Category Archives: Human behavior

Chart of the day II: The Ebola Fear Factor


As Gallup notes, “In total, six Americans are known to have contracted Ebola since the outbreak began this spring,” with all cases contracted in Africa. While the disease is both gruesome and lethal more often than note, it remains at bay on this side of the Atlantic from West Africa.

By contrast, during the 2009 H1N1 Swine Flu pandemic, 61 million Americans caught the very unpleasant illness, and a minimum of 200,000 ending up in the hospital. At least 12,469 cases ended in death.

So how worried were people about catching H1N1 during the height of the 2009 pandemic compared to how worried Americans now worry about catching a much deadlier disease our officials assure us now is no real threat on this side of the Atlantic?

Call the resulting quotient the Fear Factor. . .

From Gallup:

BLOG Ebola data

Quote of the day: Chomsky’s helpful reminder


From a Noam Chomsky interview from Truthout:

Like Britain before it, the US has tended to support radical Islam and to oppose secular nationalism, which both imperial states have regarded as more threatening to their goals of domination and control. When secular options are crushed, religious extremism often fills the vacuum. Furthermore, the primary US ally over the years, Saudi Arabia, is the most radical Islamist state in the world and also a missionary state, which uses its vast oil resources to promulgate its extremist Wahabi/Salafi doctrines by establishing schools, mosques, and in other ways, and has also been the primary source for the funding of radical Islamist groups, along with Gulf Emirates – all US allies.

It’s worth noting that religious fanaticism is spreading in the West as well, as democracy erodes. The US is a striking example. There are not many countries in the world where the large majority of the population believes that God’s hand guides evolution, and almost half of these think that the world was created a few thousand years ago. And as the Republican Party has become so extreme in serving wealth and corporate power that it cannot appeal to the public on its actual policies, it has been compelled to rely on these sectors as a voting base, giving them substantial influence on policy.

EbolaWatch: Marburg, U.S., European fear, Africa


Much ground to cover in the increasingly dramatic unfolding of the Ebola crisis, but we begin with that other hemorrhagic fever outbreak that is causing great concern,. From the Daily Monitor in Kampala, Uganda:

Number of Marburg suspects raise to eight

The Ministry with the support of MSF and the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, on Monday trained a total of 103 health workers from Mengo Hospital in Marburg prevention, treatment and control

Eight people who earlier got into contact with the Marburg confirmed case have developed signs of the disease, according to the Ministry of Health.
Samples have also been taken from the eight suspects and are being investigated at the Uganda Virus Research Institute.

The Director General of Health Services Dr. Alex Opio said four of them are from Mpigi, two from Kasese and two from Kampala district.

“Preparations are underway to quarantine the suspects as a preventive measure for the spread of the disease. To date there is only one laboratory confirmed case that has been reported in the country. This is the first case that was reported at Mengo Hospital and has since died,” Dr Opio said in a statement issued on Monday evening by the Ministry of Health.

And on to Ebola, first with a brief video report from the Associated Press:

CDC Notes Some Progress in Ebola Fight

Program notes:

The CDC says there is some progress in the fight against Ebola. Dr. Thomas Frieden says so far no one who had contact with the Dallas patient is sick, and cases recently have ‘plummeted’ in a key region of Liberia

The Japan Times gives an update on America’s patient:

Dallas Ebola patient on ventilator and receiving kidney dialysis

The Ebola patient fighting for his life in a Dallas hospital is on a ventilator and a kidney dialysis machine to help stabilize his health, the hospital said on Tuesday.

Liberian national Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person diagnosed with the deadly virus on U.S. soil, has also been given the experimental medication brincidofovir. A hospital in Nebraska said it is using the same drug to treat an American journalist who was airlifted from Liberia and arrived Monday.

Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital said in a statement that Duncan’s liver function declined over the weekend. It said although it has since improved, “doctors caution that this could vary in coming days.”

A question from the Christian Science Monitor:

Why didn’t Texas Ebola patient receive experimental drug sooner?

Doctors were concerned about the risks the experimental drug posed to the Ebola patient, Thomas Eric Duncan. But a worsening condition appears to have changed the equation.

News that Thomas Eric Duncan, the Ebola patient in Dallas, is receiving an experimental antiviral drug is another chapter in a fast-moving geopolitical drama exploring, patient by patient, the frontiers of medicine and ethics.

As the global community scrambles to contain the virus, and as the cases outside Africa grow, questions have been raised about why Mr. Duncan, a Liberian war survivor who came to the United States to marry his son’s mother, hasn’t received the same experimental drug that doctors say may have played a role in the recovery of two American medical workers, Dr. Kent Brantly and aid worker Nancy Writebol.

The medical community, led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is scrambling to find a medicine to stave off the disease. Two potential Ebola vaccines are now being tested on humans, but even if they’re deemed successful, it will be months before they’re available.

And from the London Daily Mail, the inevitable hyperbole:

EXCLUSIVE: First picture of Ebola victim’s quarantined ‘wife’ – as DA threatens charge of aggravated assault with a DEADLY WEAPON after he lied to get into America

  • Thomas Eric Duncan could face the charge – which carries a sentence of up to 20 years – if he survives and is charged
  • Dallas DA said it is something they are ‘taking seriously’ after Duncan lied on forms about his exposure to Ebola to get on a plane to America
  • Meanwhile, a gofundme set up for him has only raised $50 in six days
  • Commentors on the page expressed anger that he had been deceitful
  • Jesse Jackson flew into to Dallas on Tuesday to support the family
  • Duncan remains in a critical but stable condition with a slight improvement after being given an experimental drug

While the Los Angeles Times focuses on a more troubling concern:

Some Ebola experts worry virus may spread more easily than assumed

U.S. officials leading the fight against history’s worst outbreak of Ebola have said they know the ways the virus is spread and how to stop it. They say that unless an air traveler from disease-ravaged West Africa has a fever of at least 101.5 degrees or other symptoms, co-passengers are not at risk.

Yet some scientists who have long studied Ebola say such assurances are premature — and they are concerned about what is not known about the strain now on the loose. It is an Ebola outbreak like none seen before, jumping from the bush to urban areas, giving the virus more opportunities to evolve as it passes through multiple human hosts.

Dr. C.J. Peters, who battled a 1989 outbreak of the virus among research monkeys housed in Virginia and who later led the CDC’s most far-reaching study of Ebola’s transmissibility in humans, said he would not rule out the possibility that it spreads through the air in tight quarters.

More from The Hill:

CDC: Airborne Ebola possible but unlikely

The Ebola virus becoming airborne is a possible but unlikely outcome in the current epidemic, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Tom Frieden said Tuesday.

The outbreak involves Ebola Zaire, a strain that is passed through bodily fluids, not the air. But some experts have expressed fear about viral mutations due to the unprecedented — and rising — number of Ebola cases.

Frieden sought to allay those fears during a call with reporters.

“The rate of change [with Ebola] is slower than most viruses, and most viruses don’t change how they spread,” he said. Frieden is unofficially spearheading the U.S. response to Ebola.

“That is not to say it’s impossible that it could change [to become airborne],” he continued. “That would be the worst-case scenario. We would know that by looking at … what is happening in Africa. That is why we have scientists from the CDC on the ground tracking that.”

From the New York Times, screening:

U.S. to Require Tougher Ebola Screening at Airports: Senator

U.S. health officials are preparing to require tougher Ebola screening at American airports this week to keep the deadly virus from spreading to this country, Senator Chuck Schumer said on Tuesday.

The new measures may include screening air travelers for fever when they arrive in the United States from the worst-stricken countries in West Africa, on direct or indirect flights, Schumer said in a statement.

He said U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Thomas Frieden told him the agency might adopt some of the recommendations Schumer had made on Ebola screening over the weekend.

And the Associated Press covers one measure already implemented:

Coast Guard sector issues new steps on Ebola

One U.S. Coast Guard sector says it will contact ships that have recently been to Ebola-affected countries to ask whether passengers have symptoms of the virus before they are allowed into port.

The sector, which includes parts of New York and Connecticut, issued a bulletin to the maritime community in Long Island Sound on Monday that describes protocols being put into place due to Ebola.

“We wanted to have those specific steps identified in advance so we’ve prepared the captains of these vessels doing business in our ports for the questions we’re going to ask,” said Capt. Edward J. Cubanski III, the sector commander.

Here is the full CDC briefing, via the Washington Post:

CDC holds news briefing on Ebola patient in Texas

Program note:

The CDC gives members of the media an update on the condition a man in Dallas who was diagnosed with Ebola.

The Associated Press covers belated safeguards:

US health providers expand their Ebola precautions

Public hospitals in New York City are so concerned about Ebola, they’ve secretly been sending actors with mock symptoms into emergency rooms to test how well the triage staffs identify and isolate possible cases.

A small Ohio hospital has hung up signs imploring patients to let nurses know immediately if they have traveled recently to West Africa.

And across the U.S., one of the nation’s largest ambulance companies has put together step-by-step instructions for wrapping the interior of a rig with plastic sheeting.

There hasn’t been a single confirmed case of an Ebola infection happening on U.S. soil; the case confirmed in Dallas involves a man who, like several health care workers treated in the U.S., contracted the virus in Liberia. But health care providers are worried enough to take a wide variety of precautions.

And then there’s this from Reuters:

Male Ebola survivors told: Use a condom

Sex could keep the Ebola epidemic alive even after the World Health Organization (WHO) declares an area free of the disease, one of the discoverers of the deadly virus said on Tuesday.

The WHO is hoping to announce later this week that Nigeria and Senegal are free of Ebola after 42 days with no infections — the standard period for declaring an outbreak over, twice the maximum 21-day incubation period of the virus.

However, it appears the disease can last much longer in semen. “In a convalescent male, the virus can persist in semen for at least 70 days; one study suggests persistence for more than 90 days,” the WHO said in an information note on Monday.

“Certainly, the advice has to be for survivors to use a condom, to not have unprotected sex, for 90 days,” said Peter Piot, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and a discoverer of Ebola in 1976.

On to Spain, and Europe’s first home grown patient, via Reuters:

Four hospitalized in Spain after first Ebola transmission outside Africa

Four people have been hospitalized in Spain to try to stem the spread of Ebola after a Spanish nurse became the first person in the world known to have contracted the virus outside of Africa, health authorities said on Tuesday.

The nurse, who tested positive for the virus on Monday, her husband, who is showing no symptoms of the disease, and two other people are being closely monitored in hospital, health officials told a news conference in Madrid.

One of those hospitalized is a health worker who has diarrhea but no fever. The other is a Spaniard who traveled from Nigeria, said Rafael Perez-Santamaria, head of the Carlos III Hospital where the infected nurse treated two Spanish missionaries who contracted the disease in Africa.

More from El País:

Nurse’s assistant came into contact with 21 people at Alcorcón Hospital

  • Staff including doctors, nurses and ambulance crew will be monitored for symptoms

A day after news broke that a Spanish nursing assistant had become the first person in Europe to contract the ebola virus, health authorities were working to close the net around people with whom the 40-year-old woman could have come into contact.

The nurse’s assistant, who was part of the health team who looked after two Spanish missionaries with ebola who had been brought back from Africa for treatment in Madrid, was initially treated in Alcorcón Hospital in the southwestern suburb of the same name. The hospital has so far identified 21 members of staff with whom the patient came into contact, including an ambulance crew and doctors and nurses, according to health sources contacted by EL PAÍS.

All of them have been contacted by the health center and told they will have to be monitored for symptoms of the disease. They will have their temperature checked twice a day, but can continue with their normal day-to-day lives, given that the virus is not contagious until symptoms, which include fever, appear.

And a video report from Deutsche Welle:

Madrid hospital staff want answers

Program notes:

Medical staff at the Madrid hospital where a nurse contracted ebola, are angry. They want to know how the woman could have become infected, despite safety measures. The nurse had treated two priests who caught the virus in West Africa.

Questions from the Los Angeles Times:

Questions raised about safety measures used for Ebola cases in Spain

Questions were raised Tuesday about the quality of the protective equipment and training received by Spanish medical personnel caring for Ebola patients as three more people were placed in quarantine for possible exposure to the virus.

Spain’s Health Ministry announced Monday that a nursing assistant at the Carlos III Hospital in Madrid had tested positive for the virus, the first person known to have contracted Ebola outside Africa in the current epidemic.

Healthcare workers have been among those hardest hit in the outbreak, which has killed more than 3,400 of the nearly 7,500 suspected and confirmed Ebola patients in West Africa.  As of Oct. 1, 382 healthcare workers were reported to have developed Ebola, including 216 people who died of the disease.

The case in Spain was a reminder that medical personnel can be at risk in Western hospitals, as well as at under-resourced and overwhelmed African facilities. The Ebola virus is spread through contact with the bodily fluids of symptomatic patients.

The patient had helped care for Manuel Garcia Viejo, a 69-year-old missionary in Sierra Leone who died of Ebola on Sept. 25 after being evacuated to Spain for treatment. She entered the priest’s room twice, once to help care for him and once to collect his belongings after he died, hospital officials said.

And the Guardian covers the seemingly inevitable:

Ebola in Europe is unavoidable, says WHO as Spain rushes to contain case

  • WHO’s European director says continent remains at low risk and one of the best prepared places to respond to the infection

The World Health Organisation has said it is ready to provide support for Spain as authorities in the country scrambled to contain the first case of Ebola infection within Europe.

The WHO’s European director, Zsuzsanna Jakab, said it was “quite unavoidable … that such incidents will happen in the future because of the extensive travel from Europe to the affected countries and the other way around”.

She added: “The most important thing in our view is that Europe is still at low risk, and that the western part of the European region particularly is the best prepared in the world to respond to viral haemorrhagic fevers including Ebola.”

But the New York Times covers another angle:

Spain Is Pressed for Answers After a Nurse Is Infected With Ebola

Spain’s government came under heavy criticism Tuesday as it dealt with the repercussions of Western Europe’s first Ebola case, quarantining three more people and monitoring dozens who had come into contact with an infected nurse.

Health care workers, who have been sparring with the government over cutbacks, said they had not received proper training or equipment to handle an Ebola case. The European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, asked for an explanation, according to news reports. And some opposition politicians called for the health minister, Ana Mato, to resign.

At a news conference in Madrid, officials insisted that they had taken all appropriate measures to prevent the spread of the virus. But in a sign of the government’s unease with the possible political consequences, a lower-ranking official, María Mercedes Vinuesa, director of public health, went before Parliament on Tuesday to answer questions, not Ms. Mato.

While the Guardian suggests a partial explanation:

Spanish nurse Ebola infection blamed on substandard gear and protocol lapse

  • Staff at Madrid’s Carlos III hospital say protective suits do not meet WHO standards as second nurse undergoes tests for virus

Staff at the hospital where she worked told El País that the protective suits they were given did not meet World Health Organisation (WHO) standards, which specify that suits must be impermeable and include breathing apparatus. Staff also pointed to latex gloves secured with adhesive tape as an example of how the suits were not impermeable and noted that they did not have their own breathing equipment.

The nurse was part of a team attending to missionary Manuel García Viejo, 69, who died four days after being brought to Carlos III hospital on 20 September. The same team, including the nurse, also treated missionary Miguel Pajares, 75, who was repatriated from Liberia in August and died five days later.

Staff at the hospital said waste from the rooms of both patients was carried out in the same elevator used by all personnel and, in the case of the second patient, the hospital was not evacuated.

And the Associated Press covers collateral canine damage:

Ebola escapes Europe’s defenses; pet dog must die

Health officials scrambled Tuesday to figure out how West Africa’s Ebola outbreak got past Europe’s defenses, quarantining four people at a Madrid hospital where a Spanish nursing assistant became infected. Determined to contain the spread of the deadly virus, they even announced plans to euthanize the woman’s pet dog.

The nursing assistant in Madrid was part of a special team caring for a Spanish priest who died of Ebola last month after being evacuated from Sierra Leone. The nursing assistant wore a hazmat suit both times she entered his room, officials said, and no records point to any accidental exposure to the virus, which spreads through direct contact with the bodily fluids of a sickened person.

The woman, who had been on vacation in the Madrid area after treating the priest, was diagnosed with Ebola on Monday after coming down with a fever, and was said to be stable Tuesday. Her husband also was hospitalized as a precaution.

Madrid’s regional government even got a court order to euthanize and incinerate their pet, “Excalibur,” against the couple’s objections. The government said available scientific knowledge suggests a risk that the mixed-breed dog could transmit the virus to humans, and promised to use “biosecurity” measures to prevent any such transmission.

On to an anxious Old Blighty, first with BBC News:

No Ebola screening for arrivals to UK – Public Health England

There are no plans to introduce Ebola screening for those arriving in the UK, Public Health England (PHE) has said.

President Barack Obama said on Monday that the US planned to screen incoming air passengers for the virus.

But PHE said this was not recommended by the World Health Organization and would mean screening “huge numbers of low-risk people”.

A contrarian view from the Independent:

Ebola outbreak: Britain needs to start screening for the virus, says Home Office minister

A Home Office minister has said Britain should consider introducing screening for Ebola carriers arriving at airports, after a Spanish nurse became the first person to have caught the virus in Europe.

Public Health England said it had no plans to bring in screening for the disease, which has already claimed 3,400 lives in West Africa. Rates of infection are set to increase dramatically.

The Home Office also insisted there would be no change of policy. But Norman Baker, a Liberal Democrat minister in the department, described Ebola’s arrival in Europe as a “very concerning development” and said the case for increasing screening in airports had to be examined. He told The Independent: “We need to consider whether existing controls are adequate.”

And the London Telegraph covers preparations:

Ebola: NHS hospitals put on standby

  • Hospitals on standby as health officials admit ‘real risk’ Ebola could reach British shores and Prime Minister convenes emergency Cobra committee to discuss the threat

Major NHS hospitals across the country have been put on standby, as health officials warn of a “real risk” that the deadly Ebola virus could spread to Britain.

The Prime Minister will convene a meeting of the Government’s Cobra emergency committee on Wednesday morning to discuss the growing threat to the UK from the spread of Ebola.

Four major NHS hospitals in England have now been identified as units to take patients with Ebola if the need arises.

Next, on to Norway and other European evacuated via TheLocal.no:

Ebola virus victim arrives in Norway by special jet

The Norwegian woman, diagnosed with Ebola while working for a charity organization in Sierra Leone, will arrive in Oslo for treatment on Tuesday.

The woman, who was working for Médecins Sans Frontières, fell ill at the weekend and was placed in isolation on Sunday. On Monday she was confirmed as having contracted Ebola and is scheduled to be flown into the country on a specially constructed private jet plane. The craft, normally used for business flights, is equipped to provide medical care for the patient and ensure the airborne virus is not spread beyond the infected invidual.

Secretary general for Médecins Sans Frontières, Anne Cecilie Kaltenborn, said at a press conference in Sierra Leone on Monday: “We regrettably confirm that one of our Norwegian field workers tested positively for Ebola. The person was on a mission in Sierra Leone, where Médecins Sans Frontières has 1,200 employees. 86 of those are international aid workers.”

TheLocal.no, with a choice certain to star ethical debate:

Norway to get world’s last dose of Ebola cure

The Norwegian woman, infected by the Ebola in Sierra Leone and currently receiving treatment in Oslo, will get the last dose of the virus treatment medicine ZMapp available in the world.

The news was released by the Norwegian Medicines Agency on Tuesday, according to NTB. Steinar Madsen, medical director of the Norwegian Medicines Agency, said to Dagens Medisin: “It looks like we could get the last available dose of ZMapp to Norway. The medicine is now in Canada.”

According to the professional medic’s magazine, the agency has given Oslo University hospital the authorisation to import Ebola medicines not approved of in Norway.

On to Japan and confidence from the Japan Times:

Japan could handle Ebola outbreak, health official says

The news that a nurse in Spain has become the first person to contract Ebola outside the outbreak zone in West Africa has raised concerns that it might happen in Japan.

However, the nation has a system in place that could handle potential patients safely, a senior official at the National Institute of Infectious Diseases said Tuesday.

Although Japan has not yet had to deal with an actual case of infection and therefore lacks Ebola-specific procedures to diagnose and treat it, Masayuki Saijo, head of one of the institute’s virology departments, said his team has handled suspected cases that turned out to be negative.

While the Wall Street Journal covers the Japanese corporate upside:

Fujifilm Drug Gets More Notice as Possible Ebola Treatment

An anti-influenza drug from Japan’s Fujifilm Holdings Corp. has gathered international attention as a potential treatment for Ebola virus, helping send the company’s shares to a six-year high on Tuesday.

The Japanese camera and imaging company said Monday the governments of France and the West African nation of Guinea were considering trials of the drug, called favipiravir, beginning in November.

The company said it has also been contacted by several other nations and international organizations about providing the drug and will respond to the requests in coordination with the Japanese government.

After the jump, the latest from Africa, including a shortage of sanitation and engineering help in the Ebola fight, a plea for help, the Pentagon sets a price on its African Ebola effort and announces that U.S. soldiers will — contrary to earlier denials — be in immediate contact with Ebola patients [plus a video of the full Pentagon briefing], fears that Ebola angst will trump even deadlier healthcare woes, British Airways blasted for hampering aid flights, on to Sierra Leone and aid shipment Bureaucratic gridlock, a presidential plea for help from Ebola survivors, and epidemic-devastated villages, then on to Liberia and arriving Cuban medical teams, a strike threatened, and a press crackdown underway, and lastly, on to Nigeria and Ebola-spawned school closures ended. . . Continue reading

Drama aside, folks really, really are a lot alike


Witness this video clip from Agence France-Presse:

Snap! Hajj selfies gain popularity, spark controversy

Program notes:

Raising his arm, Yousef Ali hugs his elderly father in front of one of Islam’s holiest sites as they grin for a selfie — a craze that has hit this year’s hajj.

 

Jerry Seinfeld: Biting that hand that fetes him


The Clios are advertising’s version of the Oscars, and since celebrities are always a crowd-pleasers, the Clio crowd decided to give one to Jerry Seinfeld.

And while we’ve never been partial to his peculiar sense of humor, we were delighted to find his remarks when he was given an honorary Clio last week.

And the fact that the audience roars approval at certain moment is ipso facto proof of the cynicism and rapacity that lie at the heart of an industry substantially shaped by Edward Bernays, a propagandist who helped sell Americans on World War I, only adds to event.

Via vlogger Affan Khokhar:

Jerry Seinfeld’s Clio Acceptance Speech

Program notes:

Last night, comedian Jerry Seinfeld deadpanned at the CLIOs: “I love advertising because I love lying…”

The 55th annual CLIO Awards, the most prestigious international advertising awards, were held in NYC. Whoopi Goldberg hosted the event, which also featured a performance by Aloe Blacc and lively acceptance speeches from CLIO Honorary winners Blondie (Debbie Harry and Chris Stein) and Jerry Seinfeld.

Quartz has posted a transcript. of the speech.

An excerpt

I love advertising because I love lying.

In advertising, everything is the way you wish it was. I don’t care that it won’t actually be like when I actually get the product being advertised because, in between seeing the commercial and owning the thing, I’m happy, and that’s all I want. Tell me how great the thing is going to be. I love it. I don’t need to be happy all the time. I just want to enjoy the commercial. I want to get the thing. We know the product is going to stink. We know that. Because we live in the world, and we know that everything stinks. We all believe, hey, maybe this one won’t stink. We are a hopeful species. Stupid but hopeful.

But we’re happy in that moment between the commercial and the purchase, and I think spending your life trying to dupe innocent people out of hard-won earnings to buy useless, low-quality, misrepresented items and services is an excellent use of your energy.

Our takeaway: The whole event could’ve come from a Seinfeld episode.

InSecurityWatch: War, drones, hacks, Hong Kong


And more. . .

First up, a new party enters the game, via the Associated Press:

Turkey approves military operations in Iraq, Syria

Turkey’s parliament approved a motion Thursday that gives the government new powers to launch military incursions into Syria and Iraq and to allow foreign forces to use its territory for possible operations against the Islamic State group.

Parliament voted 298-98 in favor of the motion which sets the legal framework for any Turkish military involvement, and for the potential use of Turkish bases by foreign troops.

Meanwhile, the militants pressed their offensive against a beleaguered Kurdish town along the Syria-Turkey border. The assault, which has forced about 160,000 people to flee across the frontier in recent days, left Kurdish militiamen scrambling Thursday to repel Islamic State extremists pushing into the outskirts of the northern Syrian town of Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab.

Turkey, a NATO member with a large and modern military, has yet to define what role it intends to play in the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State group.

Obama breaches his own standard of bellicosity, via the Associated Press:

Civilian casualty standard eased in Iraq, Syria

President Barack Obama announced in May 2013 that no lethal strike against a terrorist would be authorized without “near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured.”

But amid unconfirmed reports of civilian casualties, the White House said this week that U.S. bombing in Iraq and Syria is not being held to the near-certainty standard. And the Pentagon, hamstrung by limitations in intelligence gathering, has been unable to determine in many cases whether the casualty reports are true.

“We do take extreme caution and care in the conduct of these missions,” Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon’s press secretary, said. “But there’s risk in any military operation. There’s a special kind of risk when you do air operations.”

Strange bedfellows from Newsweek:

Has the ISIS Crisis Pushed the CIA into Bed with Hezbollah?

A few months ago, a former top CIA operative applied for a Lebanese visa to do some work in Beirut for an oil company. While he was waiting for approval, a package arrived at his client’s office. Inside was a full dossier on his CIA career. “It included things on where I had served, well back into 1990s,” said Charles Faddis, who ran the CIA’s covert action program in Kurdistan during the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, among other top assignments. “It had details on my travels to Israel and Lebanon—years ago.”

Faddis took it as a blunt message from Hezbollah, the Iran-backed partner in Lebanon’s coalition government that is equal parts political party, social service agency, occupying army and terrorist group. “It was their way of saying, ‘We don’t want this guy here, but we want business with you to go forward,’” Faddis told Newsweek. It also was a way of underscoring—as if any emphasis was needed—that to do business in Lebanon, you have to go through the “Party of God.” And today that business includes the U.S. drive to recruit regional partners to wage war on the Islamic State, the group more commonly known as ISIS.

Washington wants Lebanon to stop ISIS at its borders. So does Hezbollah, whose entry into the Lebanese government last February did not get it removed from the State Department’s list of terrorist groups.

Collateral damage from RT America:

ISIS turns to selling ancient artifacts to fund terror campaign

Program notes:

The Islamic State is looting historical sites in Iraq and Syria, selling ancient artifacts on the black market to fund its operations, according to a warning from UNESCO. Similar to the events that occurred when Saddam Hussein was forced from power and looters stole priceless pieces of art and culture, archaeologists and Iraqi officials are now seeking help from the rest of the world in stopping the destruction of one of the world’s oldest cultures. RT’s Alexey Yaroshevsky has more details on what is being called a “cultural cleansing” of Iraq.

From TheLocal.fr, an interesting development:

EU tells France to allow unions in the military

The European rights court on Thursday ruled that a blanket ban on trade unions within the French armed forces was a violation of the rights of military staff.

The court ruled that while there could be limits to military personnel exercising freedom of association, “a blanket ban on forming or joining a trade union encroached on the very essence of this freedom”.

Michel Bavoil, vice-president of the Association for the Protection of Rights of Military Personnel, hailed the decision as “great victory that is extremely favourable for soldiers”, in comments to French television.

Rebuffing concealment by The Most Transparent Administration in History™ from The Intercept:

Judge Rebukes Government, Keeps Gitmo Force-Feeding Hearing Open

A federal judge has knocked down the government’s attempt to hold a secret hearing in a case challenging the military’s practice of force-feeding Guantanamo detainees who are on hunger strike.

U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler called the government’s desire to close the proceedings “deeply troubling,” and chastised the Department of Justice for appearing to “deliberately” make the request “on short notice.”

The case involves Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian man who has been held at Guantanamo since 2002, though he was cleared for transfer out of the island prison by the military in 2009. He began a hunger strike last year and claims that he has been subjected to painful and abusive force-feedings. He has asked the federal court to intervene and stop the military forcing him from his cell and restraining him during the feedings.

Beating the drums of the digital divisions, from Defense One:

House Intel Chief Wants To Increase Cyber Attacks Against Russia

The United States should be conducting more disruptive cyber attacks against nations like Russia, according to Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

“I don’t think we are using all of our cyber-capability to disrupt” actors in Russia targeting U.S. interests, he said at The Washington Post’s cybersecurity summit on Thursday.

Rogers cited attacks out of Russia on the U.S. financial sector, specifically against JP Morgan Chase in August, as an example of nation states targeting U.S. companies and financial interests. The FBI is currently investigating whether or not the attacks were a response to the financial sanctions that the United States placed on Russia in March.

From The Intercept, and about damn time:

Authorities Think About Telling You If You’re Watchlisted from Warrantless Spying

The Obama Administration might have to start letting people know when they’ve been flagged for terrorist connections based on information picked up from secret NSA spying programs.

That could potentially affect the tens of thousands of individuals on the government’s no fly list, as well as those people and groups that the Treasury Department designates as foreign terrorists, The New York Times reported yesterday.

According to the Times, administration lawyers are debating whether the NSA’s warrantless programs are covered by a provision in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that requires the government to disclose the use of electronic surveillance in any “proceeding” against someone.

Glassing with the panopticon, via TechWeekEurope:

Dubai Police Force Gets Google Glass To Help Fight Crime

  • Judge Dredd-esque look will give officers facial recognition software to identify criminals

Enforcing the law in Dubai is about to get a lot more high-tech following the news its police force will soon be equipped with Google Glass.

Police forces in the area will be given the wearable device, which costs £1,000 to buy in the UK, as part of a campaign to make them the “smartest in the world” by 2018. The devices will run specially customised facial recognition software which will allow officer to identify suspects or criminals at large.

The software would enable a connection between the wearer and a database of wanted people, with an alert being sent to the officer if a suspect’s face print is recognised.

iCloud hacks headed to court. . .maybe. From the London Telegraph:

Celebrity nude photo hacking victims threaten to sue Google for $100 million

Google accused by stars’ lawyer of ‘making millions from the victimisation of women’ and ‘perpetuating the despicable conduct of habitual pervert predators’ for not removing nude images

More than a dozen female celebrity victims of the nude photograph hacking scandal have threatened to sue Google for $100 million for the Internet giant’s alleged failure to remove the images from its search index and websites.

Marty Singer, a prominent Los Angeles entertainment lawyer, accused Google of “making millions from the victimisation of women” in a scathing letter written on the behalf of his unnamed clients to the company’s founders and chairman.

Private nude images of celebrities such as the actress Jennifer Lawrence, the model Kate Upton and the singer Rihanna were hacked by cyber-thieves and distributed online via the 4Chan website.

USBs targeted, via Wired threat level:

The Unpatchable Malware That Infects USBs Is Now on the Loose

It’s been just two months since researcher Karsten Nohl demonstrated an attack he called BadUSB to a standing-room-only crowd at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas, showing that it’s possible to corrupt any USB device with insidious, undetectable malware. Given the severity of that security problem—and the lack of any easy patch—Nohl has held back on releasing the code he used to pull off the attack. But at least two of Nohl’s fellow researchers aren’t waiting any longer.

In a talk at the Derbycon hacker conference in Louisville, Kentucky last week, researchers Adam Caudill and Brandon Wilson showed that they’ve reverse engineered the same USB firmware as Nohl’s SR Labs, reproducing some of Nohl’s BadUSB tricks. And unlike Nohl, the hacker pair has also published the code for those attacks on Github, raising the stakes for USB makers to either fix the problem or leave hundreds of millions of users vulnerable.

“The belief we have is that all of this should be public. It shouldn’t be held back. So we’re releasing everything we’ve got,” Caudill told the Derbycon audience on Friday. “This was largely inspired by the fact that [SR Labs] didn’t release their material. If you’re going to prove that there’s a flaw, you need to release the material so people can defend against it.”

Breaching the bank with Business Insider:

JP Morgan Reveals Gigantic Data Breach Possibly Affecting 76 Million Households

JPMorgan just revealed that 76 million households and 7 million small businesses may have had their private data compromised in a recent cyberattack.

“User contact information — name, address, phone number and email address — and internal JPMorgan Chase information relating to such users have been compromised,” the company said in a new SEC filing.

“However, there is no evidence that account information for such affected customers — account numbers, passwords, user IDs, dates of birth or Social Security numbers — was compromised during this attack.”

Fighting the memory hole, via the Guardian:

School board vote on US history sets up showdown with students

  • Colorado school prepares for massive turnout during conservative school board’s vote over ‘patriotic’ curriculum changes

Students and teachers fighting a plan to promote patriotism and downplay civil disobedience in some suburban Denver US history courses are expected to pack a school board meeting Thursday where the controversial changes could face a vote.

Turnout is expected to be so high that the teachers union plans to stream video from the meeting room – which holds a couple hundred people – on a big screen in the parking lot outside. Students said they’ll protest with teachers before the school board meeting. A walkout planned at a school Thursday morning didn’t take place after the principal sent a letter to parents asking them to discourage their children from participating.

The principal at Golden High School, Brian Conroy, said he is “proud” that students have made their opinions known, but a walkout now would be counterproductive and unnecessary because students have already gotten the board’s attention.

A drone downing from PetaPixel:

Man Arrested and Charged After Allegedly Shooting Down a Camera Drone with a Shotgun

A New Jersey resident was arrested last Friday after allegedly firing a shotgun at and successfully hitting a drone that was taking photographs of a nearby home undergoing some renovations.

According to the local NBC station, the owner of the drone said he was flying it around the home capturing photographs when he heard several gunshots and immediately lost control of the drone.

Upon retrieving his disabled drone, the owner recognized a number of holes in the vehicle that resembled the pellets you’d see after a shotgun blast, and so he called the police and showed them where he thought the blast came from.

And a drone-enabled drunk capture from Motherboard:

Police Used a Drone to Chase Down and Arrest Four DUI Suspects in a Cornfield

Last Friday, near a cornfield in North Dakota, four underage men were pulled over under suspicion of drunk driving. The four men hopped out of their car and bolted into the cornfield. Grand Forks police didn’t follow them: Instead, they put a drone in the sky.

“One of them was walking through the cornfield. It took about three minutes to find him,” Alan Frazier, Deputy Sheriff in charge of the Grand Forks Police Department’s unmanned aerial vehicle system unit told me. “The other was found on a second flight, after maybe 25 minutes.”

The two other suspects were apprehended at another time—they had the unlucky distinction of becoming the first Americans ever tracked down and arrested with the help of a police quadcopter.

After the jump, off to Asia and an arms deal proposal to an old enemy, on to Hong Kong and an Occupy disruption, hints of a coming crackdown, Anonymous threatens a hackdown, evading the online censors but others may be looking in, a defiant boss refuses to quit but is daughter blows his cover, blowback fears, a warning to Washington from Beijing and a word from Washington, hints of major Chinese maritime declaration, Game of Zones tourism, American/Japanese military strategy delayed, Tokyo gives the nod to American Okinawa base relocation, Comfort Women revisionism declined, and a Korean missile upgrade in the offing. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Drought, illness, nature, nukes


First up, dry in the Golden State from the New York Times:

Thirst Turns to Desperation in Rural California

Now in its third year, the state’s record-breaking drought is being felt in many ways: vanishing lakes and rivers, lost agricultural jobs, fallowed farmland, rising water bills, suburban yards gone brown. But nowhere is the situation as dire as in East Porterville, a small rural community in Tulare County where life’s daily routines have been completely upended by the drying of wells and, in turn, the disappearance of tap water.

“Everything has changed,” said Yolanda Serrato, 54, who has spent most of her life here. Until this summer, the lawn in front of her immaculate three-bedroom home was a lush green, with plants dotting the perimeter. As her neighbors’ wells began running dry, Ms. Serrato warned her three children that they should cut down on hourlong showers, but they mostly rebuffed her. “They kept saying, ‘No, no, Mama, you’re just too negative,’  “ she said.

Then the sink started to sputter. These days, the family of five relies on a water tank in front of their home that they received through a local charity. The sole neighbor with a working well allows them to hook up to his water at night, saving them from having to use buckets to flush toilets in the middle of the night. On a recent morning, there was still a bit of the neighbor’s well water left, trickling out the kitchen faucet, taking over 10 minutes to fill two three-quart pots.

“You don’t think of water as privilege until you don’t have it anymore,” said Ms. Serrato, whose husband works in the nearby fields. “We were very proud of making a life here for ourselves, for raising children here. We never ever expected to live this way.”

United Press International covers some good news in parched California:

California’s huge King Fire now 94 percent contained

“Although fire crews have nearly contained the King Fire, it is still active, and there are a lot of firefighting resources still in the area,” Laurance Crabtree, the El Dorado Forest supervisor, said in a statement

California’s huge King Fire was 94 percent contained Wednesday morning, and efforts are beginning to shift to prevent erosion and flooding, officials said.

The fire has burned more than 97,000 acres or 100 square miles in and around El Dorado National Forest northeast of Sacramento, destroying 12 homes and 68 other buildings. Officials said the blaze, which began Sept. 13, is expected to be fully contained Sunday.

While firefighters continue to combat the blaze in some areas, other units are focusing on protecting natural resources and roads and on tasks like removing the 950 miles of hose.

On to the illness front, first with a national-scale story from BuzzFeed:

Mysterious Respiratory Virus Spreading Across U.S. Linked To Four Deaths

  • Enterovirus 68 is suspected of sickening children in more than 40 states, and has now been linked to four deaths, though its exact role still remains unknown

A mysterious respiratory illness has been spreading across the U.S. for months. Now, doctors have found the virus in four people who died.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has detected Enterovirus D68, or EV-D68, in four people, including 10-year-old Emily Otrando of Rhode Island. According to the Rhode Island State Health Department, Otrando died from a staph infection “associated with enteroviral infection.”

Beyond that, there are a lot of unanswered questions. The other people who died and then tested positive for EV-D68 have not been publicly identified. And in every case, it’s unclear what role EV-D68 actually played in their deaths, the CDC reported. At this point, medical investigators are still scrambling to understand what is happening.

While the Oakland Tribune bring it to esnl’s home turf:

Health officials confirm 2 cases of enterovirus D-68 in Alameda County

The Alameda County Public Health Department on Thursday said at least two local people have tested positive for enterovirus D-68, which has sickened hundreds in the United States this year.

Health officials would not say where the diagnosed people live in Alameda County or when the cases were confirmed. The number of cases is expected to increase, said Sherri Willis, spokeswomand for the county health department.

“We suspect that these numbers will be shifting daily,” Willis said. “We suspect they’ll go up.”

The Independent covers origins of another malevolent microbe:

HIV was created by ‘perfect storm’ of factors that led to pandemic, study reveals

A “perfect storm” of factors that came together in colonial Africa early last century led to the spread of Aids in the human population and eventually a full-blown pandemic infecting more than 75 million people worldwide, a study has found.

A genetic analysis of thousands of individual viruses has confirmed beyond reasonable doubt that HIV first emerged in Kinshasa, the capital of the Belgian Congo, in about 1920 from where it spread via the colonial railway network to other parts of central Africa.

Scientists believe the findings have finally nailed the origin of the Aids pandemic to a single source, a colonial-era city then called Leopoldville which had become the biggest urban centre in Central Africa and a bustling focus for trade, including a market in wild “bush meat” captured from the nearby forests.

The study, based on analysing the subtle genetic differences between various subtypes of HIV, found the human virus had evolved from a simian virus infecting chimps which were hunted for food by people who had probably carried HIV with them into Kinshasa.

And the Daily Monitor in Kampala, Uganda, covers a painful preventative:

Four million men to be circumcised

More than four million men are expected to undergo Safe Male Circumcision (SMC) countrywide within a period of five years as one of the strategies to prevent HIV infections, the Ministry of Health has said.

Dr Michael Muyonga from the AIDS Control Programme in the ministry, said the country records 140,000 new HIV/Aids infections annually a figure that must be dealt with.

“Although the government launched the SMC in 2010, we have been registering a low number of men turning up for circumcision country wide and we intend to intensify the exercise,” Dr Muyonga said.

Another continent, another outbreak from Want China Times:

Guangdong dengue outbreak rages on with nearly 13,500 cases

The number of dengue fever cases in Guangdong has increased to 13,449 as of Sept. 30, a figure 19.38 times higher than the same period last year. Even one of the province’s vice governors has contracted the virus, reports our Chinese-language sister paper Want Daily.

The outbreak this year was caused by rising temperature and intermittent rains which provided the warmth and humidity ideal for a mosquito population explosion. Standing pools of water left after rain are the perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes, and has given their population density a fivefold boost over past figures in many areas in Guangdong province.

The majority, or 84%, of dengue fever cases were in Guangzhou, followed by 1,389 cases in Foshan, 226 cases in Zhongshan and 187 cases in Jiangmen. One of cases is reportedly one of the province’s eight vice governors but the provincial government has yet to confirm the claim.

MercoPress covers Latin American contagion:

Mysterious outbreak of hemorrhagic fever syndrome in Venezuela kills ten

  • An outbreak of a mysterious hemorrhagic fever syndrome in the Venezuelan state of Aragua and the country’s capital Caracas has left ten people dead in the last three weeks. Reports indicate that nine people have so far succumbed to the disease in the northern state and a tenth person has died in the capital.

The Venezuelan Medical Federation urged president Nicolas Maduro to stop government policy from meddling with the health policy. The Venezuelan Medical Federation urged president Nicolas Maduro to stop government policy from meddling with the health policy.

It is unclear whether the cause of the syndrome is viral or bacterial – a distinction with implications for treatment – although autopsies have indicated that those who died were suffering from other complications, such as Chikungunya.

Venezuelan hemorrhagic fever (VHF) is endemic in the two states of Portuguesa and Barinas, but transmission from person-to-person is uncommon. While samples have been sent to the Venezuelan National Institute of Health, the results have not yet been released publically and there is no suggestion from health officials that VHF is behind this particular outbreak.

And the Express Tribune covers a Pakistani outbreak:

Future in peril: With 7 more cases, 194 children now infected with polio

Poliovirus continued to run wild in the country as by Thursday, seven more children had been diagnosed with the preventable disease which has infected at least 194 children in the country so far this year.

Till Thursday afternoon, the National Institute of Health, Islamabad had confirmed the presence of the virus in four-month-old Zubaid, son of Zafar, a resident of Jehangirabad village in Sheikhan union council, Peshawar.

According to an official of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa health department, the child had not received a single dose of the oral polio vaccine. He added Sheikhan UC is located along the border with Khyber Agency and a majority of the area’s children could not be vaccinated in the government’s much vaunted Sehat ka Insaf drive.

From DutchNews.nl, military malevolence:

Defence officials knew about carcinogenic paint issue in 1987: Nos

The Dutch defence ministry has known since 1987 that soldiers were being exposed to highly carcinogenic paints, documents in the hands of broadcaster Nos show.

Letters from health and safety inspectors and minutes of meeting show the defence ministry was aware of the problem but did not take steps to protect staff until 11 years later, the broadcaster says.

One of the documents in the hands of the Nos includes an army commandor stating in 1995 that ‘the number of workers exposed to carcenogenic compounds should not be more than strictly necessary’.

From The Hill, security versus environmental protection:

Issa: EPA still blocking watchdog investigations

House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) blasted the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Thursday, claiming it had failed to take steps to allow a federal watchdog to conduct investigations.

EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins and his staff have testified three times before Congress since May that the EPA’s homeland security office blocked access to information, impeding probes into employee misconduct.

“Unfortunately, it appears that EPA has not resolved these issues, and thus the work of the OIG continues to be compromised,” Issa wrote in a Thursday letter to EPA head Gina McCarthy.

Saving awesome landscape, from the Guardian:

Ban on uranium mining at Grand Canyon upheld by Arizona court

  • Ruling protects national treasure against the possibility of opening it to 26 new mines and 700 exploration projects

A coalition of conservation groups are hailing an Arizona judge’s decision this week to uphold the Obama administration’s 20-year ban on new uranium mining claims across 1 million acres of public lands adjacent to Grand Canyon.

In January 2012, then-US interior secretary Ken Salazar issued the ban that prohibits new mining claims and mine development on existing claims without valid permits. A subsequent mining industry lawsuit asserted that the interior department’s 700-page study of environmental impacts was inadequate and the ban was unconstitutional.

A coalition of groups including native American tribes and the Sierra Club intervened in that lawsuit, and on Tuesday the court ruled in their favour.

After the jump, sacrificing the world’s beaches for concrete construction, anti-GMO African action, consumers shun food from Fukushima, dismissing volcanic concerns to a Japanese nuclear restart, and a cloud on California fracking transparency. . . Continue reading