Category Archives: Governance

Selective prosecution favors the banksters


And the man laying out the case in conversation with Sharmini Peries of The Real News Network is a lawyer and former Federal Home Loan Bank Board litigation director William K. Black, who teaches both law and economics at the University of Missouri, Kansas City.

From The Real News Network:

FBI Targets Minority Communities in Mortgage Fraud Investigations

From the transcript:

PERIES: And now getting back to why the FBI targeted the Russians and the Armenians.

BLACK: Well, there’s no reason. It’s purely insane. So if anything, of course, Russian Americans and Armenian Americans and gangs, biker gangs and such, are particularly unlikely to be the senior officers of a bank and such, who are the folks committing these kinds of frauds.

So it’s a double-wackiness out of the FBI and the Justice Department. First, they’re not prosecuting the lenders at all. And that includes both the institutions that made the fraudulent loans and the officers, who, of course, controlled it and became wealthy through it. And second, they’re saying, don’t look at the senior people that are leading these massive fraud epidemics; look at those little disfavored folks. And, of course, they can only list certain minorities for this to work. Just as a thought exercise, think if they put the word Jew into that list. Right? The list would last less than 24 hours because people would go berserk. But Russians aren’t terribly popular: Armenians, first, there are not many of them; second, they’re not all that popular: etc., so they can get away with this kind of just really crude ethnic profiling.

Anyway, we’ve called the Justice Department on it now. It’s utterly indefensible. The practice of ignoring the elite bankers is indefensible. The practice about prosecuting primarily disfavored minorities–which include American blacks, by the way–is outrageous. And Holder is the guy that claims that he’s the big person against profiling on the basis of ethnicity and race and such. So let him prove it.

PERIES: And have you brought this to the attention of the DOJ? And are they responding to it?

BLACK: Well, we’ve written it and we went right to the belly of the beast in the Eastern District of California, where the U.S. attorney, Mr. Wagner, is the most senior prosecutor on the nationwide mortgage fraud task force. You know, his reaction to losing the cases: we won’t be deterred in bringing mortgage fraud cases. We’re not trying to deter him from bringing mortgage fraud cases; we’re trying to get him to bring the mortgage fraud cases against the elite banksters who caused the crisis and led these fraud epidemics, and stop this obscene, bigoted mythology that it’s a bunch of Russian immigrants or Armenian immigrants or some weird biker gang, you know, like this is Sons of Anarchy somehow made real. This is all fictional nonsense, and it’s crude bigotry, and Holder should stop it tomorrow.

EbolaWatch: Religion, promises, measures, death


We open with a rather chilling video, shot on the streets of Liberia’s capital, in which Christian fundamentalists conduct a very risky [note the touching] faith-healing prayer session around a prone Ebola patient.

From RadioAfrica:

LIBERIA:(RELIGION AND THE FIGHT AGAINST EBOLA)

Program notes:

Group of Liberians Evangelist prays over a suspected Ebola patient. All facing the possibility of contracting the deadly virus.

On to the hard news, first with the Associated Press:

UN Security Council to meet on Ebola

The United States called an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council Thursday on the Ebola crisis in West Africa, saying the situation on the ground is “dire” and getting worse every day.

U.S. U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power said the United States has asked the 193 U.N. member states to come to the meeting with “concrete commitments” to tackle the outbreak, especially in hardest-hit Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

“The trendlines in this crisis are grave, and without immediate international action we are facing the potential for a public health crisis that could claim lives on a scale far greater than current estimates, and set the countries of West Africa back a generation,” Power told reporters on Monday. “This is a perilous crisis but one we can contain if the international community comes together to meet it head on.”

Word from Washington leaked, via Reuters:

Obama to detail plans on Ebola offensive on Tuesday: WSJ

U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to detail on Tuesday a plan to boost his country’s involvement in mitigating the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday.

The plan would involve a greater involvement of the U.S. military in tackling the worst recorded outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, the Journal reported, citing people familiar with the proposal.

The U.S. government has already committed around $100 million to tackle the outbreak by providing protective equipment for healthcare workers, food, water, medical and hygiene equipment.

Obama could ask Congress for an additional $88 million to fund his proposal, the WSJ reported. Plan details are expected during Obama’s visit Tuesday to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

More from Science:

U.S. government set to announce surge of help for Ebola epidemic

A week after sharp criticism met the U.S. military’s announcement that it planned to help Liberia combat its Ebola epidemic with a “deployable hospital” that has a mere 25 beds, U.S. President Barack tomorrow plans to unveil dramatic new efforts to assist the West African countries besieged by the disease.

Obama, who will be visiting the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta to discuss the U.S. response, likely will announce plans to send more deployable hospitals, critical medical supplies like personal protective gear, and doctors and other healthcare workers who can care for infected people and help contain spread. (A  U.S. Senate hearing on Ebola will also take place tomorrow with testimony from key public officials and Ebola survivor Ken Brantly.)

Nicole Lurie, assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), spoke with ScienceInsider on Friday and said she expected there would be “a substantial surge” in the U.S. government’s assistance. She particularly wants to see more attention paid to providing infected people with good care. “There’s a very, very wide variability in what’s being delivered as clinical care,” says Lurie, noting that case fatality rates differ dramatically  in different locations. “We know that simple interventions are likely to save the most lives.”

From the Associated Press, a question:

US works to step up Ebola aid, but is it enough?

The American strategy on Ebola is two-pronged: Step up desperately needed aid to West Africa and, in an unusual step, train U.S. doctors and nurses for volunteer duty in the outbreak zone. At home, the goal is to speed up medical research and put hospitals on alert should an infected traveler arrive.

Amid criticism that the world still is not acting fast enough against the surging Ebola epidemic, President Barack Obama travels Tuesday to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to discuss the outbreak with health officials who’ve been there.

Also Tuesday, a Senate hearing will examine the U.S. response. An American missionary doctor who survived the disease is scheduled to testify.

The administration hasn’t said how big a role the military ultimately will play — and it’s not clear how quickly additional promised help will arrive in West Africa.

Trooping in, via the Monrovia [Liberia] Inquirer:

U.S. Military To Build 25-Bedroom Ebola Hospital

It has been disclosed in Monrovia that the United States (US) Military will build a 25-bedoom hospital in the country to buttress efforts aimed at fighting the Ebola virus.     United State Ambassador accredited near Monrovia, Madam Debra Malac, said discussions are ongoing as where the hospital should be built but was certain that it would be constructed in Montserrado County.

Ambassador Malac addressing the weekly Press Briefing at the Ministry of Information said the unprecedented outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in West Africa is an International Security priority for the U.S. Government and as such they will continue to be engaged in the region to eradicate the disease.

The U.S. Envoy said, “This is the worst outbreak of this virus in 40 years since it was first discovered. We defeated it and this time we will defeat it again. We will stop Ebola and it will take more work.”

Here’s a video report on her press conference from FrontPageAfrica:

FPA WEB TV: Uncle Sam’s Ebola AID

Program note:

U.S. Ambassador to Liberia Debora Malac outlines how much financial assistance in kind and in dollars the U.S. has contributed to the West Africa Ebola Outbreak.

From the Monrovia Inquirer, another hospital inaugurated:

Save The Children Constructs Central Region 1st Ebola Treatment Unit

Save the Children has turned over a 50-bed Ebola Treatment facility in Suakoko, Bong County worth about US$170,000 intended to serve the central region as part of its contribution to the national fight against the spread of the virus in other parts of the country.

The construction of the ETU which is a project solely undertaken by Save the Children according to its acting Country Director, Mercy Gichuhi who turned over the unit, was as a result of a request made to them from the local health team of Bong County.

Madam Gichihi said Save the Children believes that the construction of the health facility will go a long way in responding to the health need in that region and that Phebe Hospital focuses more on primary health care and at the same time give confidence to the health workers who will know that they have a place to refer confirmed Ebola patients.

Al Jazeera English covers critical context:

Nigeria’s weak health sector confronts Ebola

Spread of Ebola contained, but health system is having trouble dealing with treatable diseases which kill thousands.

Africa’s biggest oil producer and largest economy has one of the world’s highest child and maternal mortality rates. In 2012, an estimated 827,000 children under five died, while the reported maternal mortality rate was 550 per 100,000 live births, according to UNICEF.

Most of Nigeria’s childhood deaths are due to preventable or curable diseases: mainly malaria, pneumonia, and diarrhoea. Primary healthcare, run by local governments – Nigeria’s smallest unit of government – is tasked with handling these common illnesses.

The level of care in each centre varies, but generally, primary facilities do not have enough health workers, supplies, equipment, training, or transport – including ambulances to take patients to state or federal hospitals, says Michael Asuzu, a public health and epidemiology professor at the University of Ibadan.

From BBC News, a Brit on the scene:

Ebola virus: ‘Biological war’ in Liberia

With warnings from officials that the Ebola virus is “spreading like wildfire” in Liberia, Sarah Crowe, who works for the UN children’s agency (Unicef), describes her week on the Ebola front line:

Flights into disaster zones are usually full of aid workers and journalists. Not this time.

The plane was one of the first in after some 10 airlines stopped flying to Liberia because of Ebola, and still it was empty.

When I was last in Liberia in 2006, it was to work on reintegration of child soldiers in a time of peace. Now the country is fighting a “biological war” from an unseen enemy without foot soldiers.

As we enter the airport, an unnerving sight – a team of health workers kitted out with masks and gloves asks us to wash our hands with a chlorine solution and takes our temperatures.

A parallel set of American eyes from the Washington Post:

A virus hunter faces the big one: Ebola

Joseph Fair hunts viruses. That’s his thing. The 37-year-old American loves chasing dangerous pathogens, studying them in secure labs or searching for them in jungles where the microbes lurk.

And one virus has always loomed as the big one — Ebola. The scientists who first chased this dreaded microbe back in the ‘80s and ‘90s became legends, inspiring a generation of virologists like Fair. He read their books and papers. He studied how they contained the pathogen’s spread. And the scientists always won. The outbreaks ended, Ebola driven away.

So when the call came in March to travel to Sierra Leone, Fair was excited. He loved Mama Salone, as locals know the nation. He’d worked here for years. His new job: to advise Sierra Leone’s government on a tiny Ebola outbreak in neighboring Guinea, at the behest of the U.S. Defense Department. He set up an Ebola emergency operations center. He trained medical staff. He drew up just-in-case plans. By mid-May, the outbreak seemed on its way out. Fair packed his bags and left.

Then Ebola exploded.

From FrontPageAfrica, high-level visitors take a pre-opening hospital tour:

FPA WEB TV: ‘Liberia Will Beat Ebola’

Program notes:

World Health Organization (WHO) team tours the soon-to-be completed 120-Bed Ebola Clinic at the Island Clinic in Monrovia. WHO and its partners have supported construction of this new centre, which will be able to provide treatment for 120 patients at a time. Additional centers for about 400 more patients will be completed in the coming weeks.

BBC News covers a donation:

Ebola outbreak: Malaysia sends W Africa medical gloves

Malaysia plans to donate more than 20 million protective rubber gloves to five African countries affected by the Ebola outbreak, the government says.

They will be distributed among medical workers in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

A shortage of protective equipment has been one factor in the virus spreading.

Joseph Harker asks a question we’ve also entertained, via the Guardian:

Why are western health workers with Ebola flown out, but locals left to die?

  • The death of Dr Olivet Buck after the WHO refused to fly her out of Sierra Leone is not just wrong: it’s making the Ebola epidemic worse

My brother-in-law, Albert, is a GP based in the West Midlands. His sister Olivet Buck was a doctor too: though her work was quite different. She practised in the land of their birth, Sierra Leone. For the past few months she was fighting in the desperate battle against Ebola ravaging parts of her country. Last Tuesday came the awful news that she’d caught the virus.

To save her life, local campaigners called for her to be evacuated to Germany to receive treatment – all three previous doctors who had caught the disease in the country had died. Sierra Leone’s president backed her, saying that a hospital in Hamburg was “in readiness to receive her”. Last Friday, though, the World Health Organisation said it would not allow her to leave Sierra Leone, and refused to fund the move. Desperate attempts were made to try to overturn this decision but on Sunday came the news everyone was dreading: Olivet had died.

Albert, distraught, told me: “I shall never stop weeping at all our loss. Olivet was a truly remarkable person. She died because she would not forsake her service to others.”

But the death of Olivet, a 59-year-old mother of three, raises wider questions about how the world responds to the Ebola crisis, and how it protects those working closest to stop its spread.

Despite the fate of the previous doctors, the WHO had said merely that it would work to give Buck “the best care possible” in Sierra Leone.

However, foreign health and aid workers have been sent abroad from Sierra Leone and Liberia for treatment – including the British nurse William Pooley, who survived and now wishes to go back to Sierra Leone to continue helping to fight the disease. Only last Friday, two Dutch doctors were flown home after coming into contact with infected patients.

But so far no local health workers have been evacuated: even though, according to the WHO, in west Africa 301 have so far caught Ebola and 144 have died. Dr Sheik Humarr Khan, Sierra Leone’s top Ebola doctor, was being considered for evacuation to a European country when he died of the disease in late July.

More from the Associated Press:

Sierra Leone: WHO too slow to help doc with Ebola

Sierra Leone accused the World Health Organization on Monday of being “sluggish” in facilitating an evacuation of a doctor who died from Ebola before she could be sent out of the country for medical care.

Dr. Olivet Buck died Saturday, hours after the U.N. health agency said it could not help evacuate her to Germany.

Buck is the fourth Sierra Leonean doctor to die in an outbreak that has also touched Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Senegal. The West African outbreak has been blamed for more than 2,400 deaths, and experts say it is out of control. The U.S. has called an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council for this week to discuss the crisis.

At a heated news conference Monday, a Sierra Leonean government official read a statement saying that the Buck is the second doctor from that country to die because negotiations on evacuation had dragged on. Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan, the country’s top Ebola expert, was being considered for evacuation when he died of the disease in July.

From the Kampala, Uganda, Daily Monitor, a warning:

Tanzania at high risk of Ebola outbreak

Last week, the Tanzanian government assured the public of its unwavering commitment to keeping Ebola out after standard thermal scanners to detect Ebola suspects were installed at four major airports-Julius Nyerere International Airport in Dar-es-Salaam, Kilimanjaro International Airport, Zanzibar and Mwanza.

At the weekend, Health ministry authorities were hard at work allaying fears of an outbreak in Tanzania. But a new study titled “Mapping the zoonotic niche of Ebola virus disease in Africa” has raised the alarm in Tanzania and other countries across Africa where Ebola has never been reported.

It suggests that governments in those countries should start thinking of new ways to deal with the Ebola threat beyond targeting major airports and seaports. The researchers, who published the findings in eLife Journal this week, believe the Ebola virus is thriving in wild animals, which are its major reservoir. Tanzania, Burundi and 13 other African countries where no case of Ebola has been reported so far are home to wild animals.

Public Radio International makes that critical point:

This American doctor says racism is to blame for the slow response to the Ebola outbreak

Why has the global response to the Ebola outbreak been so slow? “I think it’s racism,” says Dr. Joia Mukherjee.

“I think it’s easy for the world — the powerful world, who are largely non-African, non-people of color — to ignore the suffering of poor, black people,” says Mukherjee, a professor at Harvard Medical School and chief medical officer at the Boston-based non-profit Partners in Health.

Race isn’t the only reason she believes it’s easy to dismiss the issues. “I think it’s also classism,” she says. “These are not countries that contribute massively to the global economy, so it’s easy to just otherize this problem.”

In that context, consider this from a country where a disproportionately large percentage of those in need of assistance are African American, via Salon:

Arizona GOPer quits after disgusting comment — but there’s a catch

  • Russell Pearce called for sterilizing Medicaid recipients. It’s gross, but here’s why the problem’s bigger than him

Pearce’s proposal was abhorrent, but it also laid bare the dehumanizing logic of Republican programs that punish the poor. If the GOP wants to distance itself from punitive and invasive policies that hurt low-income families, they should look in the mirror and start slowly backing away from their reflections.

A few things here. Pearce’s idea isn’t new. The United States has an ugly history of forced or otherwise coerced sterilization against people of color, the poor and others considered “unfit to procreate,” including rape victims and people with disabilities. Between 1907 and 1980, nearly 65,000 Americans were sterilized under state-sponsored programs. In total, 31 states had sterilization programs that directly targeted welfare recipients. North Carolina recently acted to compensate victims of its forced sterilization program, which specifically targeted black women and children. (And last year, the Center for Investigative Reporting revealed that nearly 150 women in California’s prison system were sterilized between 2006 and 2010, often without their knowledge or consent. The state legislature acted this year to end the program.)

That said, Pearce isn’t the only Republican to float the idea of coercively sterilizing welfare recipients in recent years. And his proposal is hardly the only assault on low-income families in the state. Arizona, you’ll remember, is where Shanesha Taylor was arrested after leaving her children in the car so she could attend a job interview.

From Punch Nigeria, help wanted:

ECOWAS seeks support for research

The Economic Community of West African States has appealed to its partners to support the regional initiatives aimed at strengthening epidemiological and therapeutic research as well as surveillance and improvements in health facilities in order to prevent and control the Ebola Virus Disease.

The sub-continental body called for support for the Regional Solidarity Fund to fight Ebola and welcomed the pledges made by some multilateral and bilateral partners to support some of the affected countries.

Speaking at the opening of the 10th edition of the ECOWAS/Development Partners Annual Coordination meeting at the ECOWAS Secretariat on Monday, in Abuja, President of the Commission, Mr. Kadre Ouedraogo, said the group welcomed the coordinated approach adopted to combat the viral disease through the World Health Organisation.

StarAfrica covers another donation:

China donates 80mn francs worth of Ebola prevention materials to Mali

The Malian president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita has returned from his trip to China with a CFA 80 million francs worth medical material aimed at backing his government’s efforts to prevent the Ebola virus from entering the country, the Malian presidency disclosed Sunday.

The Chinese donation includes 1,000 sprays, 1,000 protective gears, 30 medically-equipped isolation tents, 600 protective masks, 600 shoes and 1,000 thermometers.

The Malian press reported recently the complaints of the medical staff deployed in Bamako road station where passengers from Ebola-hit neighboring Guinea are hosted.

The medical staff had lamented a lack of protective means which increases the risk of contagion.

From Punch Nigeria, a reminder about a key player:

Private sector in the first line of battle

The management of the Ebola Virus Disease has cost the Federal Government N2.1bn so far. Last month, a sum of N1.9bn was released to the Federal Ministry of Health for disbursement to the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory. Lagos State, as the first epicentre of the outbreak, also got a separate N200m support from the Federal Government.

The funds, no doubt, are a drop in the ocean in providing Personal Protective Equipment discarded daily after use by health workers in isolation centres across the country; intravenous fluid and other drugs for infected people, diagnostic machines, daily payment for volunteers and other sundry expenses attached to the management of the virus.

Ahead of the September 22 resumption date for all primary and post primary schools in the country, a coalition of players in the private sector are seeking for an active participation in preventing a future outbreak of the EVD, especially in congested communities across the country.

The Guardian questions:

As Ebola closes schools in Africa, how do we help children learn?

  • As Ebola robs children of schooling, the seeds are being sown for continued problems. Vigilance and flexibility may be our best response to the virus

In response to the growing threat of Ebola across west Africa, the governments of Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea have closed their schools. The closures are only temporary, but that could change if the spread of the virus continues and accelerates.

As of 12 September, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea are facing widespread and intense transmission of Ebola (about 100 to 200 new cases per country per week). In other affected countries, the outbreak has been more localised. But in each affected areas the threat could expand rapidly, and there are credible predictions that Ebola could migrate to 15 additional countries and infect more than 20,000 people.

With that prognosis, closing schools is an understandable and prudent step to protect children and their families from exposure. The most immediate priority is to put out a raging and growing fire that threatens to affect more lives and territory.

And the Kampala, Uganda, Daily Monitor throws another handful of sand into gearbox:

Residents uproot cassava in fear of floods

Farmers in Omoro Sub-county, Alebtong District have begun uprooting their cassava, fearing it might rot in gardens. The move follows persistent rains that have caused flooding in the area.

Farmers who spoke to Daily Monitor said uprooting the cassava might save them from totally losing out as other crops have been washed away by floods.

As a measure, residents are drying their crops on roof tops and others have constructed high raise houses where they can temporarily sleep as they wait for floods to reduce.

And from StarAfrica, our final item and another critical bit of context:

Namibia ropes in Ethiopian pharmacists to address shortage

Currently, Namibia has 55 pharmacists working in the public health sector, of which ten are Namibians while the rest are expatriates.

With the population of just over two million, the country needs at least 1000 pharmacists, as in accordance with the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended ration.

In 2012, the University of Namibia established a School of Pharmacy, an edition to the Medical School, which the Health Minister said are part of the country’s long-term effort to address the shortage of qualified health personnel.

UC Berkeley: Cashing in on the poorest paid


That would be journalists, folks who draw ever-declining wages.

First up, this screen cap from Romenesko:

BLOG Cal

Next, the headline from a reaction piece at Poynter MediaWire:

‘I believe I would major in English’: journalists decry Berkeley’s proposed 10k fee

Why that response? Consider this from Uncle Sam’s Bureau of Labor Statistics:

BLOG Journalism

Chart of the day: Koch brothers ascendant


Yep, a near-majority of Americans has abandoned all reason and swallowed the Koch brothers’ propaganda hook, line, and sinker, and now believe that the American corporation is just a poor victim rather than the engine of destruction that it has become in the era of globalization.

From Gallup:

BLOG Regs

Ebola crisis, deaths vastly underestimated


Finally, a journalist gets it right.

We’ve been focused intensely on the Ebola crisis for two reasons: The sad relative neglect given the crisis by mainstream medium in the U.S. and Europe [except, that is, when a Westerner/Northerner gets sick or when there's a false alarm] and because it is our conviction that the current Ebola is the biggest news story of the year.

Yes, what’s happened in the Mideast is atrocious, but the flaws in the global health system and the instinctive ethnocentrism exhibited by the industrialized nations revealed by the crisis are a harbinger of things to come. And the wide-scale spread of the outbreak and the resulting horrendous human tragedy demand far more than our own sadly diminished news media have thus far been able to give.

Thus, it’s left to alternative media such as Democracy Now! to give the crisis the attention it merits, as in this interview with Pulitzer-winning public health journalist Laurie Garrett.

From Democracy Now!:

Underestimated and Ignored, Growing Ebola Epidemic Requires Unprecedented Global Mobilization

Program notes:

The World Health Organization is warning that the number of new Ebola cases in West Africa is growing faster than relief workers can manage. The organization says that thousands are at risk of contracting the virus in the coming weeks and more medical professionals are urgently needed to help contain the outbreak. So far, Ebola has claimed some 2,400 lives and continues to ravage Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. It is the worst outbreak since the virus was discovered in 1976. Meanwhile, Sierra Leone has lost a fourth doctor to Ebola after efforts to transfer her abroad for treatment failed. The loss is a major setback for the impoverished country, which is already suffering from a shortage of healthcare workers. Since the Ebola outbreak began, approximately 144 healthcare professionals have died while serving affected populations. We speak to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Laurie Garrett, senior fellow for Global Health at the Council on Foreign Relations.

InSecurityWatch: Wars, spies, hacks, threats


While environmental news was in short supply today, not so stories from the realms of the bellicose, the intrusive, and the criminal.

First up, from the Los Angeles Times, that way madness lies:

Cameron vows to destroy Islamic State ‘and what it stands for’

British Prime Minister David Cameron on Sunday praised slain British aid worker David Haines as a hero and pledged to continue working as part of an international coalition to “hunt down those responsible and bring them to justice no matter how long it takes.”

The militant group Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, released a video Saturday purporting to show his beheading. Britain’s Foreign Office said the video appeared to be authentic.

“Step by step we must drive back, dismantle and ultimately destroy ISIL and what it stands for,” Cameron said. “They are not Muslims, they are monsters.”

From BBC News, boots on the way to meet ground:

Islamic State crisis: Australia to send 600 troops to UAE

Australia says it is sending 600 troops to the Middle East ahead of possible combat operations against Islamic State (IS) militants in Iraq.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the deployment, initially to the United Arab Emirates, was in response to a specific US request.

Nearly 40 countries, including 10 Arab states, have signed up to a US-led plan to tackle the extremist group. France is hosting a regional security summit on Monday.

From the New York Times, piling on:

Arab Nations Offer to Conduct Airstrikes Against ISIS, U.S. Officials Say

Several Arab countries have offered to carry out airstrikes against militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, senior State Department officials said on Sunday.

The offer was disclosed by American officials traveling with Secretary of State John Kerry, who is approaching the end of a weeklong trip that was intended to mobilize international support for the campaign against the group, also known as ISIS.

“There have been offers both to Centcom and to the Iraqis of Arab countries taking more aggressive kinetic action,” said one of the officials, who used the acronym for the United States Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East.

The Associated Press covers the revenue front:

Oil smuggling, theft, extortion: How ISIS earns $3M a day

Islamic State militants, who once relied on wealthy Persian Gulf donors for money, have become a self-sustaining financial juggernaut, earning more than $3 million a day from oil smuggling, human trafficking, theft and extortion, according to U.S. intelligence officials and private experts.

The extremist group’s resources exceed that “of any other terrorist group in history,” said a U.S. intelligence official who, like others interviewed, spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss classified assessments. Such riches are one reason that American officials are so concerned about the group even while acknowledging they have no evidence it is plotting attacks against the United States.

The Islamic State group has taken over large sections of Syria and Iraq, and controls as many as 11 oil fields in both countries, analysts say. It is selling oil and other goods through generations-old smuggling networks under the noses of some of the same governments it is fighting: Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq, Turkey and Jordan.

From BuzzFeed, the hyperbolic:

Arizona Congressman Claims It’s “True That We Know That” ISIS Is On The U.S. Border

“It is true that we know that ISIS is present in Ciudad Juarez or they were within the last few weeks.” It appears he’s citing a report that federal authorities have dismissed.

A Republican Arizona congressman says ISIS currently is or has operated on the U.S. border in the past couple weeks, appearing to cite a report that federal authorities have dismissed.

Rep. Trent Franks, appearing on E.W. Jackson’s radio program over the weekend, appeared to cite a report from a conservative website that has been dismissed by federal law enforcement officials about ISIS operating in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on the border with El Paso.

“It is true, that we know that ISIS is present in Ciudad Juarez or they were within the last few weeks,” Franks said. “So there’s no question that they have designs on trying to come into Arizona. The comment that I’ve made is that if unaccompanied minors can cross the border then certainly trained terrorists probably can to. It is something that is real.”

BBC News eavesdrops:

US and UK spy agencies ‘have access to German telecoms’

US and British intelligence services are able to secretly access information from German telecoms operators, according to a German newspaper report.

A programme called Treasure Map gives the NSA and its UK counterpart, GCHQ, data from operators including Deutsche Telekom, Der Spiegel said. The data is said to include information from networks as well as from individual computers and smart-phones.

Der Spiegel cites documents provided by US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden.

And from Der Spiegel itself:

Treasure Map: The NSA Breach of Telekom and Other German Firms

According to top-secret documents from the NSA and the British agency GCHQ, the intelligence agencies are seeking to map the entire Internet, including end-user devices. In pursuing that goal, they have broken into networks belonging to Deutsche Telekom.

When it comes to choosing code names for their secret operations, American and British agents demonstrate a flare for creativity. Sometimes they borrow from Mother Nature, with monikers such as “Evil Olive” and “Egoistic Giraffe.” Other times, they would seem to take their guidance from Hollywood. A program called Treasure Map even has its own logo, a skull superimposed onto a compass, the eye holes glowing in demonic red, reminiscent of a movie poster for the popular “Pirates of the Caribbean” series, starring Johnny Depp.

Treasure Map is anything but harmless entertainment. Rather, it is the mandate for a massive raid on the digital world. It aims to map the Internet, and not just the large traffic channels, such as telecommunications cables. It also seeks to identify the devices across which our data flows, so-called routers.

Furthermore, every single end device that is connected to the Internet somewhere in the world — every smartphone, tablet and computer — is to be made visible. Such a map doesn’t just reveal one treasure. There are millions of them.

From Spiegel via Cryptome [PDF], the cover of the Treasure Map PowerPoint:

BLOG Treasure

And Deutsche Welle has more:

While NSA ‘maps’ the Internet landscape, German tech companies want Cloud cover

Microsoft Germany wants Cloud services to be regulated at home in a bid to protect data from foreign espionage. The announcement coincides with a new report pointing to NSA activities targeting German telecommunications.

In the latest efforts toward warding off foreign hackers, the head of Microsoft Germany is planning to develop Cloud technology that would be offered only within Germany.

Microsoft’s current computing centers in the Netherlands and Ireland are becoming more popular with the company’s biggest clients, Microsoft Germany head Christian Illek told the German daily Tagesspiegel on Sunday.

“But this is obviously not enough for medium-sized German companies,” Illek said.

And from the Intercept, still more:

Map of the Stars

  • The NSA and GCHQ Campaign Against German Satellite Companies

“Fuck!” That is the word that comes to the mind of Christian Steffen, the CEO of German satellite communications company Stellar PCS. He is looking at classified documents laying out the scope of something called Treasure Map, a top secret NSA program. Steffen’s firm provides internet access to remote portions of the globe via satellite, and what he is looking at tells him that the company, and some of its customers, have been penetrated by the U.S. National Security Agency and British spy agency GCHQ.

Stellar’s visibly shaken chief engineer, reviewing the same documents, shares his boss’ reaction. “The intelligence services could use this data to shut down the internet in entire African countries that are provided access via our satellite connections,” he says.

Treasure Map is a vast NSA campaign to map the global internet. The program doesn’t just seek to chart data flows in large traffic channels, such as telecommunications cables. Rather, it seeks to identify and locate every single device that is connected to the internet somewhere in the world—every smartphone, tablet, and computer—”anywhere, all the time,” according to NSA documents. Its internal logo depicts a skull superimposed onto a compass, the eyeholes glowing demonic red.

From the Guardian, another country, semantics elevated:

New Zealand PM deceiving public over spying claims, says Glenn Greenwald

  • Journalist says he will produce documents by Edward Snowden that prove John Key approved mass surveillance of citizens

An already tumultuous New Zealand election campaign took another dramatic turn less than a week before polling day when the prime minister, John Key, responded angrily to claims by the American journalist Glenn Greenwald that he had been “deceiving the public” over assurances on spying.

Greenwald, who is visiting New Zealand at the invitation of the German internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom, says he will produce documents provided by the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden that prove the New Zealand government approved mass surveillance of its residents by the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), New Zealand’s equivalent of the NSA.

Dotcom, who is sought for extradition from New Zealand by the US on copyright charges relating to his now defunct Megaupload file-storage site, is hosting an event in Auckland on Monday called The Moment of Truth, which doubles as a rally for the Dotcom-founded Internet party.

From the Independent, the latest police flap:

Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained in Los Angeles after being mistaken for a prostitute

Daniele Watts, an African-American actress who has starred in Hollywood films such as Django Unchained, has claimed she was “handcuffed and detained” by Los Angeles police officers after being mistaken for a prostitute.

Two police officers approached Watts and her white husband Brian James Lucas when they were seen showing affection in public, the actress said in a Facebook post.

She claims she refused to produce her photo ID when asked by police, and was then handcuffed and held in a police car as the officers tried to figure out who she was. She reportedly cut her wrist as she was handled roughly by the LAPD officers.

Watts also posted pictures to Facebook, in which she is handcuffed and crying. She was released shortly afterwards.

And from RT America, how ‘bout them apples, eh?:

American police scammed Canadian visitors out of $2.5 billion

Program notes:

American police are targeting their northern neighbors, according to a travel warning from the Canadian government. State and federal law enforcement officers are reportedly shaking down Canadians visiting the US, illegally confiscating legally carried cash. Over 61,000 of these incidents have occurred since 9/11, resulting in $2.5 billion being seized, according to The Washington Post. RT’s Alexey Yaroshevsky has more details on the trend.

From the Guardian, a ghost from the past:

Italy targets former Uruguayan naval officer over role in alleged torture

  • Jorge Néstor Fernández Troccoli denies any wrongdoing after accusations relating to South American’s dirty wars

Italian prosecutors are poised to seek charges of murder and kidnapping against a former Uruguayan naval intelligence officer accused of participating in South America’s dirty wars.

Jorge Néstor Fernández Troccoli has denied any wrongdoing. But in a 24-page document, he was said to have acknowledged that, in the 1970s when Uruguay’s civil-military government was cracking down on suspected leftwing insurgents and sympathisers, torture was a “normal procedure” in his unit. He insisted, however, that it did not go beyond “keeping prisoners for several hours on their feet without eating or drinking”.

In what La Stampa reported was his only statement to investigators, he was quoted as saying: “I declare myself innocent. I do not accept the accusations.”

After the jump, on to Asia starting with penal tourism, a Chinese anniversary, Sino/Canadian rapprochement, a Game of Zones escalation, and a rejection. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Climate, water woes, power


A shorter than usual assemblage today because Sunday was, how to say, a slow news day.

We begin with the latest episode of Moyers & Company, offering a religious perspective on climate change that doesn’t come from the far right:

Climate Change — Faith and Fact

Program notes:

The latest in a string of dire reports on climate change came this week from the United Nations’ meteorological advisory body, which said that the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere reached a new record high in 2013, due to a “surge” in carbon dioxide, prompting fears of an accelerated warming of the planet.

A majority of Americans think global warming is real and that human activity’s a factor, believing in the science behind reports on climate change. But some two-thirds of white evangelical Christians aren’t convinced.

In the face of those who use religion to deny the worldwide crisis of climate change, climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe, an evangelical Christian, believes that her faith is compatible with science. This week she speaks to Bill about ending the gridlock between politics, science and faith in order to find solutions to the widespread threats associated with global warming.

“…The New Testament talks about how faith is the evidence of things not seen,” says Hayhoe, who was recently named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People. “By definition, science is the evidence of things that are seen, that can be observed, that are quantifiable. And so that’s why I see faith and science as two sides of the same coin.”

The Guardian covers California agrarian water woes:

Alarm as almond farms consume California’s water

  • Extreme drought and soaring global demand is threatening supplies of one of the world’s favourite snacks

Touted as the ultimate superfood and an essential ingredient in everything from mezze to marzipan: the humble almond has never been so popular. But with prices at a nine-year high, almonds are in the frontline of a battle over water as California struggles to cope with one of its worst-ever droughts – stoking fears of an almond shortage over Christmas.

Californian farmers, estimated to grow around 80% of the world’s almonds, have been accused of siphoning off groundwater at the expense of the state’s future water reserves.

As rivers and lakes have dried up, with more than 80% of the state in the grip of “extreme” or “exceptional” drought, the state’s farmers have resorted to pumping groundwater – underground reserves – to nourish almond trees, vineyards and orchards. David Zetland, economics professor at Leiden University College in the Netherlands, says farmers are pumping water at a rate four to five times greater than can be replenished: “The people of the state of California are more or less destroying themselves in order to give cheap almonds to the world.”

From United Press International, global water woes to come:

Fracking may put drinking water supply at risk for many countries, study finds

  • Fracking is said to use 7 billion gallons of water a year just in Wyoming, Colorado, Montana and North Dakota alone

A new study by the World Resources Institute finds that many places with water scarcity are using too much of their resources on fracking. “Eight of the top 20 countries with the largest shale gas resources face arid conditions or high to extremely high baseline water stress where the shale resources are located; this includes China, Algeria, Mexico, South Africa, Libya, Pakistan, Egypt, and India,” the study states. The United States is also at risk, according to the study, since many of the places inside the United States that are good for fracking are going through a drought or generally have low water supply.

To drill a fracking well takes 5 million gallons of water, on average. States like Texas have a strong fracking industry, but lack of water supplies has forced frackers to import water from elsewhere to continue their business.

The study states that China faces water scarcity in 61 percent of its available fracking locations, Argentina is at 72 percent and the United Kingdom is at 34 percent. The report recommends water risk assessments before drilling, increased transparency of fracking company actions, cooperation between companies and governments and lowering freshwater use in fracking.

From the New York Times, a pattern shifts:

Sun and Wind Alter Global Landscape, Leaving Utilities Behind

Of all the developed nations, few have pushed harder than Germany to find a solution to global warming. And towering symbols of that drive are appearing in the middle of the North Sea.

They are wind turbines, standing as far as 60 miles from the mainland, stretching as high as 60-story buildings and costing up to $30 million apiece. On some of these giant machines, a single blade roughly equals the wingspan of the largest airliner in the sky, the Airbus A380. By year’s end, scores of new turbines will be sending low-emission electricity to German cities hundreds of miles to the south.

It will be another milestone in Germany’s costly attempt to remake its electricity system, an ambitious project that has already produced striking results: Germans will soon be getting 30 percent of their power from renewable energy sources. Many smaller countries are beating that, but Germany is by far the largest industrial power to reach that level in the modern era. It is more than twice the percentage in the United States

The Associated Press covers a call to spare the air:

Chinese march against incinerator for 2nd day

Residents in a southern Chinese town protested against a proposed garbage incinerator for a second straight day Sunday, according to witnesses, as police said ringleaders of earlier demonstrations that saw clashes with police should surrender.

Hundreds of people gathered on a long street in front of the offices of the government in Guangdong province’s Boluo county, with anti-riot police standing by, three residents said. They gave only their surnames, Chen, Huang and Wang, out of fear of reprisals from authorities.

The protest is the latest to highlight how Chinese have become increasingly wary of the environmental hazards of industrial projects but still lack public forums to voice their concerns and affect the government’s decision-making process.

And for our final item, via the Japan Times nuclear uncertainty:

Power companies mull further rate hikes with reactors on hold

A year after the nation’s last nuclear reactor was taken offline, utilities are exploring additional hikes in electricity prices as the cost of offsetting the loss of atomic power continues to climb.

On Sept. 15, 2013, the No. 4 reactor at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Oi plant in Fukui Prefecture was switched off for scheduled checkups, leaving Japan without an operating nuclear power station.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority is screening applications to restart 20 reactors at 13 plants.