental impact of disposing of spent nuclear fuel.

The conclusion of the analysis is expected to touch off controversy, because the government has long maintained the policy of reprocessing all spent nuclear fuel. It has conducted few studies about disposing of it as waste.

Spent nuclear fuel is known to have higher radiation levels than high-level radioactive waste.

And speak of the devil! From Nextgov:

Did a Misplaced Glove Cause Nuke Waste Dump Fire?

A glove accidentally left in a drum of nuclear waste may have been responsible for rupturing the container leading to the spewing of radiation in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, New Mexico, in February.

That’s according to a new report this week filed by Patrick Malone of the Santa Fe New Mexican.

Nan Sauer, associate director for chemistry, life and Earth sciences at Los Alamos National Laboratory, told the New Mexico Legislature’s Radioactive and Hazardous Materials Committee the container “held a volatile mix: a lead-laden glove, highly acidic waste, organic kitty litter and trace metal residue,” which ripped open the container stored in the WIPP – the country’s only storage site for waste generated during the development of nuclear weapons.

The Associated Press ties it up:

U.S. Fukushima report: Think about unthinkable disasters

A U.S. science advisory report says Japan’s Fukushima nuclear accident offers a key lesson to the nation’s nuclear industry: Focus more on the highly unlikely but worst case scenarios.

That means thinking about earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, solar storms, multiple failures and situations that seem freakishly unusual, according to the National Academy of Sciences report released on July 24. Those kinds of things triggered the world’s three major nuclear accidents.

“We need to do a soul searching when it comes to the assumptions” of how to deal with worst case events, said University of Southern California engineering professor Najmedin Meshkati, the panel’s technical adviser. Engineers should “think about something that could happen once every, perhaps 1,000 years” but that’s not really part of their training or nature, he said.

Echoes of an earlier disaster resonate anew. From the Guardian:

Belarus anti-nuclear activist fears for ‘another Chernobyl’ on her doorstep

  • Tatyana Novikova says new Russian-funded nuclear plant bypassed planning rules and violates international conventions

In 2009, Tatyana Novikova bought a wooden house near the border between Belarus and Lithuania. She chose the area carefully, she says. It’s next to a lake, untouched by industry and – crucially for the mathematician who worked on contamination models in the aftermath of Chernobyl – unaffected by the fallout from the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986.

But six months after she bought her dream home, Belarus announced that a new nuclear power station, financed by Russia, would be built nearby in Ostrovets.

“I’m completely devastated,” says Novikova, who says the government bypassed official planning regulations, ignored safety concerns and failed to carry out an adequate environmental impact assessment for the plant.

The beneficiaries of all this mayhem, via United Press International:

85 wealthiest are richer than poorest 3.5 billion

  • The report found 1.2 billion people live on less than $1.25 per day.

The U.N.’s annual Human Development Report released Thursday shows that the world’s 85 richest people are wealthier than the poorest 3.5 billion.

The top five countries ranked in the Human Development Index (HDI) are Norway, Australia, Switzerland, the Netherlands and the United States. The bottom five are all from Africa: Mozambique, Guinea, Burundi, Burkina Faso and Eritrea. The U.N. attributed slowing improvements in health, education and income to worsening income inequality, climate change and government corruption.

The authors found that nearly one-third of people are poor or vulnerable to poverty with 1.2 billion people living on less than $1.25 per day. The report says that human development can be improved by “universal access to basic social services, especially health and education; stronger social protection, including unemployment insurance and pensions; and a commitment to full employment, recognizing that the value of employment extends far beyond the income it generates.”

And to close, one of those beneficiaries wages war on the commons, via the San Francisco Chronicle:

Vinod Khosla blames costly demands for Martins Beach trial

The ugly courtroom clash over Martins Beach, near Half Moon Bay, would not have happened if government and environmental zealots had not made unreasonable and costly demands, billionaire investor Vinod Khosla said Thursday in defense of a beach closure that has captivated Californians up and down the coast.

The venture capitalist said he closed the 53-acre property to the public after San Mateo County, the California Coastal Commission and the nonprofit Surfrider Foundation unfairly tried to impose their will on him.

“If they wanted you to make your backyard a park, would that hurt you?” he asked. “The Coastal Commission and the county have been completely unreasonable. They have been taking an extreme view and don’t want to compromise on anything.”

Closing arguments were given last week in the Martins Beach civil trial, which is seen by many as a test case of California laws declaring that beaches are public property below the mean high tide line and that they must remain open.