Category Archives: Governance

Chart of the day: The real winners in Afghanistan


From a new report from the Pentagon’s Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, Poppy Cultivation in Afghanistan: After a Decade of Reconstruction and over $7 Billion in Counternarcotics Efforts, Poppy Cultivation Levels are at an All-Time High [PDF]:

BLOG OpiDope

InSecurityWatch: War, terror blowback, & more


We begin with the Independent:

Isis in Kobani: US loses patience with Turkey and resupplies Kurdish fighters by plane – then Ankara allows reinforcements through

Turkey is to allow Iraqi Kurdish fighters to reinforce the besieged Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani and US aircraft have dropped military supplies to its defenders to prevent its capture by the Islamic State.

The US resupply effort marks a radical change in American policy towards direct cooperation with Kurdish fighters on the ground, whom Turkey has denounced as terrorists. During the month-long siege of Kobani, just south of the Turkish border, the Turkish army has hitherto prevented arms, ammunition and reinforcements reaching the town.

American C-130 cargo planes dropped some 21 tons of weapons including anti-tank guns and medical supplies. Stepped-up US air strikes on Isis positions, using intelligence supplied by the Kurds, has helped repel the Islamic militants.

Complications from the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

Kurdish hope for autonomy drives politics across four nations’ boundaries

With its decision to drop ammunition and weapons to the defenders of the Syrian town of Kobani on the Turkish border, the Obama administration has inserted the United States into one of the most complex territorial and ethnic disputes to roil the Middle East. Unlike the better known split between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, or the battle to topple the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, the battle over Kobani pits a relatively obscure political group against the extremists of the Islamic State.

Deadly blowback in Canada from the Toronto Globe and Mail:

 Two soldiers struck in Quebec hit-and-run

Two Canadian soldiers were injured in a hit-and-run incident that was quickly characterized as a “possible terror attack” by the federal government.

However, police are still investigating whether the soldiers were deliberately targeted.

One of the soldiers is in critical condition in hospital and authorities are “fearing for his life,” according to the Quebec provincial police. The other victim suffered more minor injuries.

The driver of the car was shot by local police in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., after his car rolled during a police pursuit. The suspect is in the incident is dead, according to the Sûreté du Québec. The 25-year-old male came from St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, and was “known to police,” according to Sergeant Michel Brunet, an SQ spokesman. He explained that the individual was named in various police databases, although he refused to provide more details at a news conference.

More from CBC News:

Martin Rouleau, Quebec driver shot by police, ‘radicalized’: RCMP

  • Hit and run that injured 2 soldiers raised in House of Commons as ‘possible terror attack’

A 25-year-old man who injured two soldiers in a hit and run and was later fatally shot by police in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., was known to federal authorities as someone who had been “radicalized,” according to the RCMP and the Prime Minister’s Office.

Martin Rouleau, a resident of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, about 40 kilometres southeast of Montreal, was known to provincial and federal law enforcement agencies, the RCMP said.

“This individual was known to federal authorities, including our integrated national security investigations team in Montreal, who along with other authorities were concerned that he had become radicalized,” the RCMP said in a statement Monday evening.

Radio-Canada reported that Rouleau’s Facebook page identifies him as Ahmad LeConverti (Ahmad the Converted). Neighbours told the CBC’s French-language service that he converted to Islam about a year ago.

More blowback, with a bust from TheLocal.de:

Four arrested in raids against Isis

Police raided 15 homes across Germany over the weekend and arrested four suspected supporters of the Islamic State (Isis). They are alleged to have smuggled a teenager and thousands of winter military clothes to the terrorist group’s frontlines.

According to the Süddeutsche Zeitung Saturday’s raids had originally been scheduled for the end of October, but was moved up when at least one of the Isis suspects began to suspect a police operation against them was being planned.

And preparations across the Pacific with Jiji Press:

FBI Agents Join Tokyo Police Counterterrorism Drill

Tokyo police were joined by two special inspectors of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation on Monday for a drill in Tokyo to prepare for possible terror attacks in the Japanese capital.

In the drill ahead of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2020, the FBI inspectors, who are undergoing training at Japan’s National Police Agency, played suspicious characters.

It is unusual for FBI agents visiting Japan to join a drill open to the media. The drill by the Public Security Bureau of the Metropolitan Police Department is apparently aimed at demonstrating Japan-US collaboration in the field of counterterrorism. The bureau is strengthening antiterrorism measures prior to the Tokyo Olympics.

The Guardian brings us Cold War 2.0:

Nuclear weapons deal with US renewed in secret, UK confirms

  • UK tables amendments to Mutual Defence Agreement
  • Proper scrutiny and Commons debate needed

The British government has just published amendments updating a treaty that goes to the heart of the UK’s special relationship with the US.

They relate to the Mutual Defence Agreement (MDA) first signed in 1958, which, according to the government, enables the UK and the US “nuclear warhead communities to collaborate on all aspects of nuclear deterrence including nuclear warhead design and manufacture”.

One amendment refers to potential threats from “state or non-state actors”. But the amendments are for the most part arcane and their significance cannot be understood in the absence of information which is kept secret.

The MDA does not have to be debated or voted on in parliament, as I have remarked before. Though the agreement is incorporated in US law, it has no legal status in Britain.

And from the London Telegraph, most interesting:

Cars of future ‘will detect heart attacks’ in drivers

  • In response to the ageing population, Ford cars will anticipate a driver’s heart attack, bring the vehicle to a safe halt and alert doctors

Cars will soon be fitted with seats that trigger a “safe” emergency stop if a driver suffers a heart attack.

Ford, the giant American manufacturer, said its seats will be fitted with sensitive electrodes that monitor the driver’s heart beat, through clothing, looking for irregularities.

The technology will work with a camera that tracks head movements and sensors on the steering wheel. If there are signs of a possible heart attack, a computer will take over steering and braking, guiding the car safely to a halt.

The Guardian covers the digital memory hole:

Google removes results linking to stolen photos of Jennifer Lawrence nude

  • Links to sites hosting the hacked photos have started to be removed by Google after copyright takedown requests filed by Lawrence’s lawyers

Google has removed two links to a site hosting stolen nude photos of Jennifer Lawrence after requests by the actor’s lawyers.

The takedown requests were filed under the digital millennium copyright act (DMCA), with her lawyers Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp stating that the stolen photos impinged on Lawrence’s copyright.

The DMCA, which governs the use of copyrighted material and is usually used in reference to pirated TV shows, films and music, requires sites to “expeditiously” remove unlawful images from their servers.

From the Guardian again, spies and lies Down Under:

Australian government metadata requests far higher than disclosed

  1. Requests for Australians’ phone, web browsing and location data exceeded half a million last year, ACMA figures reveal

The total number of government requests for Australians’ phone, location and web data is far higher than government agencies are disclosing, with more than 500,000 separate requests for information made last year.

The latest annual report from the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has revealed that there was 582,727 requests for phone, web browsing and location data – commonly known as “metadata” – that can reveal detailed information about a person’s personal lives and associations.

This figure is at odds with the more widely cited number of 300,000 a year, which is disclosed in the annual telecommunications interception reports made by the attorney general’s departments.

After the jump, the latest on those missing Mexican college students and town takeovers by federales, vanishing Australian civil liberties, the punitive panopticon Down Under, India launches a ballistic challenge to China, Thai scholar faces criminal charges for “insulting” a long-dead monarch, on to China and a Hong Kong crackdown, an off limits notice to scholars of the Maoist past, and a terrorist strike in Western China, on to Japan and a pax American, and racist insults challenged. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Seals, soil, climate, nukes, more


First up, another outbreak from Süddeutsche Zeitung:

Deal Seals In Germany May Have Had Virus, Hunters Called In To Kill Sick

Since early October, at least 180 dead seals have been found along the North Sea coast of the German state of Schleswig-Holstein.

Dead fish and sea creatures often wash up onto beaches along the North and Baltic seas, but experts now say that these seals may have died of a virus that risks spreading further.

The situation is particularly worrisome because 200 of the 1500 seals living on the Danish Baltic Sea island of Anholt have died since August. “A flu virus was found in the cadavers,” says Hendrik Brunckhorst, spokesman for the state government-owned Company for Coastal Protection, National Parks and Ocean Protection in Schleswig-Holstein.

To stem further deaths, seal hunters have been called to kill sick seals on the beaches of Helgoland, Amrum, Föhr and Sylt islands. “Ninety-five percent of the seals found on the beaches are already dead,” says Sylt-based hunter Thomas Diedrichsen.

The Independent covers coming crisis:

Britain facing ‘agricultural crisis’ as scientists warn there are only 100 harvests left in our farm soil

Intense over-farming means there are only 100 harvests left in the soil of the UK’s countryside, a study has found.

With a growing population and the declining standard of British farmland, scientists warned that we are on course for an “agricultural crisis” unless dramatic action is taken.

Despite the traditional perception that there is a green and pleasant land outside the grey, barren landscape of our cities, researchers from the University of Sheffield found that on average urban plots of soil were richer in nutrients than many farms.

Sampling local parks, allotments and gardens in urban areas, Dr Jill Edmondson showed that the ground was significantly healthier than that of arable fields. Allotment soil had 32% more organic carbon, 36% higher carbon to nitrogen ratios, 25% higher nitrogen and was significantly less compacted.

Cooking with the Guardian:

2014 on track to be hottest year on record, says US science agency

  • Global average temperatures in September were highest ever, following warmest year to date since 1998

The world is on course for this to be the hottest year ever, with global land and sea temperatures for September the highest ever recorded for the month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said on Monday.

The findings, which confirm September as the warmest such month on record, continue a string of record-beating months for global temperature.

The year to date for 2014 is already tied with 1998 as the warmest such period since record keeping began in 1880, Noaa scientists said.

On a parallel note, via BBC News:

Europe emission targets ‘will fail to protect climate’

Europe’s leaders are about to consign the Earth to the risk of dangerous climate change, a UN expert says.

Prof Jim Skea, a vice-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, says the EU’s plan to cut CO2 emissions 40% by 2030 is too weak.

He says it will commit future governments to “extraordinary and unprecedented” emissions cuts.

The Commission rejected the claim, saying the 40% target puts Europe on track for long-term climate goals.

From TakePart, chemical killing:

The U.S Approves a Powerful New Pesticide Deadly to Monarch Butterflies

The dominance of genetically modified crops requires ever-more-toxic pesticides that are wiping out the iconic insect’s sole source of food.

Is the monarch butterfly the new polar bear?

The iconic insect, whose numbers have plummeted from 1 billion to 35 million over the past two decades, is emerging as the latest symbol of environmental catastrophe: In this case, the impact of industrial agriculture, genetically modified crops, and skyrocketing pesticide use on wildlife.

The latest fight over the future of the monarch broke out on Wednesday, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved a powerful—and highly toxic—new weed killer called Enlist Duo. Made by Dow AgroSciences and designed to be sprayed on genetically modified corn and soybean crops, Enlist Duo combines glyphosate and 2,4-D in a formula that’s supposed to kill weeds that have developed a resistance to each of those individual pesticides.

One wild plant that has not developed defenses against growing pesticide use is milkweed, which is essential to the monarch’s survival.

And from Al Jazeera America, an American tragedy:

UN officials ‘shocked’ by Detroit’s mass water shutoffs

  • Two UN rapporteurs recommended Detroit immediately resume water service for residents unable to pay their bills

Surrounded by a frenzy of cameras, Detroit resident Rochelle McCaskill explained her predicament to a team of United Nations officials on Sunday: The numbers simply didn’t add up.

Out of her $672 monthly disability check, McCaskill spends $600 rent, she said, leaving her unable to pay the city’s water bills, which have skyrocketed to more than twice the national average.

“They need a category for those of us who cannot pay,” said McCaskill, whose water was shut off this summer as part of a wave of disconnections that, block by block, have left thousands of city residents without running water.

The city turned off McCaskill’s water despite the fact that she had been paying down her $540.10 water bill in increments and that she suffers from MRSA, a contagious infection that the NIH considers a “serious public health concern” and requires frequent bathing.

Spare the air with the Guardian:

India’s air quality figures can’t be trusted

  • Delhi is the most polluted city in the world, but it may actually be worse as faulty instruments, data fudging and lack of regulation allow industries to pollute with impunity

India is changing the way it maps pollution, with an update to its air quality index.. In its initial phase, eight pollutants will be tracked in 46 cities with populations exceeding a million people. After five years, the rest of the country will slowly be brought into the system.

At the launch, the minister for environment and forests, Prakash Javadekar, said it wouldn’t be “business as usual” anymore.

The move couldn’t have come a moment sooner.

Five months ago, World Health Organisation declared Delhi to be the worst polluted city on earth. In a study spanning 1,600 cities across 91 countries, the organisation used India’s own officially released data to show the city had the world’s highest annual average concentration of microscopic airborne particles known as PM2.5.

These extremely fine particles of less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter are linked with increased rates of chronic bronchitis, lung cancer and heart disease as they penetrate deep into the lungs and pass into the bloodstream. Delhi’s annual PM2.5 reading was 153 compared to London’s 16. Indian officials contested the study’s finding but agreed Delhi was as bad as Beijing, although the latter’s PM2.5 reading was only 56.

On to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with the Asahi Shimbun:

ASAHI POLL: 27% of Fukushima voters want immediate end to nuclear power

Twenty-seven percent of voters in Fukushima Prefecture, home to the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, want Japan to immediately abolish nuclear energy, around double the national average, an Asahi Shimbun survey found.

About 55 percent of voters in the prefecture support a break away from nuclear power in the near future, according to the telephone survey conducted on Oct. 18-19.

The survey results showed anti-nuclear sentiment is higher in Fukushima Prefecture than in the rest of the country.

Hot to trot with JapanToday:

Obuchi’s departure won’t affect nuclear reactor restarts

The Japanese government’s plan to restart nuclear reactors shut down after the Fukushima disaster will not be affected by Monday’s resignation of the industry minister, but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is losing a convincing advocate of a step most view with suspicion.

The resignation of Yuko Obuchi, 40, from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, six weeks after she was appointed, is the latest hitch in a process bogged down by documentation over safety standards, concerns about natural disasters and local opposition.

“Obviously as a young mother, the youngest cabinet minister, she was a reassuring figure (who showed) that restarting the reactor wouldn’t be as threatening as people feared,” said Jeffrey Kingston, director of Asian Studies at Temple University’s Japan campus.

“Now that she’s gone, Abe has lost that reassuring presence and it’s unlikely that he’s going to be able to find anyone as convincing as her,” Kingston said.

NHK WORLD covers an okay:

City assembly approves Sendai plant restart

A special panel at a city assembly in southern Japan has approved a petition to allow a local nuclear power plant to resume operations.

The panel at the Satsuma Sendai city assembly in Kagoshima Prefecture discussed petitions both for and against the restart of the Sendai plant on Monday.

The plant is operated by Kyushu Electric Power Company. Last month it became the first to pass new regulations for nuclear plants introduced after the 2011 Fukushima accident.

But the meeting at which the decision was made was marked by controversy, as second NHK WORLD report notes:

Opponents scuffle with officials

People opposed to the restart of the Sendai nuclear power plant in southern Japan scuffled with city officials when they tried to enter a room where the city assembly’s special panel was meeting.

After the panel adopted a petition calling for the restart of the plant, people gathered in front of the Satsumasendai city hall to protest the decision.

And plans for the restart of another nuclear complex are moving forward as well, NHK WORLD reports:

KEPCO to submit revised Takahama safety plan

The operator of a power plant on the Sea of Japan coast says it will submit revised safety measures to the country’s nuclear regulator as early as next week.

Officials of Kansai Electric Power Company say they have completed recalculations of the potential maximum height of a tsunami that could hit the Takahama plant.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority, or NRA, had pointed out to the utility that it underestimated the height in its first assessment. The company was obliged to conduct tsunami simulations for 2 reactors at the plant.

Finally, from the New York Times, what could possibly go wrong?:

Power Plants Seek to Extend Life of Nuclear Reactors for Decades

The prospects for building new nuclear reactors may be sharply limited, but the owners of seven old ones, in Pennsylvania, Virginia and South Carolina, are preparing to ask for permission to run them until they are 80 years old.

Nuclear proponents say that extending plants’ lifetimes is more economical — and a better way to hold down carbon dioxide emissions — than building new plants, although it will require extensive monitoring of steel, concrete, cable insulation and other components. But the idea is striking even to some members of the nuclear establishment.

At a meeting of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in May, George Apostolakis, a risk expert who was then one of the five commissioners, pointed out that if operation were allowed until age 80, some reactors would be using designs substantially older than that.

“I don’t know how we would explain to the public that these designs, 90-year-old designs, 100-year-old designs, are still safe to operate,” he said. “Don’t we need more convincing arguments than just ‘We’re managing aging effects’?”

EbolaWatch: More alarms, profit, pols, Africa


Always Africa. . .

We begin with the crassly commercial, via the Guardian:

Ebola: you’ve read about the disease, now buy the merchandise!

  • Everyone knows about Ebola – which makes it a dream marketing possibility for  companies unhindered by sensitivity. Here’s a selection of their varied wares

Perhaps compulsively buying Ebola products is itself a disease? If so, an epidemic of that too is brewing. Some people think the virus is all part of a conspiracy that must be exposed. Others believe it is the dawn of an apocalypse and are planning their survival. Then there are the people who just need to laugh in the face of so much sombre news (thankfully, we don’t see many of the faces of the people dying). Where there is this kind of demand, there will be supply.

One example of what’s on offer:

BLOG E-thong

Ebolaphobia, via the New York Times:

In U.S., Fear of Ebola Closes Schools and Shapes

A crowd of parents last week pulled their children out of a Mississippi middle school after learning that its principal had traveled to Zambia, an African nation untouched by the disease.

On the eve of midterm elections with control of the United States Senate at stake, politicians from both parties are calling for the end of commercial air traffic between the United States and some African countries, even though most public health experts and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said a shutdown would compound rather than alleviate the risks.

Carolyn Smith of Louisville, Ky., last week took a rare break from sequestering herself at home to take her fiancé to a doctor’s appointment. She said she was reluctant to leave her house after hearing that a nurse from the Dallas hospital had flown to Cleveland, over 300 miles from her home. “We’re not really going anywhere if we can help it,” Ms. Smith, 50, said.

More from the Guardian:

Panic: the dangerous epidemic sweeping an Ebola-fearing US

  • The fact that a school principal has been to Zambia (2,000 miles from west Africa) is not a good reason to keep your children home

Panic is less a side-effect of Ebola than its own sort of infectious disease, spread by misinformation and fear, a sickness that frays and tears the ways people usually get along. Hysteria shuts down schools and airports, paranoia undermines health workers and law enforcement, and fear encourages some of people’s worst instincts. As of Monday, there’s a lot more panic in the US than Ebola.

In Strong, Maine, an elementary school put a teacher on leave because she travelled to Dallas for a conference and stayed in the Hilton Anatole – “exactly 9.5 miles away” from the hospital where two nurses contracted the virus. The school board said parents feared the teacher could have contacted someone who contacted the nurses, or maybe someone who contacted someone who contacted one of the nurses – a rationale that would have fenced Maine off from Dallas, even though dozens have been declared healthy there.

In Georgia, a school district barred enrolment for students from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea unless they can present a doctor’s clean bill of health. In Hazelhurst, Mississippi, parents pulled children from a middle school after learning that the principal had been to Zambia for his brother’s funeral. Zambia, just a country away from South Africa, is well over 2,000 miles away from the Ebola outbreak in west Africa.

Nor is the mania limited to parents. Syracuse University “disinvited” a Pulitzer-winning journalist from speaking because he recently went to Liberia for work. Curiously, the dean who made the call said that while “this is not what you want to do as the dean of a premier journalism school,” she was “unwilling to take any risk”. The journalist, Michel du Cille, who has shown no symptoms and even been to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for work since his return, said he is “completely weirded out that a journalism institution that should be seeking out facts and details is basically pandering to hysteria”.

The Hill poses a question:

Ebola fears: Blame Hollywood?

Losing sleep over Ebola? Blame “The Walking Dead.”

Scholars say the outpouring of public angst about the virus is partly rooted in Hollywood, where film studios have for years cranked out TV shows and movies such as “Outbreak” and “Contagion” that show the world ravaged by an unstoppable virus.

The silver screen portrayals have added to the challenges for public health officials as they try to maintain public calm about a virus that is killing an estimated 7 out of every 10 people it infects in West Africa.

“They’re fictional. They’re meant to entertain,” said Nancy Tomes, a historian who has studied the causes of  “germ panics.”

“They have no obligation to virology. They’re for entertainment. But they do shape the ideas that people have available to make sense of something like this.”

But UN Daily News offers a different, more serious take:

Ebola no longer ‘localized emergency,’ UN health officials tell regional summit in Cuba

Ebola is no longer a localized public health emergency, top UN officials said in Havana today as they commended Cuba for sending doctors and nurses to the affected countries in West Africa, and addressed regional leaders gathering to discuss ways to resolve the emergency and halt spread of the virus to regional States.

Speaking at the Summit of Heads of State of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of our Americas (ALBA) on Ebola, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Ebola, Dr. David Nabarro, said cooperation and solidarity are essential, and Cuba and Venezuela, with their contributions, have already demonstrated this.

“I urge countries in the region and around the world to follow the lead of Cuba and Venezuela, who have set a commendable example with their rapid response in support of efforts to contain Ebola,” he said.

Saying that Cuba’s solidarity with other developing countries is well established, Dr. Nabarro commended the Government of the Caribbean island for dispatching a team of 165 medical aid workers to West Africa in early October.

“Cuba’s proud tradition of training doctors from developing countries has also helped improve medical care around the world,” Dr. Nabarro said.

Washington ramps up on the domestic front, via Reuters:

Using military and new protocols, U.S. ramps up Ebola response

The United States is issuing new protocols for health workers treating Ebola patients and a rapid-response military medical team will start training even as Americans’ anxiety about the spread of the virus abates with 43 people declared risk free.

The government’s new guidelines, which were set to come out at 7 p.m. EDT on Monday, were expected to tell health workers to cover skin, eyes and hair completely when dealing with patients who have the virus that has killed more than 4,500 in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

There have been just three cases diagnosed inside the United States, a Liberian man, Thomas Eric Duncan, who died in Dallas, Texas, on Oct. 8 and two nurses who treated him and are now themselves patients. Among those released from monitoring were four people who shared an apartment with Duncan and had been in quarantine.

And RT raises questions:

US Army withheld promise from Germany that Ebola virus wouldn’t be weaponized

The United States has withheld assurances from Germany that the Ebola virus – among other related diseases – would not be weaponized in the event of Germany exporting it to the US Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases.

German MFA Deputy Head of Division for Export Control Markus Klinger provided a paper to the US consulate’s Economics Office (Econoff), “seeking additional assurances related to a proposed export of extremely dangerous pathogens.”

Germany subsequently made two follow-up requests and clarifications to the Army, according to the unclassified Wikileaks cable.

And a refusal from The Hill:

Obama’s Ebola czar declines to testify

The White House’s new Ebola czar will not testify before lawmakers Friday on the U.S. response to the epidemic.

Ron Klain, a Democratic operative, was named as the Obama administration’s point man on Ebola last Friday and will assume the job Wednesday.

Two days after that, the House Oversight Committee will hold a hearing on the government’s Ebola response, with Klain among those invited to testify.

The White House declined the invitation on Monday, according to a source close to the back-and-forth.

Clearances from the Los Angeles Times:

Cautious optimism in Dallas as 43 people declared ‘Ebola free’

Dallas County officials on Monday expressed relief with the end of Ebola monitoring for most of the first group of 48 people who had contact with Thomas Eric Duncan, who died of the virus on Oct. 8.

“Today is a milestone day, it’s a hurdle that we need to get over,” Mayor Mike Rawlings said at a morning briefing.

Duncan, 42, was admitted to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas on Sept. 28, and the group began their 21-day monitoring soon after, including daily visits from public health workers who took their temperatures daily and checked for other symptoms of the deadly virus.

From the Los Angeles Times again, litigation looming:

Ebola patient Amber Vinson’s family disputes CDC story, gets a lawyer

Health officials gave Texas nurse Amber Vinson permission to fly to Ohio and back even though she voiced concern about Ebola, her relatives said Sunday, adding that they have retained a high-profile attorney.

Their statement contradicted a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention account of what took place before the nurse was diagnosed with the virus.

CDC officials said last week that Vinson had been told to avoid public transportation, including commercial airlines, while monitoring herself for symptoms. CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden said her trip to Ohio, which began before fellow nurse Nina Pham had been diagnosed with Ebola, violated that restriction. The agency has acknowledged approving Vinson’s return flight.

The Associated Press points to the deficient:

Urgent-care clinics ill-equipped to treat Ebola

A new concern over the spread of Ebola surfaced recently when a Dallas County sheriff’s deputy who searched the apartment of the first patient to die from the virus in the U.S. started feeling ill and went to an urgent-care center.

The clinics popping up rapidly across the nation aren’t designed to treat serious illnesses and are ill-equipped to deal with suspected Ebola cases.

Doctors are urging patients to avoid smaller medical facilities and head to emergency rooms if they think they’ve been exposed to the virus that has put a focus on weak spots in the U.S. health care system.

The Christian Science Monitor covers political divisions:

Sharp divide in how key voters view US government’s Ebola response

  • Republican voters in electoral battleground states have far less confidence in US efforts to fight Ebola than do Democrats, a new poll shows

Anxiety is the dominant emotion among voters in battleground states and districts heading into Election Day, according to a poll released Monday by Politico.

From Ebola and the Islamic State to health care and the economy, voters are feeling shaky about the nation’s ability to cope with a variety of challenges. Overall, this sense of skepticism has not given either party a strong advantage in the midterms. Forty-four percent of battleground voters plan to vote Democratic, versus 41 percent for Republicans.

But on the federal government’s response to the Ebola virus, Republican voters in battleground races are much more skeptical than their Democratic counterparts, the poll found. Among the voters in that sample who plan to vote Republican on Nov. 4, only 43 percent said they have “a lot” or “some” confidence that the federal government is doing “everything possible to contain the spread of Ebola,” the poll found. Among Democratic voters, the number was 81 percent.

The Los Angeles Times covers absent impacts:

Ebola scare has had minimal effect on business travel, survey finds

The Ebola scare that has prompted calls for a travel ban and a quarantine of visitors from West Africa has done little to dampen business travel from the U.S.

Nearly 80% of corporate travel managers surveyed said the Ebola outbreak had either no or little effect on scheduled international travel, and more than 90% said the disease had no or little effect on domestic travel.

The survey of 421 corporate travel managers by the Global Business Travel Assn. was taken Oct. 13 to 15, about the time of news that a Dallas nurse flew on two Frontier Airlines flights before testing positive for the deadly disease. Amber Vinson, 29, contracted Ebola while treating a Liberian man who died of the disease.

Troubles unresolved from  Homeland Security News Wire:

States’ waste disposal laws limit hospitals’ Ebola-related disposal options

As U.S. hospitals prepare their staff for the possibility of admitting Ebola patients, many are concerned with the laws governing the disposal of Ebola-contaminated medical waste. Protective gloves, gowns, masks, medical instruments, bed linens, cups, plates, tissues, towels, and even pillowcases used on a single Ebola patient treated in a U.S. hospital will generate roughly eight 55-gallon barrels of medical waste each day. The CDC recommends autoclaving or incinerating the waste as a way to destroy the microbes, but California and at least seven other states prohibit burning infected waste.

As U.S. hospitals prepare their staff for the possibility of admitting Ebola patients, many are concerned with the laws governing the disposal of Ebola-contaminated medical waste. “We fully expect that it’s coming our way,” Jennifer Bayer, spokeswoman for the Hospital Association of Southern California, said of the virus. “Not to create any sort of scare, but just given the makeup of our population and the hub that we are, it’s very likely.”

Protective gloves, gowns, masks, medical instruments, bed linens, cups, plates, tissues, towels, and even pillowcases used on a single Ebola patient treated in a U.S. hospital will generate roughly eight 55-gallon barrels of medical waste each day. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends autoclaving or incinerating the waste as a way to destroy the microbes, but California and at least seven other states prohibit burning infected waste. “These are some pretty big issues and they need some quick attention,” said Bayer.

A costly discharge, from the London Daily Mail:

German clinic forced to scrap two machines worth £1m because Ebola patient vomited on them

  • Patient was infected while treating Ebola victims in Sierra Leone
  • Was airlifted to hospital in Hamburg for specialist care
  • He recovered after five weeks of intense treatment
  • Not before vomiting on two expensive machines that now must be replaced

A German hospital is counting the cost of treating a single Ebola patient after being forced to write off £1million worth of equipment after a man infected with the virus vomited on it.

The University Clinic Eppendorf in Hamburg, a specialist centre for contagious diseases, gave the man intensive treatment for five weeks after he became infected while working for the World Health Organisation in Sierra Leone in August.

The treatment worked and the patient was declared Ebola-free and released earlier this month.

And from the Toronto Globe and Mail, capitalism at its finest:

As Ebola raged, Ottawa sold masks and gowns to highest bidder

Ottawa continued to auction off stockpiled medical supplies to the public, even after the World Health Organization requested the protective gear amid an Ebola outbreak raging in West Africa.

Sales of so-called Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), which includes surgical masks and isolation gowns, also apparently took place despite requests that are said to have been made this summer via both Sierra Leone’s ambassador to the U.S. and a Canadian aid organization for donations to equip front-line health-care workers. And some of the low-priced auctioned gear landed in the hands of entrepreneurs who then tried to hawk the items for a profit.

An estimated $1.5-million worth of stockpiled Public Health Agency of Canada medical supplies were auctioned for just a fraction of that figure, raising questions about the true value of Canada’s contribution to the global fight against Ebola – and Ottawa’s own handling of it.

Drug news from News On Japan:

Fujifilm says to make Avigan anti-flu drug for more Ebola patients

Japan’s Fujifilm Holdings Corp said on Monday it was expanding the production of its Avigan anti-influenza drug to reach an additional number of Ebola patients.

France and Guinea plan to conduct clinical trials of Avigan 200 mg tablets, made by Fujifilm group company Toyama Chemical Co, in Guinea to treat Ebola in mid-November, Fujifilm said in a statement.

“Some research papers report that Avigan also shows efficacy against the Ebola virus in animal testing with mice, and Avigan has already been administered as an emergency treatment to several (Ebola) patients evacuated from West Africa to Europe,” the company said.

After the jump, screening in Hong Kong, quantifying the likelihood of air transport infections, Chinese aid contributions lag [but so do America’s], one group at the forefront, on to Africa and another fatality on the U.N. staff, Nigeria gets a clean bill of health and sets the bar for other African nations plus the secret of their success, Britain ups Sierra Leone aid, on to Liberia and a case of tragic superstition, a ravaged village, connecting the dots, a presidential son’s arrogance, and death in the military barracks, plus the challenge of journalism in the hot zone. . . Continue reading

An Ebolaphobic’s nightmare: The ISIS factor


From RT America, something to keep you sweating at night [and then wondering if you've caught something]:

FBI is wrong: Pentagon says ISIS could use Ebola

Program notes:

FBI Director James Comey recently said at a press conference that ISIS can’t use Ebola as a WMD, but he clearly didn’t check with the Pentagon’s lead chemical weapons specialist, Andrew Weber. Because he recently said that, in fact, YES, there of course is a possibility that ISIS could weaponize Ebola. Now, since Ebola isn’t airborne, the likelihood of Ebola being used on a mass scale remains small. But with more cases popping up in the US, at this point, it’s time for people to take Ebola a little more seriously. The Resident discusses.

InSecurityWatch: Cops, spooks, hacks, Hong Kong


First, via the Independent, the usual suspects, faring well:

With US-led air strikes on Isis intensifying, it’s a good time to be a shareholder in the merchants of death

  • Last month American warships fired $65.8m worth of Tomahawk missiles within just 24 hours of each other

So who is winning the war? Isis? Us? The Kurds (remember them?) The Syrians? The Iraqis? Do we even remember the war? Not at all. We must tell the truth. So let us now praise famous weapons and the manufacturers that begat them.

Share prices are soaring in America for those who produce the coalition bombs and missiles and drones and aircraft participating in this latest war which – for all who are involved (except for the recipients of the bombs and missiles and those they are fighting) – is Hollywood from start to finish.

Shares in Lockheed Martin – maker of the “All for One and One for All” Hellfire missiles – are up 9.3 per cent in the past three months. Raytheon – which has a big Israeli arm – has gone up 3.8 per cent. Northrop Grumman shares swooped up the same 3.8 per cent. And General Dynamics shares have risen 4.3 per cent. Lockheed Martin – which really does steal Alexandre Dumas’ Three Musketeers quotation on its publicity material – makes the rockets carried by the Reaper drones, famous for destroying wedding parties over Afghanistan and Pakistan, and by Iraqi aircraft.

And don’t be downhearted. The profits go on soaring. When the Americans decided to extend their bombing into Syria in September – to attack President Assad’s enemies scarcely a year after they first proposed to bomb President Assad himself – Raytheon was awarded a $251m (£156m) contract to supply the US navy with more Tomahawk cruise missiles. Agence France-Presse, which does the job that Reuters used to do when it was a real news agency, informed us that on 23 September, American warships fired 47 Tomahawk missiles. Each one costs about $1.4m. And if we spent as promiscuously on Ebola cures, believe me, there would be no more Ebola.

From United Press International, a very important source of insecurity right here in the U.S.A.:

Stop and frisk causes anxiety in young men, study claims

  • Stop and frisk has been a common practice in New York for well over a decade

A new study suggests the New York City Police Department’s stop and frisk practice may be leading to elevated levels of anxiety among young men in the city, especially young black men.

The policy allows police to stop pedestrians and search them for drugs or weapons.

“Although 80% of respondents reported being stopped 10 times or fewer, more than 5% of respondents reported being stopped more than 25 times, and 1% of respondents reported more than 100 stops,” says the study, which was published in the American Journal of Public Health on Thursday.

The study found that people who are stopped frequently report high levels of stress and anxiety when roaming the city, while those who are not stopped frequently do not feel those emotions. The study found black respondents were both more likely to feel those emotions and more likely to have been stopped regularly. The study involved 1,200 men ages 18 to 26, and it was conducted over a six month period.

On to the spooky world, first with BuzzFeed News:

Exclusive: Key NSA Official Has Another Business At Her Home

Powerful National Security Agency official registered “electronics” business at her home before her husband set up intelligence business there, BuzzFeed News finds. Her company owns a plane and a condo.

On a quiet street in Ellicott City, Maryland, a blue-grey two-story clapboard house, set back from the road, is shaded by two sycamores and a towering maple. It’s the unassuming home of one of the National Security Agency’s most powerful officials, Teresa H. Shea.

In September, BuzzFeed News disclosed a potential conflict of interest involving Shea, the director of Signals Intelligence. Called SIGINT in espionage jargon, it refers to all electronic eavesdropping and interception, including the controversial domestic surveillance program that collects information about Americans’ phone use.

As BuzzFeed News reported, there’s a private SIGINT consulting and contracting business based at Shea’s home in that quiet neighborhood. Shea’s husband, a business executive in the small but profitable SIGINT industry, is the resident agent for the firm, Telic Networks.

In addition, James Shea also works for a major SIGINT contracting firm, DRS Signal Solutions Inc., which appears to do SIGINT business with the NSA.

Now there’s a new wrinkle, which the NSA has also declined to discuss: Yet another company, apparently focused on the office and electronics business, is based at the Shea residence on that well-tended lot.

More from the Wire:

The NSA’s Moonlighting Problem

  • A former NSA head has recruited one of his underlings for his lucrative cybersecurity firm—but that underling still works for the agency

In Washington, the revolving door between government service and more lucrative ventures is common, if not expected. However, having one foot in each has raised questions for the National Security Agency, which has launched an internal review of one senior official who was recruited by former NSA director Keith Alexander to work for his new—and very lucrative—cybersecurity private venture.

Patrick Dowd, the NSA’s Chief Technological Officer, is allowed to work up to 20 hours a week for Alexander’s firm, IronNet Cybersecurity, Inc., according to Reuters, which broke the story on the deal. Although the arrangement was apparently approved by NSA managers and does not appear to break any laws on its face, it does raise questions about ethics and the dividing line between business and one of the most secretive agencies in government.

NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines told Reuters, “This matter is under internal review. While NSA does not comment on specific employees, NSA takes seriously ethics laws and regulations at all levels of the organization.”

But one of the chief antagonists is in trouble, via The Hill:

Top NSA critic could lose seat

Critics of the government’s spy agencies are worried that Colorado’s hotly contested Senate race could end the public career of one of their best allies in Congress.

Sen. Mark Udall’s (D-Colo.) possible defeat would leave a void in the Senate and on the powerful Intelligence Committee, civil liberties and anti-secrecy advocates fear.
“I do think it would be a significant loss for the movement,” said Laura Murphy, the head of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington office.

“What Udall has is the institutional memory, and the relationships in the civil liberties community, in the Democratic Party and in the tech industry so that we don’t have to start over again with someone new,” she added, while noting that her concern would be the same if Republican civil liberties advocates were also at risk of losing their seats.

From RT, a reminder that you don’t have to be paranoid to feel they’re out to get you:

Assange fears Ecuador embassy in London bugged

Lawyers for the WikiLeaks founder have filed eavesdropping claims to the Swedish court, as Julian Assange, who has been stuck in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for over two years, fears he is being bugged.

In a submission presented to the Swedish Court of Appeal on Friday, Assange’s lawyers claim that he “is most likely under auditory surveillance,” the Daily Mail reports.

The defense also urged the Swedish side to hand over text messages, sent by one of Assange’s accusers, which they believe could serve as evidence that there was no ground for the arrest warrant. Assange says they reveal the woman’s ambiguity over his arrest and even her opposition to the case, based on sexual assault allegations.

The lawyers also believe that to “break the deadlock,” the 43-year-old Australian should be questioned at the embassy in Knightsbridge, where he is staying, rather than go to Sweden, which he believes could lead to his extradition to the US.

Next up, from TheLocal.se, the Swedish enigma continues:

Mystery deepens over reported Russian sub

Mystery deepened on Sunday over a Swedish military operation triggered by “foreign underwater activity” off the coast of Stockholm, amid an unconfirmed report of a hunt for a damaged Russian submarine.

Late on Saturday, Swedish armed forces stepped up an operation — involving more than 200 men, stealth ships, minesweepers and helicopters — in an area about 50 kilometres (30 miles) east of the Swedish capital.

The operation was initiated on Friday after the armed forces said they had been informed of a “man made object” in the water.

Officials denied they were “submarine hunting,” calling the mobilization — one of the biggest, barring purely training exercises, since the Cold War — an “intelligence operation”.

More from United Press International:

Sweden puts troops on alert after detecting possible foreign threat

  • Swedish media reported transmissions on an emergency frequency coming from waters of the Stockholm Archipelago to a reciever in Kaliningrad, Russia

Erik Lagersten, spokesman for the Swedish Armed Forces, could not confirm or deny speculations about the threat, including whether it was a missing foreign submarine.

“We are now trying to verify the information we received yesterday, which in our assessment comes from trustworthy sources, and see whether it has any substance or not,” Jesper Tengroth, press officer for the Swedish military, told Swedish media on Saturday.

Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet reported that the National Defence Radio Establishment detected emergency radio transmissions coming from the area to a reciever in Kaliningrad, Russia.

The Intercept debunks:

The FBI Director’s Evidence Against Encryption Is Pathetic

FBI Director James Comey gave a speech Thursday about how cell-phone encryption could lead law enforcement to a “very dark place” where it “misses out” on crucial evidence to nail criminals. To make his case, he cited four real-life examples — examples that would be laughable if they weren’t so tragic.

In the three cases The Intercept was able to examine, cell-phone evidence had nothing to do with the identification or capture of the culprits, and encryption would not remotely have been a factor.

In the most dramatic case that Comey invoked — the death of a 2-year-old Los Angeles girl — not only was cellphone data a non-issue, but records show the girl’s death could actually have been avoided had government agencies involved in overseeing her and her parents acted on the extensive record they already had before them.

In another case, of a Lousiana sex offender who enticed and then killed a 12-year-old boy, the big break had nothing to do with a phone: The murderer left behind his keys and a trail of muddy footprints, and was stopped nearby after his car ran out of gas.

And in the case of a Sacramento hit-and-run that killed a man and his girlfriend’s four dogs, the driver was arrested in a traffic stop because his car was smashed up, and immediately confessed to involvement in the incident.

The Guardian covers an accusation:

United States accused of misleading British minister over treatment of Shaker Aamer in Guantánamo Bay

  • Charity claims British resident cleared for release is being beaten by guards before force-feeding

The US government has been accused of misleading a British minister over the brutal treatment endured by the last British resident being held inside Guantánamo Bay.

Testimony from detainees has described increasingly violent “forcible cell extraction” (FCE) tactics, in which an inmate is forced out of his cell by armed guards, usually before being taken to the force-feeding chair.

Earlier this month a federal judge, Gladys Kessler, heard how methods used by the US military to feed inmates against their will present long-term health risks and that lubricating their feeding tubes with olive oil can cause chronic inflammatory pneumonia.

However, attempts by the British government to establish if Shaker Aamer, whose family are in south London, has been mistreated appear to have been dismissed. The foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, revealed in a letter dated 7 October: “We made inquiries with US government officials, who assured us that the report of an incident, relayed to you by another detainee, is not accurate.”

From PCWorld, gone phishin’:

Dropbox used for convincing phishing attack

Dropbox’s file storage service was used for a tricky phishing attack, although the service was quick to shut down it down, according to Symantec.

The security vendor said it detected a batch of phishing emails advising recipients that they’ve been sent a large file and included a link to Dropbox-hosted page.

“The email claims the document can be viewed by clicking on the link included in the message,” wrote Nick Johnston of Symantec in a blog post. “However, the link opens a fake Dropbox login page, hosted on Dropbox itself.”

By hosting the fake login page on Dropbox, the scammers gain some benefits over hosting it on a random, strange-looking domain name. The phishing page is contained within Dropbox’s user content domain, similar to shared photos or files, Johnston wrote

And the Guardian covers an admission:

Whisper chief executive answers privacy revelations: ‘We’re not infallible’

  • Michael Heyward releases statement on Guardian reports
  • Does not dispute accuracy of reporting
  • Says: ‘Reasonable people can disagree about online anonymity’

The chief executive of the “anonymous” social media app Whisper broke his silence late on Saturday, saying he welcomed the debate sparked by Guardian US revelations about his company’s tracking of users and declaring “we realise that we’re not infallible”.

Michael Heyward’s statement was his first public response to a series of articles published in the Guardian which revealed how Whisper monitors the whereabouts of users of an app he has in the past described as “the safest place on the internet”.

Whisper hosts 2.6 million messages a day posted through its app, which promises users a place to “anonymously share your thoughts and secrets” and has billed itself as a platform for whistleblowers.

After the jump, the latest on the search for those missing Mexican college students, an on-the-air killing of a Mexican activist, a crime activist slain, and a maverick cop murdered, the two Koreas exchange fire, on to Hong Kong and a protester condemnation, a mediator talks fairness, fear of a violent minority, and claims of foreign influence, Beijing/Washington cybertalks stalled, a shifting submarine balance, a Chinese wound is poked and a military response follows, a major provocation by China, plus a major threat for China’s mistresses. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: West Nile, spider, smog, volcano


We begin with a story close to home [esnl’s], and an enigma, via the Oakland Tribune:

West Nile cases surging in state, Bay Area

In the midst of a historic drought, public health officials are searching for clues as to why cases of West Nile virus have exploded statewide since last year, making this season the worst for human infections in California since 2005.

The surge in mosquitoes found carrying the virus in 2014 has not only reached unprecedented levels, it’s also creating headaches for local vector and mosquito control districts, which are pushing hard to kill the disease-carrying pests and their larvae.

In Santa Clara County, where more than one-third of the state’s entire count of West Nile-positive birds have been found, fogging operations for mosquitoes have hit an all-time high, as have the number of human cases. Alameda County’s Mosquito Abatement District, too, is pulling out all the stops to quell concentrations of infected mosquitoes in otherwise water-starved areas. And in Contra Costa County, the Mosquito and Vector Control District sprayed for adult mosquitoes 14 times between April and September.

Over the summer, the Santa Clara County Vector Control District found as many as 1 in 20 mosquitoes infected with West Nile in the area, acting manager Russ Parman said.

The Guardian covers a growing environmental disaster:

Amazon deforestation picking up pace, satellite data reveals

  • Data indicates 190% rise in land clearance in August and September compared with same period last year

The deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon has accelerated rapidly in the past two months, underscoring the shortcomings of the government’s environmental policies.

Satellite data indicates a 190% surge in land clearance in August and September compared with the same period last year as loggers and farmers exploit loopholes in regulations that are designed to protect the world’s largest forest.

Figures released by Imazon, a Brazilian nonprofit research organisation, show that 402 square kilometres – more than six times the area of the island of Manhattan – was cleared in September.

The government has postponed the release of official figures until after next Sunday’s presidential election, in which incumbent Dilma Rousseff of the Workers’ party faces a strong challenge from Aécio Neves, a pro-business candidate who has the endorsement of Marina Silva, the popular former environment minister.

And one factor in that deforestation is Europe’s hunger for wood, as Agence France-Presse reports:

Deforestation

Program notes:

Greenpeace denounces the export of wood acquired illegally in Brazil’s Amazon region to European countries like Belgium, France, Sweden and the Netherlands.

From USA TODAY, one damn big arachnid:

Scientist stumbles upon spider as big as a puppy

Strolling through a Guyana rainforest one night, a scientist heard some rustling and thought he’d encountered a furry mammal.

Well, he was right about the furry part.

The creature was actually a Goliath birdeater spider, LiveScience reports — the world’s biggest type of spider, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. It can weigh up to 6 ounces. For comparison, National Geographic reports a black widow weighs roughly .035 ounces; that’s 170 times lighter.

Scientist Piotr Naskrecki writes its weight is “about as much as a young puppy,” while its leg span can be a foot long, comparable with a kid’s forearm, notes LiveScience. The body itself is fist-sized, Naskrecki says. The fangs? Two inches long. The thing won’t kill you, but its bite feels “like driving a nail through your hand.”

The Independent covers a Chinese quandary:

Beijing marathon runners choked by smog are forced to wear face masks

Runners were forced to wear face masks as tens of thousands of competitors took part in an international marathon in Beijing under a thick blanket of smog – despite warnings that everyone in the city should avoid outdoor activities.

About 30,000 runners were expected to take part in the event on Sunday morning, with the organising committee making 140,000 sponges available at supply stations along the marathon route so runners could “clean their skin that is exposed to the air,” the Beijing News reported.

“On a normal day, nobody would run in such conditions,” said participant Liu Zhenyu, a computer engineer. “But the event is happening today, so what can we do?”

Although organisers had warned on Saturday night that “there might be slight or moderate smog”, the air was deemed to be severely polluted on Sunday morning, according to the real-time monitoring of Beijing’s environmental centre.

A video report from Deutsche Welle:

Beijing’s Smog Marathon

Program notes:

Thousands of runners have battled thick smog to take part in the Beijing Marathon. Some athletes donned masks as air pollution soared toward 14 times the maximum recommended level. Chinese organizers rejected calls to postpone the event.

For our final item, via JapanToday, an explosive concern:

4,000 take part in Mt Fuji eruption drill

Nearly 4,000 people took part Sunday in a mass evacuation drill to test responses to a possible eruption of Japan’s highest peak Mt Fuji, weeks after a nearby volcano blew its top and killed at least 56.

The 3,776-meter Fuji last erupted in 1707 but geologists have included it as one of 47 volcanoes in the Pacific Rim country believed to be at risk of eruption in the coming century.

Nearly 4,000 residents in 26 cities, towns and villages in Shizuoka, Yamanashi and Kanagawa prefectures around the mountain took part in the first-ever such drill, said a disaster management official for the Shizuoka prefectural government.

Mt Fuji is just 100 kilometers west of Tokyo.