Category Archives: Governance

From ABC Australia: Earth on fire


A chilling documentary from ABC Australia [itself the target of fossil-fuel addicted neoliberal Aussie ire and pending major budget cuts], this July documentary presents a chilling [er, scorching] vision of the future, in which vast fires sweep across landscapes around the globe.

Via Journeyman Pictures:

Catalyst – Earth of Fire

From the transcript:

NARRATION: Earth is the only planet in our solar system that burns … and there’s one main reason why. Plants.

Since they first evolved more than 400 million years ago, land plants have changed the world, from the soil to the atmosphere.

Even the origin of fire is tied to the origin of plants. Fire couldn’t exist here until the fuel and oxygen from land plants made this planet flammable. So for nearly half a billion years, the Earth has been in flames. In turn, fire shapes the patterns of life, the climate, and ultimately, our own survival. But fire is changing.

Over the past decade, every forested continent has seen an alarming surge in large, uncontrollable fires. Mega-fires.

Prof David Bowman: The sort of metaphoric equivalent of an atomic bomb, that’s what a mega fire is, it’s muscular, it’s mean, it’s big, it’s aggressive.

Prof Tom Swetnam: Really fast burning fires. And their local intensity is just amazing.… these are extraordinary fire events.

NARRATION: So extraordinary, they demolish the very ecosystems that have thrived with fire for millennia.

Anja Taylor: Here in the Southwest US, the fires have become so large and so intense that whole forests are transforming into entirely different landscapes.

NARRATION: No longer can we count on what we thought we knew about fire.

Mark Horstman: In Australia, catastrophic megafires are tearing landscapes apart. It means we all have to rethink how to live on this flammable continent.

InSecurityWatch: War, trolls, spies, Hong Kong


We begin with the war of the moment, via Reuters:

U.S.-led coalition jets strike Kobani, Islamic State shells hit Turkey

U.S.-led coalition jets pounded suspected Islamic State targets at least six times in the besieged Syrian town of Kobani on Saturday after the fiercest shelling in days by the insurgents shook the town’s center and hit border areas within Turkey.

Shelling continued after the strikes hit the center of Kobani. Several mortars fell inside Turkey near the border gate, called Mursitpinar, according to witnesses.

Islamic State militants have battled Kurdish fighters for a month to take control of Kobani and consolidate a 60 mile (95 km) stretch of land they control along the Turkish border, but stepped-up air strikes in recent days have helped Kurds fend off the advance.

And the latest to join the fray, from the London Telegraph:

‘You can’t stay sitting on your couch’, says member of Dutch motorcycle gang joining fight against Islamic State militants

  • Members of “No Surrender” are joining Kurdish Peshmerga fighters on the front line city of Zumar, Iraq

Members of the Dutch motorcycle gang “No Surrender” have joined the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in the Northern region of Iraq in their fight against Islamic State (IS) militants.

Dutch gang member Ron, who did not give his last name, is fighting with the Peshmerga forces on the frontline in the city of Zumar, close to the Syrian border.

When asked by a local television news reporter why he joined the Kurdish forces, he said he couldn’t watch the Islamic State’s violent acts against the Yazidi religious minority, any longer from his home in the Netherlands.

The London Daily Mail covers indiscretion [Osama knew better]:

ISIS tells its jihadis to stop betraying their location when they tweet: Fighters’ obsession with social media is letting spies track where they are

  • Jihadi fighters told to stop tweeting names, locations and identifiable photos
  • Isis leaders also want them to remove metadata from their tweets
  • Information from digital files can be valuable to intelligence agencies
  • Arabic language manual handed out to fighters gives detailed instructions

Schneier on Security gets spooky:

NSA Classification ECI = Exceptionally Controlled Information

ECI is a classification above Top Secret. It’s for things that are so sensitive they’re basically not written down, like the names of companies whose cryptography has been deliberately weakened by the NSA, or the names of agents who have infiltrated foreign IT companies.

As part of the Intercept story on the NSA’s using agents to infiltrate foreign companies and networks, it published a list of ECI compartments. It’s just a list of code names and three-letter abbreviations, along with the group inside the NSA that is responsible for them. The descriptions of what they all mean would never be in a computer file, so it’s only of value to those of us who like code names.

This designation is why there have been no documents in the Snowden archive listing specific company names. They’re all referred to by these ECI code names.

And the Guardian covers a call for a probe:

Privacy experts call for Whisper to be investigated over tracking of some users

  • Federal Trade Commission could examine issue of ‘anonymous’ app tracking users who have asked not to be followed

Privacy experts on Friday called for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to examine social media app Whisper’s tracking of “anonymous users”.

The US consumer watchdog has broad powers to sanction companies it believes have breached their promises to consumers and has become increasingly interested in claims made by tech companies, sanctioning Facebook, Google and Snapchat in recent years.

On Thursday the Guardian revealed that Whisper, an app that promises to “anonymously share your thoughts and secrets”, is tracking its users including some who have asked not to be followed and storing their posts indefinitely while it trawls their messages to identify interesting stories to promote itself in the media.

“That’s exactly the kind of deceptive practice that the FTC should crack down on because consumers do rely on those representations,” said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), which filed a complaint with the FTC last year asking it to investigate Snapchat.

Getting punitive with BBC News:

Internet trolls face up to two years in jail under new laws

Internet trolls could face up to two years in jail under new laws, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has said.

He told the Mail on Sunday quadrupling the current maximum six-month term showed his determination to “take a stand against a baying cyber-mob”.

The plan has been announced days after TV presenter Chloe Madeley suffered online abuse, which Mr Grayling described as “crude and degrading”.

Magistrates could pass serious cases on to crown courts under the new measures.

And from the Independent a high-flyin’ spy?:

Top secret space plane: American X-37B aircraft lands after secret mission lasting almost two years

A top secret unmanned space plane, that has spent nearly two years circling the Earth on a classified mission, has landed at a US Air Force base on the Southern California coast.

The aircraft, which resembles a miniature version of the space shuttle, safely touched down at 9.24am on Friday at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Theories have abounded as to the highly classified mission undertaken by the Orbital Test Vehicle or X-37B during its 674 days in orbit. Among them is the suggestion that the aircraft was used to spy on China’s new space laboratory.

Several experts have theorized it carried a payload of spy gear in its cargo bay. Other theories sound straight out of a James Bond film, including that the spacecraft would be able to capture the satellites of other nations.

And a low-flyer? From TheLocal.se:

Sweden hunts damaged Russian sub: report

A Russian distress call prompted Sweden’s hunt for “foreign underwater activity” in the Stockholm archipelago, newspaper Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) reports.

Swedish signals intelligence officials first heard an emergency call on Thursday evening, the newspaper said. Fourteen hours later, at around midday on Friday, a foreign vessel was spotted in the Stockholm archipelago.

Sweden intercepted further communications after it began its military operation in the waters off Stockholm, as encrypted messages were relayed between transmitters in the Stockholm archipelago and the Russian exclave Kaliningrad, SvD said.

The Swedish military said it could neither confirm nor deny the report.

And on to Hong Kong,m first with a breakthrough from Nikkei Asian Review:

Hong Kong government to meet protesters

The Hong Kong government announced Saturday it will meet with student protesters on Oct. 21.

It remains unclear, however, whether the two sides will be able to find common ground, as tensions have been mounting since the government forcibly cleared protesters from one of their bases.

In announcing the planned talks, Chief Secretary for Administration Carrie Lam said five representatives from each side will hold a discussion that will be broadcast live to the public. Lam said she will represent the government along with cabinet members in charge of political reforms.

The meeting will be held for two hours in the afternoon in the southern part of Hong Kong Island. It will be moderated by Lingnan University President Leonard Cheng.

Promptly followed by a blowup, via the Los Angeles Times:

Both sides in Hong Kong warn of crisis as clashes continue

After a flare-up of violence between Hong Kong police and pro-democracy demonstrators Saturday, government officials and protest leaders alike warned that the situation was heading toward a breaking point.

Demonstrators remained encamped around government headquarters in the Admiralty district and had reoccupied streets in the dense commercial Mong Kok area. Police had cleared the Mong Kok sit-in early Friday, but demonstrators returned later in the day and took back control of several key streets, clashing with officers throughout the night.

Speaking out after 26 people were arrested and dozens injured in Mong Kok early Saturday, Hong Kong Police Commissioner Andy Tsang Wai-hung said police had been “extremely tolerant” and that protesters’ increasingly “illegal acts are undermining the rule of law.”

And the latest from Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post:

Violent clashes in Mong Kok cast doubt on government’s plans to break Occupy impasse

  • Riot police back in action as clearance of Mong Kok barriers riles crowd; government seeks a bridge from Beijing’s ruling to students’ demands

Violent clashes between demonstrators and riot police erupted in Mong Kok last night, casting doubt over what the government said were fresh moves to start talks with students in a bid to end a seemingly intractable impasse over electoral reform that has sparked almost three weeks of unprecedented street protests.

Just hours after police moved in to clear the Mong Kong Kok Occupy site, more than a thousand protesters poured back into the district, clashing with police. Fresh trouble broke out near the government headquarters in Lung Wo Road in Admiralty.

By the early hours of this morning, a section of Nathan Road in Mong Kok was occupied by protesters as police moved to stop them blocking the junction with Argyle Street again.

Riot police used pepper spray and batons in a bid to drive back the protesters and the clashes led to a number of arrests. Among them was award-winning international photo-journalist Paula Bronstein, who was detained after jumping onto a car to take pictures. Her arrest was later condemned by the Foreign Correspondents Club, which issued a statement accusing the police of “intimidating’‘ journalists.

For our final item, the Asahi Shimbun covers the latest provocation from Abe’s crew:

3 Cabinet members visit Yasukuni Shrine as Tokyo tries to improve ties with China

Three Cabinet members visited the war-related Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo on Oct. 18 as the government is seeking a summit between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Sanae Takaichi, 53, minister of internal affairs and communications, said the visit should not affect Japan’s ties with its neighbors.

“Offering sincere appreciation with respect is a spontaneous act of following one’s heart and is not something that should be looked at in terms of diplomatic relations,” she told reporters after her visit to the shrine, which is marking its Oct. 17-20 autumn festival.

Also visiting the shrine were Eriko Yamatani, 64, minister in charge of the issue of abduction of Japanese nationals by North Korea, and Haruko Arimura, 44, minister overseeing the promotion of women’s activities.

EnviroWatch: Struggles, species, and fuels


We begin today’s report on the relationship between people and world with two  videos on struggles to save some of the world’s truly wonderful places from the ravages of development.

First, via Mother Jones:

Fight for Areng Valley

Background from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting:

Fight for Areng Valley

A revolution is awakening in Cambodia—with protests led by a monk who is speaking out against the environmental destruction of his country.

The Cambodian government intends to build a network of 17 dams across Cambodia, hoping this will generate enough electricity to meet domestic demand, reduce energy costs, and export surplus energy abroad. While the goal of transforming Cambodia into the power plant of Southeast Asia may promise economic gain, it also entails significant costs.

For this project, filmmaker Kalyanee Mam travels to Areng Valley, a remote area in southwest Cambodia at the foot of the Central Cardamom Protected Forests. She follows a group of young dissident monks who traveled over 150 miles from Phnom Penh, the capital, to join the Chong people in their fight to protect their forests, livelihood, and heritage from the looming construction of a hydroelectric dam.

Mam looks at how the Chong people of Areng Valley and the monks of Cambodia are striving to protect not only the forests, but also the very essence of the Cambodian people’s livelihood and spiritual well-being, rooted and grounded in nature.

Born in Cambodia, Mam fled her home country in 1979, after the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime, which claimed nearly two million lives. When she returned to Cambodia for the first time in 1998, Cambodia was rebuilding from the rubble of civil war. Now, 16 years later, the country must balance its need to feed the energy demands of a burgeoning society with the necessity of conserving and protecting its natural resources.

Next, via Yale Environment 360:

Indonesia – Dayaks and Drones- How technology can promote sustainable forests and communities

Program notes:

The villagers of Setulang in Indonesian Borneo have enlisted a new ally in their fight against the illegal clearing of their forests for oil palm plantations: aerial drones.

Setulang lies within a forest conservation area managed by the indigenous Dayak people, who have fostered a thriving tourism industry based on the rainforest’s rich biodiversity and their own cultural heritage. After successfully ousting an oil palm company operating illegally in their territory, the Dayaks are now hoping the drones can help them protect their land.

“Dayaks and Drones,” a video produced by Handcrafted Films, chronicles how the villagers teamed up with an Indonesian nonprofit to learn how to program and operate drones. Equipped with GPS technology, the small drones photograph the forest and monitor the area for illegal activities, especially plantations and mines. The villagers will use information gathered by the drones to create a detailed map of their land, which will help in future conservation efforts.

“The international community must help Indonesia accelerate the recognition and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples,” Abdon Nababan, an Indonesian indigenous rights leader, tells the filmmakers.

From the Observer, a magnificent species draws closer to extinction:

Death of white rhino in Kenya leaves only six animals alive in the world

  • Fears grow for future of northern white rhino species after loss of 34-year-old Suni, one of last two breeding males in the world

An endangered northern white rhino has died in Kenya, a wildlife conservancy has said, meaning only six of the animals are left alive in the world.

Suni, a 34-year-old northern white, and the first of his species to be born in captivity, was found dead on Friday by rangers at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy near Nairobi. While there are thousands of southern white rhinos in the plains of sub-Saharan Africa, decades of rampant poaching has meant the northern white rhino is close to extinction.

Suni was one of the last two breeding males in the world as no northern white rhinos are believed to have survived in the wild. Though the conservancy said Suni was not poached, the cause of his death is currently unclear.

More species in decline via the Hindu:

Over one-fifth of India’s frogs under threat

More than 20 per cent of frogs and toads — 78 of the 340 species — found in India are under threat, according recent findings of the Zoological Survey of India.

In a publication titled ‘Threatened Amphibians of India’, which catalogues these species, the ZSI pointed out that of the species under threat, 17 are ‘critically endangered; 32 are ‘endangered’, 22 are ‘vulnerable’, and the remaining seven are ‘near threatened species’.

According to ZSI scientist Kaushik Deuti, frogs and toads are very sensitive to habitat and climate change and are referred as “bio indicators.” “Their presence or absence denotes whether a habitat is in good condition or is undergoing change and is under threat,” he said. One of the main reasons behind the diminishing numbers of the amphibians, ZSI director K. Venkataraman said, was climate change, widespread deforestation and destruction of the frogs’ natural habitat. Frogs are also captured to be sold off in the global market.

According to the ZSI, of the 17 critically-endangered species — whose total population is less than 250 — one particular species of frog, known as Resplendent Bush Frog (Raorchestes resplendens), can only be found in a 3 sq km area atop the Anamudi Peak in Kerala’s Idukki district.

Still more species in decline from the Ecologist:

African habitat loss driving migrating birds’ decline

A new report reveals huge declines in the UK’s migratory birds that winter deep in Africa’s rainforests. Shorter distance migrants are performing much better, with some recording big population increases.

The latest in the annual series of State of the UK’s Birds report, published today, shows alarming declines among 29 migrant species which nest in the UK in summer and spend the winter around the Mediterranean, or in Africa south of the Sahara Desert.

The most dramatic declines are among species which winter in the humid zone of Africa – stretching across the continent from southern Senegal to Nigeria and beyond.

Of this group of species, which includes whinchat, nightingale, tree pipit and spotted flycatcher, 73% have declined since the late 1980s, 45% by more than half.

One of the most dramatic declines is that of the turtle dove with a decline of 88% since 1995. Heavy declines have also been recorded over the same period for wood warbler, down 66%; pied flycatcher, 53%; spotted flycatcher, 49%; cuckoo, 49%; nightingale, 43%; and yellow wagtail, 43%.

On to fuelishness with In These Times:

Building Trades Chief Lauds Fracking Boom, Shrugs Off Environmental Concerns

On Tuesday, the Oil and Natural Gas Industry Labor-Management Committee released a report by Dr. Robert Bruno and Michael Cornfield of the University of Illinois which found that from 2008 to 2014, oil and gas development created 45,000 new jobs in the Marcellus Shale region—an area that includes parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The data came from the BCTD; the National Maintenance Agreements Policy Committee, a joint labor-management committee that oversees collective bargaining agreements in the construction industry; and Industrial Info Resources, a third party specializing in “global market intelligence.”

Two days later, BCTD president Sean McGarvey, who also serves as chair of the Oil and Natural Gas Industry Labor-Management Committee and whose union is a member of the committee, praised the report and defended the thriving industry.

“Oil and gas industry spending in the Marcellus Shale region has led to significant increases in construction and maintenance jobs,” McGarvey told reporters on a conference call. “At a time when the U.S. construction industry was in the midst of what was arguably a depression, … one of the few, if not only, bright spots, were the jobs that were created by virtue of domestic oil and gas development.”

And one side effect from Yale Environment 360:

With the Boom in Oil and Gas, Pipelines Proliferate in the U.S.

The rise of U.S. oil and gas production has spurred a dramatic expansion of the nation’s pipeline infrastructure. As the lines reach into new communities and affect more property owners, concerns over the environmental impacts are growing.

In the spring of 2012, about nine years after Melissa Owen and her husband purchased 640 acres of remote Arizona desert that they hoped to turn into a wildlife refuge, a representative from the energy giant Kinder Morgan knocked on their front door. The man said his company planned to

They didn’t give it, and the Kinder Morgan visit set off what Owen calls some of the most trying years of her life. Petitions to the pipeline company, local county officials, the U.S. government, and a variety of environmental groups failed to stop the pipeline from earning the necessary permits and gaining access to Owen’s land.

“I’d get up at three in the morning, write letters to the government and Kinder Morgan, and research what I could do, then do my ranch work,” she said. “Then I’d start all over again the next day.”

Next, via the Ecologist, a real gas:

NASA confirms US’s 2,500-square-mile methane cloud

When NASA researchers first saw data indicating a massive cloud of methane floating over the American Southwest, they found it so incredible that they dismissed it as an instrument error.

But as they continued analyzing data from the European Space Agency’s Scanning Imaging Absorption Spectrometer for Atmospheric Chartography instrument from 2002 to 2012, the ‘atmospheric hot spot’ kept appearing.

The team at NASA was finally able to take a closer look, and have now concluded that there is in fact a 2,500-square-mile cloud of methane – roughly the size of Delaware – floating over the Four Corners region, where the borders of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah all intersect.

This discovery follows the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s new estimates of methane’s ‘global warming potential’ (GWP): 34 over 100 years, and 86 over 20 years. That number reflects how much more powerful methane is than CO2.

On to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with the Japan Times:

Record cesium level detected in Fukushima No. 1 groundwater; Tepco blames heavy rainfall

A record 264,000 becquerels of radioactive cesium per liter has been detected in groundwater at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power station, Tokyo Electric Power Co. disclosed Saturday.

The sample was taken Thursday from an observation well near reactor 2 reactor of the plant, which was destroyed by the March 2011 quake and tsunami.

According to Tepco, recent heavy rains pushed up the levels of groundwater, causing it to reach soil containing highly radioactive water leaked earlier from the plant’s crippled reactors.

The per liter level of cesium-137 rose to 200,000 becquerels from 190,000 becquerels in groundwater sampled from the same well on Wednesday. The cesium-134 level was unchanged at 64,000 becquerels.

Finally, from Corriere della Sera, another nuclear woe:

Italy’s Radiation-porous Ports

  • About € 25 million spent on protecting coastline against contaminated materials but ports remain exposed

Italy spend about L.45 billion in 1999 on scanners that could detect radioactivity in cargo arriving from abroad. But even though another €1 million was paid out for acceptance inspections in 2003, the special portals installed at harbour border crossings have remained out of service.

Italy is a major importer of metals, which means that the issue is exceptionally important, not least because in the past the Bel Paese has featured in the illegal trafficking of radioactive waste. The risk of discovering that items in your home are radioactive is far from hypothetical. Here are one or two examples. At Genoa in 2011, checks carried out by a privately owned company led to the blocking of a container carrying several tonnes of cobalt 60-contaminated metal. The cargo had arrived from the United Arab Emirates and was for use at a factory in the province of Alessandria. Before reaching Liguria, the metal, which was accompanied by a waybill, had passed through the port of Gioia Tauro. No one noticed that the container was releasing radiation. Cobalt 60 has turned up in several places up and down Italy. In 2013, it was detected in kitchen utensils on sale in a number of shops. The goods had passed through the port of Taranto without the slightest difficulty. At Turin in 2012, a batch of household trays was found to be radioactive. It’s easy to imagine how many at-risk items could have crossed Italy’s borders and entered the country undetected in recent years.

EbolaWatch: Scares, pols, meds, Africa


And more.

We begin with a video report that lends credence to suspicions we’ve long harbored. From CCTV America:

Ebola outbreaks associated with deforestation

Program notes:

Experts have been trying to figure out what’s behind the recent rise in Ebola cases. Some have turned to nature, specifically the trees, for a possible answer. Some scientists argue that the shrinking size of forests could put people in closer contact with disease carrying wildlife and that possibility is causing global concerns. For more on the impact of global deforestation, CCTV America interviewed Susanne Breitkopf, the Senior Political Advisor for Greenpeace International.

And next to two notable and sad instances of Ebolaphobia, first from FrontPageAfrica, a Liberian paper doing an exceptional job of covering the crisis:

Georgia U. Cancels FPA Newsroom Chief’s McGill Lectures Over Ebola

The University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia has rescinded the decision of the University’s journalism school Grady College to invite FrontPageAfrica newsroom editor Wade C. L. Williams for its McGill Lecture slated for October 22, 2014.

All was set for the trip as the college had already purchased a round trip plane ticket and made hotel reservations for the journalist’s visit when it was forced to cancel last minute to time because of fear she could get sick while visiting the US thereby exposing students to the deadly Ebola virus.

The McGill Lecture, which is free and open to the public is sponsored by the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication and will be held October 22 at 4 p.m. in Room 250 of the Miller Learning Center but with a new speaker Antonio Mora, a prominent Hispanic journalist who is a two-time winner of the Peabody Award.

“I received a call from Georgia just days before my trip. A woman with a pleasant voice delicately told me that parents were panicking and the general public was against my coming to the university,” stated Williams in a blog post published days after the university reached the decision.

And the second incident, via the Star in Nairobi:

Parents in a British school threatens to pull children out over teachers trip to Kenya fearing Ebola

Parents from a British school have threatened to pull their children from school over a planned trip to Kenya by teachers for fear they will contract Ebola.

The Mirror reports that a 60-signature petition has been circulated at Berkeley Primary School in Crewe in Cheshire demanding that the two teachers planning the trip to Kenya for an exchange programme.

They want the teachers isolated for a three-week ebola incubation period.

But the alarm has baffled the school because Kenya is far away from the ebola danger zone of West Africa.

Now on to the gravely serious, first from the Independent:

Ebola outbreak could be ‘definitive humanitarian disaster of our generation’, warns Oxfam

Ebola is poised to become the “definitive humanitarian disaster of our generation”, Oxfam has warned, with more troops, funding and medical aid urgently needed to tackle the outbreak.

In an “extremely rare” move, the charity is calling for military intervention to provide logistical support across West Africa.

It says the world has less than two months to counter the spread of the deadly virus, which means addressing a “crippling shortfall” in military personnel.

Oxfam said troops are now “desperately needed” to build treatment centres, provide flights and offer engineering and logistical support. While Britain was leading the way in Europe’s response to the epidemic, it said countries which have failed to commit troops were “in danger of costing lives”.

Next, analysis from the Associated Press:

Mission Unaccomplished: Containing Ebola in Africa

Looking back, the mistakes are easy to see: Waiting too long, spending too little, relying on the wrong people, thinking small when they needed to think big. Many people, governments and agencies share the blame for failing to contain Ebola when it emerged in West Africa.

Now they share the herculean task of trying to end an epidemic that has sickened more than 9,000, killed more than 4,500, seeded cases in Europe and the United States, and is not even close to being controlled.

Many of the missteps are detailed in a draft of an internal World Health Organization report obtained by The Associated Press. It shows there was not one pivotal blunder that gave Ebola the upper hand, but a series of them that mounted.

Nearly every agency and government stumbled. Heavy criticism falls on the World Health Organization, where there was “a failure to see that conditions for explosive spread were present right at the start.”

WHO — the United Nations’ health agency — had some incompetent staff, let bureaucratic bungles delay people and money to fight the virus, and was hampered by budget cuts and the need to battle other diseases flaring around the world, the report says.

Al Jazeera English covers a reassessment:

WHO promises to review Ebola response

UN agency pledges to review its efforts to contain outbreak after internal document hints at its failings.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has promised to undertake and publish a full review of its handling of the Ebola crisis after a leaked document appeared to show the UN agency had failed to do enough to contain the epidemic.

The WHO said in a statement on Saturday that it would not comment on an internal draft document obtained and released by the Associated Press news agency, in which the organisation blamed incompetent staff, bureaucracy and a lack of reliable information for its allegedly slow and weak response to the outbreak that has reportedly killed more than 4,500 people since May.

“We cannot divert our limited resources from the urgent response to do a detailed analysis of the past response. That review will come, but only after this outbreak is over,” WHO said.

And the Associated Press covers te case that has Americans on edge:

Ebola lapses persisted for days at Dallas hospital

Just minutes after Thomas Eric Duncan arrived for a second time at the emergency room, the word is on his chart: “Ebola.” But despite all the warnings that the deadly virus could arrive unannounced at an American hospital, for days after the admission, his caregivers are vulnerable.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has pointed to lapses by the hospital in those initial days. And Duncan’s medical records show heightened protective measures as his illness advanced. But either because of a lag in implementing those steps or because they were still insufficient, scores of hospital staffers were put at risk, according to the records.

The hospital’s protective protocol was “insufficient,” said Dr. Joseph McCormick of the University of Texas School of Public Health, who was part of the CDC team that investigated the first recorded Ebola outbreak in 1976. “The gear was inadequate. The procedures in the room were inadequate.”

While Defense One covers a regulatory disaster:

Dallas Hospital Had the Ebola Screening Machine That the Military Is Using in Africa

The military is using an Ebola screening machine that could have diagnosed the Ebola cases in Texas far faster, but government guidelines prevent hospitals from using it to actually screen for Ebola.

It’s a toaster-sized box called FilmArray, produced by a company called BioFire, a subsidiary of bioMérieux and it’s capable of detecting Ebola with a high degree of confidence — in under an hour.

Incredibly, it was present at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas when Ebola patient Thomas Eric Duncan walked through the door, complaining of fever and he had just come from Liberia. Duncan was sent home, but even still, FDA guidelines prohibited the hospital from using the machine to screen for Ebola.

While the Guardian covers desperate ass-covering:

Texas hospital mounts ‘#PresbyProud’ fightback as Ebola criticism mounts

  • Dallas hospital where nurses were infected engages PR firm
  • Union chief says: ‘There has been no leadership’

The hospital in Texas where two nurses became the first people to contract Ebola inside the US is mounting an aggressive public relations campaign to rescue its image, as nursing representatives call for its top executives to be held accountable for the crisis.

Texas Health Presbyterian hospital in Dallas hired Burson-Marsteller, a New York-based PR firm, to direct a fightback against sharp criticism it received after Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian man who was first sent home by the hospital, died there from Ebola.

It has since published slick video clips of smiling nurses praising their managers and hosted a brief “rally” of medics wielding pro-hospital placards outside the emergency room for television news cameras. Amid fears patients might stay away, the hospital has tried to flood social media with the hashtag “#PresbyProud” and issued rebuttals to allegations about its practices after nurses Nina Pham and Amber Vinson were infected while treating Duncan, who died on 8 October.

From the New York Times, politics as usual, with a desperate edge:

The Partisan Divide on Ebola Preparedness

After a second case of Ebola was discovered among the staff of a Dallas hospital that treated an infected patient, public concerns are likely to increase about whether the United States health care system can properly respond to an outbreak.

Data from surveys suggest, however, that those views — like so many others — are being shaped by people’s partisan affilations as much as by news about the outbreak itself.

According to a new ABC News/Washington Post survey, only 54 percent of Republicans are confident in the federal government’s ability to respond effectively to Ebola — far fewer than the 76 percent of Democrats who expressed confidence. This finding represents a striking reversal from the partisan divide found in a question about a potential avian influenza outbreak in 2006, when a Republican, George W. Bush, was president. An ABC/Post poll taken at the time found that 72 percent of Republicans were confident in an effective federal response compared with only 52 percent of Democrats.

From the Washington Post, Obama urges:

Obama: ‘We can’t give in to hysteria or fear’ of Ebola

President Obama on Saturday sought to tamp down fears of an Ebola outbreak and defend his administration from Republican critics who have called for a more aggressive response to the disease, including sealing off U.S. borders to visitors from countries battling widespread outbreaks.

“We can’t just cut ourselves off from West Africa, where this disease is raging,” Obama said in his weekly radio address. “Trying to seal off an entire region of the world — if that were even possible — could actually make the situation worse.”

Such actions would make it harder for American health-care workers, soldiers and supplies to reach stricken areas, Obama said. It could also cause residents of countries in West Africa where Ebola is still spreading to try to evade screening on their way to the United States or Europe.

The president’s main message was one of calm, coming at a time of growing worry in communities throughout the country. “We can’t give in to hysteria or fear, because that only makes it harder to get people the accurate information they need,” Obama said. “If we’re guided by science — the facts, not fear — then I am absolutely confident we can prevent a serious outbreak here in the United States.”

From the White House, here’s the address:

Weekly Address: What You Need to Know About Ebola

Program notes:

In this week’s address, the President discussed what the United States is doing to respond to Ebola, both here at home and abroad, and the key facts Americans need to know.

Making a list and checking more than twice, via the Associated Press:

More than 100 monitored for Ebola symptoms in Ohio

Health officials in Ohio are monitoring more than 100 people following the visit by a Dallas nurse who tested positive for Ebola shortly after returning to Texas from the Cleveland area.

Officials said Saturday that none of those being monitored are sick.

State officials previously said 16 people Amber Vinson had contact with were being monitored. Officials say the sharp increase is a result of the identification of airline passengers who flew with Vinson between Dallas and Cleveland and the identification of people who also visited the dress shop where her bridesmaids were trying on dresses.

Vinson’s stepfather is quarantined in his home in the Akron suburb of Tallmadge. That is where Vinson stayed during her visit. The stepfather is the only person in the state under such a restriction.

Golden State preparations from the San Francisco Chronicle:

Gov. Jerry Brown says state is working on Ebola safeguards

Gov. Jerry Brown said Friday that the state is drawing up plans to protect nurses, other health care workers and the public from Ebola, saying California must avoid mistakes made in Texas in dealing with the disease.

The governor said he has met with public health officers and spoken with national nurses representatives to devise guidelines that hospitals must follow should an Ebola patient be diagnosed in California.

“We’ve got work to do,” Brown said in an interview with The Chronicle. “It’s a fast-moving story.”

He said Dr. Ron Chapman, director of the state Department of Public Health, is heading up the effort, and that health officials will meet with Cal/OSHA on Tuesday to discuss “issues of workers’ safety.”

From the Miami Herald, preparations in another state:

CDC responds to Florida’s requests for help with potential Ebola outbreak

The federal Centers for Disease Control agreed Saturday to some — but not all — of Gov. Rick Scott’s Ebola-related requests.

The CDC will hold a conference call with Florida hospitals next week on best practices, Scott said Saturday. The organization has also given Florida the green light to spend about $7 million in federal grant funding on protective suits for health care workers.

“The CDC indicated that we will receive formal approval next week, but based on this preliminary approval, we have already begun using these funds to enhance our Ebola preparedness efforts,” Scott said in a statement.

The governor is still waiting on the CDC to contact passengers on a plane that stopped in Fort Lauderdale after carrying a nurse who was later diagnosed with Ebola.

He also has yet to receive 27 of the 30 Ebola testing kits he requested.

From the Associated Press another oversight failure:

Ebola monitoring inconsistent as virus spread

The inconsistent response by health officials in monitoring and limiting the movement of health workers has been one of the critical blunders in the Ebola outbreak. Friends and family who had contact with Duncan before he was hospitalized were confined to homes under armed guard, but nurses who handled his contagious bodily fluids were allowed to treat other patients, take mass transit and get on airplanes.

“I don’t think the directions provided to people at first were as clear as they needed to be, and there have been changes in the instructions given to people over time,” said Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, a doctor who did his residency in Dallas.

Local health authorities have said repeatedly throughout the response that their guidance and direction can change.

“Please keep in mind the contact list is fluid, meaning people may fall off the list or new people may be added to the list depending on new information that could arise at any time on any given day,” said Dallas County health department spokeswoman Erikka Neroes on Friday when asked how many people are even being monitored.

From The Hill, a case where Republicans and businesses are on the outs:

Businesses quietly push back at Ebola travel ban

Businesses are pushing back against lawmakers’ calls to impose a ban on travelers from the three West Africa nations at the center of the Ebola epidemic.

Public opposition is coming from U.S. airlines, who have seen their stocks hit because of fears the Ebola scare will lead to a drop in travel.

Other business groups are quietly telling the White House to stand firm in opposing a ban.

They echo arguments from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that a ban would isolate Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, potentially making it tougher to slow the epidemic in those countries.

From the New York Times, the first of two stories of life in limbo:

Life in Quarantine for Ebola Exposure: 21 Days of Fear and Loathing

As the Ebola scare spreads from Texas to Ohio and beyond, the number of people who have locked themselves away — some under government orders, others voluntarily — has grown well beyond those who lived with and cared for Mr. Duncan before his death on Oct. 8. The discovery last week that two nurses at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital here had caught the virus while treating Mr. Duncan extended concentric circles of fear to new sets of hospital workers and other contacts.

Officials in Texas said Thursday that nearly 100 health care workers would be asked to sign pledges not to use public transportation, go to public places or patronize shops and restaurants for 21 days, the maximum incubation period for Ebola. While not a mandate, the notices warn that violators “may be subject” to a state-ordered quarantine.

When officials revealed that one of the infected nurses had flown from Dallas to Cleveland and back before being hospitalized, nearly 300 fellow passengers and crew members faced decisions about whether to quarantine themselves. The next day, a lab technician who had begun a Caribbean cruise despite possible exposure was confined to a stateroom. Medical workers, missionaries and journalists returning from West Africa — especially from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, where Ebola is rampant — are also staying home.

Dr. Howard Markel, who teaches the history of medicine at the University of Michigan, said the quarantines recalled the country’s distant epidemics of cholera, typhus and bubonic plague.

“Ebola is jerking us back to the 19th century,” he said. “It’s terrible. It’s isolating. It’s scary. You’re not connecting with other human beings, and you are fearful of a microbiologic time bomb ticking inside you.”

The second, from Bloomberg, covers another woe:

Ebola Fears Stymie Home Quest for Quarantined in Dallas

Louise Troh and the three other people in her household have spent much of their isolation on laptops and mobile phones, playing video games, tossing a football, speaking to relatives and reading the Bible.

The activities have been welcome diversions for Troh, her son and two young men she considers family — “the boys,” as she refers to her housemates. She’s the girlfriend of Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person to die in the U.S. from Ebola.

When they are released from their 21-day, state-ordered quarantine on Oct. 20, they face an uncertain future in Dallas, owing to continued fears about their closeness to the deadly virus. A new-apartment deal busted up after Troh had already made a deposit, and Dallas’s top county official and Troh’s pastor say people are reluctant to rent to someone who was so close to Ebola.

From New York Times, another complication:

Waste From Ebola Poses Challenge to Hospitals

When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention assured the public this month that most American hospitals could treat cases of Ebola, it was technically correct. Hospitals routinely treat highly contagious diseases, and top-tier ones are extensively equipped to isolate patients who pose special risks.

But the infection over the past week of two Texas hospital workers betrayed what even many of the best hospitals lack: the ability to handle the tide of infectious waste that Ebola generates.

Ebola’s catastrophic course includes diarrhea, vomiting and hemorrhaging of blood, a combination difficult enough to contain in less-communicable illnesses. When they are highly contagious, disposing of the waste and cleaning up what is left behind require expertise and equipment that some specialists said are lacking even in highly regarded medical facilities.

Those shortcomings are compounded, they said, by surprising gaps in scientists’ knowledge about the Ebola virus itself, down to the time it can survive in different environments outside the body.

And from RT, an offer that’s bound to cause heartburn in Foggy Bottom:

Fidel Castro offers cooperation with US in fight against Ebola

Fidel Castro has expressed Cuba’s readiness to cooperate with the US in the global fight against Ebola. Cuba has been on the frontline of international response to the worst outbreak in the disease’s history.

In his article “Time of Duty,” which was published on Saturday, the retired Cuban leader said that medical staff trying to save lives are the best example of human solidarity. Fighting together against the epidemic can protect the people of Cuba, Latin America, and the US from the deadly virus, he added.

“We will gladly cooperate with American [medical] personnel in this task – not for the sake of peace between the two states which have been adversaries for many years, but for the sake of peace in the world,” wrote Castro.

And Sky News covers a plea for help:

Cameron Presses EU Leaders On Ebola Fund

  • The PM urges the EU to double its funding in the fight against the deadly virus, saying “much more must be done”

David Cameron has called for European Union leaders to double their contribution to help tackle ebola, demanding a combined 1bn euro (£800m) pledge.

The Prime Minister has written to the other 26 leaders and European Council president Herman van Rompuy calling for agreement to an “ambitious package of support” at a Brussels summit next week.

He made clear his frustration that other countries are failing to shoulder their share of the burden of international efforts to deal with the epidemic in West Africa which has killed more than 4,500.

Britain has committed £125m to its contribution – the second highest sum after the US. Downing Street said the total contribution from the EU is 500m euros (£400m).

After the jump, the travel industry enters a potential tailspin, cruise ship woes, French flight attendants demand an end to Paris/Conakry flights as France introduces airport screenings, ship screenings in Sweden, travel warnings in Cairo and confidence {SARS-inspired?] in China and a false alarm, a vaccine production delay, Canadian drugs dispatched, on to Africa and a chilling question, Kenyan doctors dispatched, on to Sierra Leone with food on the way, youth join the fight, a street battle with police over a corpse in the street, and an angry bureaucratic shakeup, on to Liberia an a construction shutdown, WHO offers a prescription, a plea for more aid and a promise from Washington, and a warning that things are worse than the press reports, a suicidal leap and an escape in Guinea as contagion spreads into a gold mining region, and from Nigeria, hope accompanied by a warning. . . Continue reading

Chart of the day: The partisan disease divide


From the New York Times based on a Washington Post-ABC News poll:

BLOG Ebola trust

InSecurityWatch: War, terror, hacks, cops, more


The latest boots hitting Iraqi ground from TheLocal.it:

Isis: Italy to send 280 soldiers to Iraq

Italy will send 280 soldiers to Iraq to train Kurdish forces in their fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (Isis) jihadist group, Italy’s defence minister Roberta Pinotti said.

The country will also dispatch a KC-767 aircraft for in-flight refueling and two Predator drones for regional surveillance, Ansa reported.

In September, Italy said it would send arms and aid to Iraq as part of its involvement in a US-lead coalition fight against the militant group, but that it would not take part in air strikes.

Canadian boots on the ground from the Toronto Globe and Mail:

Mission could involve a year of training Iraqi forces, Canadian general says

Countries intervening in the Iraq conflict will be called upon to conduct large-scale training of Iraqi forces for as long as a year after a U.S.-led coalition succeeds in blunting the attack power of Islamic State jihadists there, top Canadian military commanders say.

This suggests Canada’s military involvement to the Iraq conflict could stretch far beyond the six-month commitment made by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government.

General Tom Lawson, chief of the defence staff, said a meeting of coalition countries in Washington earlier this week devoted a lot of time to how to train the Iraqi army. Bagdhad’s existing forces, which benefitted from years of training assistance by the United States, nevertheless fell apart when faced with advancing Islamic State forces earlier this year.

He said Canada right now is part of the emergency response to this jihadist force that has wreaked havoc across parts of Iraq and Syria.

Look, up in the sky! From the Guardian:

Islamic State training pilots to fly MiG fighter planes, says monitoring group

  • Militants reportedly have three captured jets and witnesses cited as saying they have seen planes flying low over Aleppo

Islamic State (Isis) is takings its first steps towards building an air force by training pilots to fly captured fighter planes, according to a group monitoring the conflict in Syria.

Isis is using lots of tanks, armoured personnel carriers, artillery and Jeeps taken from the Syrian and Iraqi armies but this is the first report that it has planes in the air.

Isis, which took the US by surprise this year with its rapid territorial expansion in Syria and Iraq, has three Russian-built MiG jets, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), which appears to have a good network of observers on the ground and has often proved reliable in the past.

And else in MENA, via the Washington Post:

Libyan general’s forces make major push to oust Islamist militants from Benghazi

A rogue Libyan general waging a months-long campaign against Libya’s Islamists launched a full-blown assault on Benghazi this week, touching off clashes with the militants dominating the city.

More than a dozen people have been killed in the violence, which started Wednesday, raising fears that the battles will evolve into an all-out civil war.

Khalifa Hifter announced in a televised address Tuesday that he intends to “liberate” Benghazi — the epicenter of the 2011 uprising against strongman Moammar Gaddafi — from the Islamist militias that stalk its streets.

A day later, the 71-year-old Hifter launched his effort. His forces — a mixture of former Gaddafi officers, pro-Hifter militias and army troops — stormed Benghazi to oust the militants.

And the corporate silver lining to clouds of war from MintPress News:

ISIS: Military Contractors’ “Gravy Train” To Profits

“Wall Street’s looking ahead and saying, ‘War’s good for business and companies are going to cash in,’” the director of a think tank aimed at addressing war and corruption, among other issues, tells MintPress News

Since the beginning of the year, the defense stocks of America’s top five arms producers — Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman — have risen substantially. Last month, Bloomberg reported that “the biggest U.S. defense companies are trading at record prices as shareholders reap rewards from escalating military conflicts around the world.”

These conflicts include the Afghanistan War, NATO’s arms buildup to monitor Russia in Ukraine, military intervention against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and armaments for governments wishing to suppress internal dissent.

Arms contractors are “trying to exploit the crisis,” said William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, a Washington-based think tank aimed at addressing war, corruption, inequality and climate change. It appears they’re succeeding this regard, as investors are greedily buying up stocks of weapons manufacturers. For example, Lockheed Martin’s share prices have risen from $146 a share at the beginning of the year to $174 today.

“Wall Street’s betting that this war’s going to go on for awhile, and that the Pentagon is going to get rid of budget cuts,” Hartung said of the conflict with ISIS. “It’s going to be a gravy train. Companies are sort of saying, ‘I don’t know how much we’re going to make,’ but Wall Street’s looking ahead and saying, ‘War’s good for business and companies are going to cash in.’”

But then there’s that whole question of just whose boots will be meeting Syrian and Iraqi ground. From RT America:

Generals contradict Obama’s “no boots on the ground” ISIS strategy

Program notes:

Mixed messages out of Washington are leaving many wondering who is in control of the US-led war against the Islamic State group. While President Barack Obama reassures the public no American soldiers will be fighting on the ground, repeated comments by top military leaders seemingly contradict, or at least muddy, the commander in chief’s message. RT’s Ben Swann speaks with former high-ranking CIA officer Ray McGovern to get his take.

BBC News covers more blowback:

Terror plot suspects planned to kill police, court hears

Five men have appeared in court charged in connection with a terror plot “to shoot, to kill, police officers or soldiers on the streets of London”.

Tarik Hassane, Suhaib Majeed, Nyall Hamlett, and Momen Motasim, all from London, have been charged with intending to commit acts of terrorism. A fifth man, Nathan Cuffy, 25, from London, faces firearms offences.

All five were remanded in custody until 27 October after the hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court.

From the McClatchy Washington Bureau, and they’re rethinking that whole blame-Hitler-for-the-Holocaust thing too:

Senate’s inquiry into CIA torture sidesteps blaming Bush, aides

A soon-to-be released Senate report on the CIA doesn’t assess the responsibility of former President George W. Bush or his top aides for any of the abuses of the agency’s detention and interrogation program, avoiding a full public accounting of one of the darkest chapters of the war on terror.

“This report is not about the White House. It’s not about the president. It’s not about criminal liability. It’s about the CIA’s actions or inactions,” said a person familiar with the document, who asked not to be further identified because the executive summary – the only part to that will be made public – still is in the final stages of declassification.

The Senate Intelligence Committee report also didn’t examine the responsibility of top Bush administration lawyers in crafting the legal framework that permitted the CIA to use simulated drowning called waterboarding and other interrogation methods widely described as torture, McClatchy has learned.

On a related note, consider this from the Intercept:

Blowing the Whistle on CIA Torture from Beyond the Grave

In the fall of 2006, Nathaniel Raymond, a researcher with the advocacy group Physicians for Human Rights, got a call from a man professing to be a CIA contractor. Scott Gerwehr was a behavioral science researcher who specialized in “deception detection,” or figuring out when someone was lying.  Gerwehr told Raymond “practically in the first five minutes” that he had been at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo in the summer of 2006, but had left after his suggestion to install video-recording equipment in detainee interrogation rooms was rejected. “He said, ‘I wouldn’t operate at a facility that didn’t tape. It protects the interrogators and it protects the detainees,’” Raymond recalls.

Gerwehr also told Raymond that that he had read the CIA inspector general’s report on detainee abuse, which at the time had not been made public. But “he didn’t behave like a traditional white knight,” Raymond told The Intercept. Though he had reached out to Raymond and perhaps others, he didn’t seem like a prototypical whistleblower. He didn’t say what he was trying to do or ask for help; he just dropped the information. Raymond put him in touch with a handful of reporters, and their contact ended in 2007.

In 2008, at the age of 40, Gerwehr died in a motorcycle accident on Sunset Boulevard. Years after Gerwehr died, New York Times reporter James Risen obtained a cache of Gerwehr’s files, including emails that identify him as part of a group of psychologists and researchers with close ties to the national security establishment. Risen’s new book, Pay Any Price, uses Gerwehr’s emails to show close collaboration between staffers at the American Psychological Association (APA) and government officials, collaboration that offered a fig leaf of health-professional legitimacy to the CIA and military’s brutal interrogations of terror suspects.

Reuters covers spooky funny business:

Exclusive: NSA reviewing deal between official, ex-spy agency head

The U.S. National Security Agency has launched an internal review of a senior official’s part-time work for a private venture started by former NSA director Keith Alexander that raises questions over the blurring of lines between government and business.

Under the arrangement, which was confirmed by Alexander and current intelligence officials, NSA’s Chief Technical Officer, Patrick Dowd, is allowed to work up to 20 hours a week at IronNet Cybersecurity Inc, the private firm led by Alexander, a retired Army general and his former boss.

The arrangement was approved by top NSA managers, current and former officials said. It does not appear to break any laws and it could not be determined whether Dowd has actually begun working for Alexander, who retired from the NSA in March.

Hitting that old brick wall, with the Associated Press:

Lawmakers probing NSA face German secrecy hurdles

German lawmakers probing the U.S. National Security Agency following Edward Snowden’s revelations have hit a hurdle: their own government.

Officials have refused to let a parliamentary inquiry see dozens of German intelligence documents detailing the extent to which the country’s spy agencies cooperated with their U.S. counterparts.

A government spokeswoman said Friday that Germany is bound by secrecy accords that give the U.S. the right to review and comment on any documents that affect its interests.

But spokeswoman Christiane Wirtz denied this amounted to a U.S. veto.

A replacement named, via Reuters:

China names new envoy to Iceland after Japan spying report

Chinese President Xi Jinping has appointed China’s new ambassador to Iceland, a month after overseas Chinese media reported that the previous envoy had been arrested for passing secrets to Japan.

The announcement by China’s Foreign Ministry on Thursday was the first official confirmation that Beijing had replaced its previous envoy to Iceland, Ma Jisheng. New York-based Chinese language portal Mingjing News reported in September that Ma and his wife had been taken away by Chinese state security earlier this year.

Zhang Weidong, 57, replaces Ma, who was suspected of having become a Japanese spy while working in the Chinese embassy in Tokyo between 2004 and 2008, according to Mingjing News.

A sub-marine mystery from the Associated Press:

‘Foreign underwater activity’ reported in Sweden

Sweden’s military says it has sent naval vessels, aircraft and home guard forces to investigate reports of “foreign underwater activity” in the Stockholm archipelago.

The Armed Forces say they launched an intelligence operation Friday in the archipelago after receiving information “from a credible source.” Armed Forces spokesman Jesper Tengroth wouldn’t say whether a submarine had been sighted or give any other details.

The announcement was reminiscent of the Cold War, when Sweden’s armed forces routinely hunted for Soviet submarines in its waters.

And from TheLocal.de, drones delayed:

Bundeswehr drones can’t handle Ukraine winter

‘Luna’ drones promised by Germany to monitor the Russian-Ukrainian border may not be sent after all – they can’t handle the bitter cold expected in the Ukrainian winter.

“It’s a technical problem of the Luna system that it can’t be controlled reliably at temperatures below minus 19 degrees [Centigrade, minus two Fahrenheit],” German MP Gernot Erler told public broadcaster Deutsche Rundfunk.

Winter temperatures in the region would often plunge far lower at the drones’ operational heights of 3,000 metres and above, Bild reported, citing a military source.

While MIT Technology Review ponders commercial drones:

Air Traffic Control for Drones

  • If large numbers of commercial drones are to take to the skies, they’ll need an air traffic control system

How do you keep small drone aircraft safe in the world’s busiest national airspace? One idea is to have them use cellphone networks to feed data back to an air traffic control system made just for drones.

A startup called Airware is working with NASA on a project exploring how to manage the swarms of commercial drones expected to start appearing in U.S. skies. The four-year program will create a series of prototype air traffic management systems and could shape how widely commercial drones can be used. Airware’s main business is selling control software and hardware to drone manufacturers and operators.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has yet to propose rules to govern the use of commercial robotic aircraft in U.S. skies. But it predicts that 7,500 unmanned craft weighing 55 pounds (25 kilograms) or less will be operating in the U.S. by 2018.

Whilst droning on, consider this from Deutsche Welle:

Dancing Drones

Program notes:

Scientists at the Technical University of Zurich have been working with Cirque du Soleil to choreograph ten lampshades fitted with small drones in an aerial dance. The result: a hit video on Youtube.

Back to the serious side with another scoop from the Assange set, via the Guardian:

WikiLeaks’ free trade documents reveal ‘drastic’ Australian concessions

  • Secret negotiations over the Trans Pacific Partnership have been apparently revealed, and experts are concerned about what they show

Secret negotiations over the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement have apparently been breached by another leak of material which shows Australian consumers could pay more for cancer medicines and face criminal penalties for non-commercial copyright breaches.

The publication on WikiLeaks of the intellectual property (IP) chapter comes on the eve of the latest round of negotiations in Australia between the 12 member countries, Australia, the US, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Canada, Mexico, Vietnam, Peru, Chile, Brunei and New Zealand.

The agreement has the capacity to affect Australian domestic law in many areas, but the secrecy of negotiations means citizens of member countries do not have full access to the Australian government’s preferred outcomes.

Two of the more contentious areas in the IP area relate to copyright and pharmaceuticals.

After the jump, the latest hacking innovation, Microsoft snares ten million spams a minutes, from tracking terrorists to cops and robbers, an L.A.P.D. meltdown, and a pot-robbin’ federal marshal, allegations of massive police corruption in Old Blighty, the latest on those missing Mexican college students disappeared after a police massacre, the missing mayor implicated in the crime sacked, a mysterious banner names names, the latest student protest, and the dirty war waged on the same ground decades earlier, off to India and a terrorism crackdown coming as an olive branch extends to China, a  Sino/Vietnamese rapprochement, on to Hong Kong and a crackdown intensified, a Chinese cartoonist seeks Japanese refuge,  a strong hint that Socialist Realism is heading for a mainland comeback, and a protest from China aimed at Tokyo, plus a Washington denial of Tokyo’s claims of an early withdrawal from an Okinawa base, and a truly terrifying security threat in France. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Ills, seas, animals, & nukes


First up the latest on an ongoing tragedy from CCTV America:

Number of polio cases in Pakistan highest in 14 years

Program notes:

This month Pakistan broke a 14-year record for the highest number of polio cases in a year. Militants continue to block vaccination efforts. CCTV America’s Danial Khan reports.

And an Asia outbreak continues to grow, via Want China Times:

Record-high number of dengue fever cases expected in Taiwan this year

Over the next few days, the accumulated number of dengue fever cases reported in Taiwan could surpass the previous high of 5,336 such cases recorded in 2002, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said Thursday.

With a rate of 900 new cases per week since the beginning of October, it is only a matter of time before Taiwan sees the worst dengue fever outbreak in its history, CDC Deputy Director Chou Jih-haw said.

According to the CDC, there have been 4,750 indigenous dengue fever cases as of Oct. 13, 47 of which were the more severe hemorrhagic dengue fever, Chou said.

From BBC News, a South Seas climate protest:

South Pacific climate activists blockade Australia port

Hundreds of climate change protestors have attempted to disrupt shipments of coal from a port north of Sydney using their canoes, kayaks and surfboards to form a blockade.

The group included people from countries in the South Pacific who said they wanted to highlight the effects of climate change on their nations. They said the burning of coal mined in Australia was causing sea levels to rise which will impact low-lying Pacific islands.

About 30 Pacific Climate Warriors, as they call themselves, took to the water in traditional canoes. They had come from countries including Fiji, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Tokelau.

From the Guardian, they’re doing it on porpoise:

UK is breaking EU’s conservation laws on porpoises

  • European commission could take Britain to court within two months for failure to protect harbour porpoises

Britain is facing a referral to the European Court of Justice within two months unless it designates more protection sites for harbour porpoises, a threatened species in the North Sea.

Harbour porpoises are the most common, and smallest, cetacean species found in UK waters. Similar in appearance to bottlenose dolphins, they are very social animals, rotund in shape with a small dorsal fin that shows above the waves.

Although they are still relatively abundant, their numbers are thought to be falling fast under pressure from human activities such as fisheries bycatch, starvation, underwater noise and injuries from boats.

Salon casts doubt on a serial killer:

EPA: Bee-killing pesticides used on soy crops don’t even do what they’re supposed to

  • A federal study finds “negligible benefits” to the widespread use of neonicotinoid seed coatings

The EPA has yet to do much about neonicotinoids, the class of pesticides implicated in the United States’ mass bee die-offs, but it has started looking into them. And the results of an extensive review into one such pesticides, commonly applied to soybean seeds, presents another compelling reason to ban them: using them, the agency found, isn’t any better than using no pesticides at all.

“These seed treatments provide negligible overall benefits to soybean production in most situations,” the report concludes; at most, they up revenue by $6, or less than 2 percent, per acre, but the more likely estimate is $0. Part of the problem is that the insecticides are only effective within the first few weeks of planting, while the insects they’re intended to combat aren’t typically active during that time. And if attacks do occur, the study the study identified a whole assortment of other, non-bee-killing alternatives that are both effective and comparable in cost.

Colony collapse disorder, on the other hand, has cost the U.S. an estimated $2 billion in lost hives and, as a result, some $30 billion in crops.

From the Guardian, good on ‘em:

China tests outright logging ban in state forests

  • China has halted commercial logging by state firms in forests in Heilongjiang, a move experts see as a significant step to curb over-exploitation of timber, reports chinadialogue

China has launched a trial ban on commercial logging in state-owned forests in the vast north-eastern province of Heilongjiang bordering Russia, home to much of the country’s timber industry. Forestry experts have hailed the ban as a major step forward, predicting it will enable timber supplies to recover and shift the industry’s focus towards improved forestry management.

To make the ban stick, the central government has allocated 2.35bn yuan a year to cover forestry workers’ living costs between 2014 and 2020, chinadialogue has learned from the State Forestry Administration (SFA). If the trial ban is successful, the policy may be extended throughout north east China and Inner Mongolia.

Sheng Weitong, a forestry expert and former advisor to China’s cabinet-level state council, told chinadialogue that some laid-off loggers “will become forest rangers and learn how to manage forests because the vast numbers of young and semi-mature trees in these districts need management. Workers here neglected forest management in the past.”

And off to Fuksuhimapocalypse Now!, first with NHK WORLD:

Survey: More Fukushima evacuees give up returning

A survey shows more evacuees from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident have given up returning home. The Reconstruction Agency and local municipalities released on Friday the results of the annual survey conducted in August.

Almost half of respondents from 2 towns designated as an evacuation zone said they decided they will not go back. The percentage of people who gave this answer is up 11 points from last year in the town of Namie and up 3 points in Tomioka town.

Officials say some of the people who were undecided in last year’s survey have made up their mind.

A delay from the Asahi Shimbun:

ANALYSIS: TEPCO behind schedule to eliminate contaminated water despite extra measures

Thanks to the newly set up ALPS units and the improved model to be introduced, it is estimated that the radioactive water processing ability of the plant will rise from the current maximum of 750 tons per day to 1,960 tons, according to TEPCO.

But many problems have been reported with ALPS since it first became operational, repeatedly forcing the plant operator to halt its operations. The utilization rate for the system between January and August was just 35 to 61 percent.

Although TEPCO replaced some components of ALPS with improved parts, problems occurred with some replaced components in late September, forcing the utility to suspend operations of some units of the system.

Whereas TEPCO has set a goal of completing the purification of all highly radioactive water stored on site, it would still be difficult to achieve that goal even if TEPCO could operate all the processing systems day and night.

A state broadcaster rebels, via Public Radio International’s The World:

Japan’s timid coverage of Fukushima led this news anchor to revolt — and he’s not alone

It’s been three-and-a-half years since 83-year-old Kamematsu left his home, with its rice patties, vegetable fields and 10 cows, fleeing the disaster at the nearby Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor. He still can’t go back.

When will it be ready for people again? No one seems to know — or be interested in telling him. “I can’t take my land with me,” he says, “so I don’t know what to do. I can’t see ahead.”

Kamematsu is one of about 80,000 people in Japan still officially displaced by the nuclear crisis. Questions remain about radiation levels, the clean-up process and when residents can return home. Yasuhiko Tajima, a professor of media studies at Tokyo’s Sophia University, says many Japanese are frustrated by what they see as a lack of information.

Japanese journalists did what Tajima calls “announcement journalism” in reporting on the crisis. He says they were reporting the press releases of big companies and the people in power. And he’s not the only one who thinks so.

“I am a newscaster, but I couldn’t tell the true story on my news program,” says Jun Hori, a former anchor for NHK, the Japanese state broadcaster.

Hori says the network restricted what he and other journalists could say about Fukushima and moved more slowly than foreign media to report on the disaster and how far radiation was spreading. The attitude in the newsroom was not to question official information

Another reactor stress from the Japan Times:

Utilities pressed to make quick decision on scrapping aged reactors

The government called on Friday for utilities to swiftly decide whether to scrap aging reactors that would be particularly vulnerable in the event of a natural disaster.

The pro-nuclear government, which is seeking to reactivate the nation’s idled reactors as soon as possible despite a glut of solar and other renewable energy that is being boycotted by the utilities, is pushing the them to decide quickly in the hope that shutting old facilities will help mitigate public concern so restarts can proceed.

Under new, tighter safety standards adopted because of the 2011 core meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, utilities are not allowed to operate reactors for longer than 40 years, in principle.

And here’s one to give you nightmares, from JapanToday:

Expert says 2 Sendai reactors in danger from active volcano

A prominent volcanologist disputed Japanese regulators’ conclusion that two nuclear reactors were safe from a volcanic eruption in the next few decades, saying Friday that such a prediction was impossible.

A cauldron eruption at one of several volcanos surrounding the Sendai nuclear power plant in southern Japan could not only hit the reactors but could cause a nationwide disaster, said Toshitsugu Fujii, University of Tokyo professor emeritus who heads a government-commissioned panel on volcanic eruption prediction.

Nuclear regulators last month said two Sendai reactors fulfilled tougher safety requirements set after the 2011 Fukushima disaster. The regulators ruled out a major eruption over the next 30 years until the reactors’ reach the end of their usable lifespan.

More from Reuters:

Japan’s volcanoes made more jittery by 2011 quake, expert says

Japan’s massive 2011 earthquake may trigger more, and larger, volcanic eruptions over the next few decades, perhaps even that of Mount Fuji – but predicting them remains close to impossible, a volcano expert said on Friday.

The nation last month suffered its worst volcanic disaster in nearly 90 years when Mount Ontake, its second tallest active volcano at 3,067 meters (10,062 feet), suddenly erupted, raining down ash and stone on hikers crowding the summit.

The eruption killed 56 people, exceeding the deaths in the 1980 eruption of Mount St Helens in the United States. Seven victims remain missing, and recovery efforts have been suspended until the spring.

Japan may well be moving into a period of increased volcanic activity touched off by the 9.0 magnitude earthquake of March 11, 2011, said Toshitsugu Fujii, a volcanologist and professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo.

“The 2011 quake convulsed all of underground Japan quite sharply, and due to that influence Japan’s volcanoes may also become much more active,” Fujii told reporters.

And we close with another nightmare from NHK WORLD:

Shimomura criticizes Monju operator

Science minister Hakubun Shimomura has criticized the operator of the Monju fast-breeder prototype reactor for its failure to properly maintain equipment. It recently came to light that a number of monitoring cameras at the reactor are not working.

Shimomura told reporters on Friday that it is very regrettable that the operator, the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, lacks a sense of responsibility. More than 50 cameras, or about one-third of those monitoring coolant pipes, were found to be broken when Monju was inspected in September.

Shimomura said reassuring the public about Monju’s safety is the minimum requirement for restarting the experimental reactor. He said the prototype reactor may be stopped forever if the operator’s poor management continues.