Category Archives: Law

EnviroWatch: Ebola, water, species, nukes


Again, we lead with Ebola, first from the Washington Post:

Ebola virus has mutated during course of outbreak

The Ebola virus sweeping through West Africa has mutated repeatedly during the current outbreak, a fact that could hinder diagnosis and treatment of the devastating disease, according to scientists who have genetically sequenced the virus in scores of victims.

The findings, published Thursday in the journal Science, also offer new insights into the origins of the largest and most deadly Ebola outbreak in history, which has killed more than 1,500 people in four countries and shows few signs of slowing. It also provided another reminder of the deep toll the outbreak has taken on health workers and others in the affected areas, as five of the paper’s more than 50 co-authors died from Ebola before publication.

In a collaboration led by scientists at Harvard University and aided by officials at Sierra Leone’s health ministry, researchers sequenced Ebola virus genomes from 78 patients beginning in the early days of the outbreak this spring. Those 99 samples — some patients were tested more than once — suggested that the outbreak began with a single human infection before spreading rapidly, like a spark that grows into a wildfire.

From the Associated Press:

Liberian Ebola survivor praises experimental drug

A Liberian health worker who recovered from Ebola after receiving an experimental drug urged the manufacturer to speed up its production and send it to Africa, while crowds celebrated in the streets Saturday after authorities reopened a slum that had been barricaded for more than a week to try to contain the disease.

Physician’s assistant Kyndy Kobbah was expected to be released from hospital Saturday after she survived Ebola, which has been fatal in more than half the cases sweeping West Africa. Kobbah contracted the disease while working at a government-run hospital north of the capital.

In an interview with The Associated Press before her release, she said when she informed her family that she had been cured, the home exploded with joy “and the house is on fire right now” with celebration.

CBC News covers a non-case in Canada:

Ebola tests negative for Gatineau girl who remains in isolation

  • Girl who was in Sierra Leone with family returned to Canada with flu-like symptoms

Tests on a young girl from Gatineau, Que., have come back negative for the Ebola virus after she was feeling ill upon returning from Sierra Leone, one of the west African countries hard hit by this year’s Ebola outbreak.

The girl was put in isolation at an undisclosed Ottawa hospital after her family took her to a Gatineau emergency room on Friday with flu-like symptoms after visiting family in Sierra Leone.

The tests, which were done in Winnipeg, came back negative on Saturday afternoon. The girl remains in isolation and she is in stable condition, according to health officials in western Quebec.

From Science, a question:

Experimental Ebola drug saves monkeys, but will this translate to humans?

This past Wednesday, at a discussion titled “Stopping the Deadly Ebola Outbreak” held at the Scripps Research Institute here, a local TV reporter repeatedly prodded one of the star panelists, Kevin Whaley, the CEO of Mapp Biopharmaceutical of San Diego.

After Whaley explained that he had no idea whether ZMapp, his company’s now famous experimental antibody cocktail used to treat Ebola victims, really worked, the journalist continued to press. “From what you’ve seen in your research—and what your heart says—what do you say?”

The audience of 100 people or so broke into nervous giggles.

“I’m not willing to speculate on that,” Whaley replied.

Same continent, different virus from United Press International:

AIDS progress in South Africa could suffer funding blow

The AIDS epidemic in South Africa has been devastating. Factors like lack of awareness and the indifference of political leaders such as President Thabo Mbeki did not allow any kind of control. However, in the last few years there has been major progress in AIDS treatment and prevention thanks to President George W. Bush’s Pefar program implemented in 2003.

New infections have gone down by a third, mother-to-child transmissions have dropped by 90 percent and life expectancy rose by almost 10 years. Around 2.4 million people are on antiretroviral medication and more healthcare workers are being trained in new facilities.

“We’ve managed a miracle,” said Dr. Salim Abdool Karim, one of the country’s leading AIDS researchers. “Undertaking is not a business you want to go into anymore.”

Due to projected cuts to funding, things could take a turn for the worse. South Africa now pays 83 percent of its own costs for its AIDS health programs and Pepfar funding will probably drop from $350 million to $250 million by 2016. Pepfar workers say the money needs to be used to combat the disease in poorer countries like Cameroon and Burundi.

From Public Radio International, on to the atmosphere:

Rising carbon dioxide levels may reduce the nutritional value of important foods

A study in the journal Nature finds that rising concentrations of carbon dioxide threaten global human nutrition by significantly reducing the levels of nutrients important to human health.

Researchers cultivated 41 different varieties of staple crops on three continents to examine how they might be affected by the expected increase of CO2 in coming decades. The crops included rice, wheat, soybeans, maize, field peas and sorghum — plant groups that are central to human nutrition around the world.

The study’s lead author, Sam Myers, says they found significant reductions in zinc, iron and protein in grain crops like rice and wheat, and similar reductions in zinc and iron, but smaller reductions in protein, in legumes like soybeans and field peas.

The reductions are statistically highly significant and represent a serious threat to public health, Myers says. Roughly two billion people around the world already suffer from zinc and iron deficiencies.

From Arctic News, threats from another global warming gas far more dangerous that carbon dioxide:

Warming waters threaten to trigger methane eruptions from Arctic Ocean seafloor

A new study looks at how, in the 21st century, surface warming slowed as more heat moved deeper into the oceans, specifically the North Atlantic.

Sun-warmed salty water travels north along ocean currents in the Atlantic. When this saltier water reaches the North Atlantic, its greater density causes it to sink. From about 1999, this current began to speed up and draw heat deeper into the ocean.

These huge amounts of heat moving deeper into the Atlantic Ocean are very worrying.

On to water with the Associated Press:

Online list IDs water wells harmed by drilling

Six years into a natural gas boom, Pennsylvania has for the first time released details of 243 cases in which companies prospecting for oil or gas were found by state regulators to have contaminated private drinking water wells.

The Department of Environmental Protection on Thursday posted online links to the documents after the agency conducted a “thorough review” of paper files stored among its regional offices. The Associated Press and other news outlets have filed lawsuits and numerous open-records requests over the last several years seeking records of the DEP’s investigations into gas-drilling complaints.

Pennsylvania’s auditor general said in a report last month that DEP’s system for handling complaints “was woefully inadequate” and that investigators could not even determine whether all complaints were actually entered into a reporting system.

From the Mainichi, victims of a pollution disaster:

32,000 people compensated for Minamata disease, more awaiting recognition

Over 32,000 people have been granted 2.1-million-yen compensation packages under the special relief measure for victims of Minamata disease established in 2009, the Environment Ministry reported on Aug. 29.

According to the ministry, some 65,000 people in Kumamoto, Kagoshima and Niigata prefectures applied for compensation by the end of July 2012 deadline. Of some 48,000 applicants, excluding those who applied to switch from the former relief system, a total of 32,244 — or 67 percent — were granted the lump-sum payment. A total of 19,306 successful applicants were in Kumamoto Prefecture, 11,127 in Kagoshima Prefecture, and 1,811 in Niigata Prefecture.

Meanwhile, 6,013 applicants have been granted only medical expenses, and 9,649 have been denied compensation altogether. The payments will be covered by Chisso Corp. and Showa Denko, which were responsible for the industrial pollution that causes the disease.

From the Chicago Tribune, a small win:

Judge tosses challenge to flame retardant rules

Consumers nationwide are closer to being able to buy furniture made without toxic, ineffective flame retardants after a California judge on Friday threw out a legal challenge from the chemical industry.

Chemtura Corp., one of the world’s largest manufacturers of flame retardants, sued in an attempt to block a new flammability standard that the furniture industry says it can meet without using the chemicals in products sold throughout the United States.

The regulations, scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, will require upholstery fabric to resist smoldering cigarettes, which federal statistics show are by far the leading cause of furniture fires.

Off to Britain and birds on the brink from the Guardian:

Warblers and turtle doves join RSPB list of birds at risk of dying out

  • Bad weather and loss of habitat blamed as more breeding native species are at risk of extinction

Any true love who wants to give their significant other two turtle doves to celebrate the second day of the 12 Days of Christmas may soon be looking for an alternative gift.

In a move that will dismay ornithologists and poets alike, the bird, immortalised in verse by Shakespeare and Wordsworth, could shortly find itself on the near 100-strong list of the rarest birds in the UK as compiled by the RSPB’s rare breeding birds panel – a sign that its numbers are plummeting by such a degree that there are fears it could become extinct in the UK within a decade.

The list compiled by the panel, now in its 40th year, is based on sightings by dedicated bird watchers who provide the society with a wealth of information that is used to track the fortunes of different species over time and is the envy of wildlife organisations around the world.

On to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with Kyodo News:

Fukushima nuclear plant chief feared catastrophe for eastern Japan

The chief of the disaster-struck Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant said in testimony before his death that he had feared catastrophic damage to eastern Japan while he was struggling to contain the crisis in March 2011, according to government documents obtained Saturday.

“Our image was a catastrophe for eastern Japan,” Masao Yoshida told a government panel that was examining the nuclear meltdowns at the plant about 220 kilometers northeast of Tokyo, triggered by a powerful earthquake and tsunami on March 11, according to his testimony. “I thought we were really dead.”

On the government’s interpretation that plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. was seeking a “complete withdrawal” from the plant on March 15, Yoshida denied such a view, expressing anger at the office of then Prime Minister Naoto Kan and TEPCO headquarters, which he thought had failed to understand the dire situation his workers were facing on the ground.

From the Japan Times, a challenge:

Fukushima families sue prefecture, government for radiation exposure during meltdown crisis

A group of parents and children who were residing in Fukushima Prefecture when the nuclear disaster unfolded in March 2011 is suing the central and prefectural governments for failing to take sufficient steps to protect children from radiation exposure during the crisis.

The 88 plaintiffs are demanding ¥100,000 each in compensation, according to the lawsuit filed Friday at the Fukushima District Court.

In a written complaint, they said the central and prefectural governments failed to promptly release accurate data on airborne radiation levels after the nuclear crisis, neglecting their duty to prevent residential radiation exposure as much as possible, and exposing children to radiation.

From the Mainichi, austerity meets tragedy:

Nuclear disaster evacuee compensation halved across board: internal document

The governmental Nuclear Damage Claim Dispute Resolution Center, tasked with reaching out-of-court settlements for individual claims filed over the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant meltdowns, has set compensation uniformly at 50 percent, a document obtained by the Mainichi Shimbun has confirmed.

The internal document is being circulated among center staff and used in the processing of individual cases — calling into serious doubt the center’s previous denials that the “50 percent rule” had been an official practice.

The center calculates the total amount of damages for pain and suffering in individual settlement proposals by multiplying a base amount by a percentage figure representing the impact of the nuclear accident upon the particular case at hand.

Jiji Press keeps it local:

Fukushima Governor OKs Polluted Soil Interim Storage

Fukushima Governor Yuhei Sato said Saturday he has decided to allow the planned construction of an interim facility to store soil and other waste polluted with radioactive fallout from the March 2011 reactor meltdowns.

Sato disclosed the decision to reporters after his talks with the mayors of Okuma and Futaba in Fukushima Prefecture, which have been chosen as possible host municipalities for the storage for the waste tainted due to the accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s <9501> Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The construction of the interim facility is expected to help speed up decontamination of polluted areas in the northeastern Japan prefecture and thus the reconstruction of the region, observers said.

The proposed storage is “necessary for the decontamination of Fukushima Prefecture,” Sato told reporters. “It’s a tough decision. But I will tolerate its construction.”

From the Yomiuri Shimbun, a leak:

Yoshida ‘never’ called for ‘total retreat’ at N-plant

Masao Yoshida, manager of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant at the time of the March 2011 crisis, strongly denied that Tokyo Electric Power Co. considered a “full retreat” from the plant four days after the quake, according to interviews conducted with Yoshida in a government investigation of the disaster that were seen by The Yomiuri Shimbun.

However, Yoshida said having plant personnel evacuate to the Fukushima No. 2 nuclear plant on March 15, 2011, was the right decision.

The government is likely to release the interviews to the public in early September.

And for our final item, via RT, going green, remember?:

Marijuana compound may halt Alzheimer’s disease – study

Extremely low levels of THC compound, a chemical found in marijuana, may slow down or halt the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, US neuroscientists have found, thus laying the ground for the development of effective treatment in the future.

In recent research published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, scientists from University of South Florida revealed their findings, that may shed light on controversial therapeutic qualities of marijuana.

As the team found, extremely low doses of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol chemical, also known as THC, reduce the production of amyloid beta protein, as well as prevent it from accumulating in abnormal amounts. What is special about this protein is that it is found in a soluble form in most aging brains. It also marks early evidence for Alzheimer’s disease.

InSecurityWatch: Cops, alarms, hacks, zones


The first of today’s headlines from the realms of state and personal security, militarism, spies, and all the rest begins with an internal security problem in the U.S., the right of citizens of color to treated with dignity by the armed representatives of the state.

From Reuters:

U.N. urges U.S. to stop police brutality after Missouri shooting

The U.N. racism watchdog urged the United States on Friday to halt the excessive use of force by police after the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white policeman touched off riots in Ferguson, Missouri.

Minorities, particularly African Americans, are victims of disparities, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) said after examining the U.S. record.

“Racial and ethnic discrimination remains a serious and persistent problem in all areas of life from de facto school segregation, access to health care and housing,” Noureddine Amir, CERD committee vice chairman, told a news briefing.

Oddly, a Google search turned up only one video on the story, and that from Iran’s PressTV News:

UN watchdog calls on US police to end racism, brutal tactics

Program note:

A United Nations watchdog is calling on the US police to put an end to racism and brutal tactics in the force.

From the American Civil Liberties Union, one step in the right direction, with a caution:

Body-Worn Cameras Should Not Expand Beyond Law Enforcement

The Guardian reported last week that Miami Beach is planning on expanding the use of body cameras beyond the police to include “meter maids,” code enforcement officers, and building and fire inspectors. This use of the technology does not make sense.

We’ve always been concerned about the privacy-invading potential of body cameras. As we wrote in our white paper on the technology,

Body cameras have more of a potential to invade privacy than [other] deployments. Police officers enter people’s homes and encounter bystanders, suspects, and victims in a wide variety of sometimes stressful and extreme situations. . . . Perhaps most troubling is that some recordings will be made inside people’s homes, whenever police enter—including in instances of consensual entry… and such things as domestic violence calls.

Balanced against these privacy dangers, however, is the significant need to increase oversight in light of the long record of abusive and illegal behavior by police officers (and other law enforcement agents like Border Patrol officers). Police in specific circumstances are given the authority to shoot to kill, to use brutal force, and to arrest citizens—and all too often, officers abuse those powers.

Across the Atlantic with an alarm from the Los Angeles Times:

Britain raises security threat from ‘substantial’ to ‘severe’

Responding to recent events in Syria in Iraq, Britain has upgraded its security threat level to “severe,” the government announced Friday, meaning a terrorist attack there is “highly likely.”

The nation’s Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, an independent body, made the determination based on its latest intelligence, officials said.

This is the first time in three years that the U.K. has been at such a heightened security threat level.

From CBC News, enshrining the national security state:

David Cameron, British PM, plans new laws to tackle terrorism threat

  • U.K. raises terror threat level to severe over Syria, Iraq concerns

British Prime Minister David Cameron says he’ll introduce new laws to combat terror suspects, pledging to seize passports to fight what he described as an extremist threat more dangerous than any previously seen.

Cameron told reporters that while the Taliban facilitated al-Qaeda terrorism, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group is “effectively a state run by terrorists.”

“We could be facing a terrorist state on the shores of the Mediterranean and bordering a NATO member,” he said.

From TechWeekEurope, protest:

Surveillance Protesters Picket GCHQ

  • Britain’s top secret eavesdropping agency, GCHQ, faces a weekend of protests by privacy campaigners

The security cameras surrounding the Government Communications Headquarters, more commonly known as GCHQ, had a busy Friday with a small group of online activists staging a low-key protest outside.

The small number of protesters on Friday were reportedly outnumbered by the police and members of the media, according to the BBC. There was minor disruption at the Cheltenham site on Friday morning, as GCHQ staff were driven by bus into the site itself, instead of the usual practice of being dropped off outside.

GCHQ at Cheltenham, GloucestershireA much larger protest by the ‘We Are Anonymous’ group at the Cheltenham site is expected to take place over the weekend.

The protest is in support of a legal challenge by civil liberty groups, including Privacy International, Liberty, Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union, and others. The groups are mounting a legal challenge against the alleged use of mass surveillance by intelligence services.

The New York Times covers blowback from the Bush era:

As Blackwater Trial Closes, Focus Turns to Moments Before Chaos

When jurors begin deliberating next week in the murder and manslaughter trial of four former Blackwater Worldwide contractors, so much will depend not on the frenzied minutes of heavy gunfire in the busy Nisour Square in Baghdad, but on the moments of relative calm just before the chaos.

Traffic had come to a halt on Sept. 16, 2007, as four American armored trucks blocked the entrance to the square. Traffic police waved their arms, and the cars piled up. Then, two vehicles back, on the main artery running north into the traffic circle, a white Kia abruptly lurched forward.

The machine-gun fire was about to begin. Seventeen Iraqis would soon be dead.

Twelve American jurors will have to decide whether it was a massacre, a firefight or a horrible accident of war. The verdict will close seven years of investigation into a shooting that inflamed anti-American sentiment and was a nadir in the Iraq war. Blackwater, once a major security contractor, came to symbolize American power run amok. The fallout from the shooting unraveled the company, which was sold and renamed Academi.

From TechWeekEurope, cyberwar:

Syrian Malware Team Thought To Be Behind BlackWorm RAT

  • A lesser-known group of pro-government hackers is pushing sophisticated malware

A group calling itself the Syrian Malware Team (SMT) has been spotted carrying out attacks using the sophisticated BlackWorm Remote Access Tool (RAT), with one of the members thought to be responsible for its creation.

According to security vendor FireEye, which identified 11 members of the group, SMT supports the government of Bashir Al-Assad, and even puts the president’s face on its banners.

The group is suspected to have links to the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA), which has been making headlines following a string of successful attacks against e-commerce sites, social networks and media organisations.

And from Bloomberg News, cyberextortion:

‘Your Money or Your Files’ as Threat of Online Stickups Grows

You’re an entrepreneur, managing the business from your PC. You’re a doting mother, with hundreds of photos of your children on your laptop. Now, if someone seized all those files, how much would you pay to get them back?

There’s nothing theoretical about the scenario. Hundreds of thousands of people have had to wrestle with that question as so-called ransomware infections have surged, encrypting billions of documents. Hackers demand hundreds or thousands of dollars to provide the key that unscrambles files so you can view and use them again. One particularly virulent strain, called CryptoWall, has infected about 625,000 systems and encrypted more than 5.25 billion files since mid-March, according to new research from Dell SecureWorks. One desperate U.S. victim paid the hackers $10,000.

Most malware is like a pickpocket, taking your valuables before you’re aware of it. CryptoWall and other ransomware is like a mugger: your money or your files. It’s smart, really, because in most cases, your files are most valuable to you. It’s also easy money for hackers, a lot less work than trying to sell 40 million purloined card numbers on the black market, a la the Target breach. Keith Jarvis, a SecureWorks researcher in Atlanta, found that 1,683 CryptoWall victims forked over a total of $1.1 million to the hackers.

Bloomberg again, this time toting up a tab:

The Cyber-Terror Bailout: They’re Already Talking About It, and You May Be on the Hook

Bankers and U.S. officials have warned that cyber-terrorists will try to wreck the financial system’s computer networks. What they aren’t saying publicly is that taxpayers will probably have to cover much of the damage.

Even if customers don’t lose money from a hacking assault on JPMorgan Chase & Co., the episode is a reminder that banks with the most sophisticated defenses are vulnerable. Treasury Department officials have quietly told bank insurers that in the event of a cataclysmic attack, they would activate a government backstop that doesn’t explicitly cover electronic intrusions, two people briefed on the talks said.

“I can’t foresee a situation where the president wouldn’t do something via executive order,” said Edward DeMarco, general counsel of the Risk Management Association, a professional group of the banking industry. “All we’re talking about is the difference between the destruction of tangible property and intangible property.”

The Register covers a chilling hack:

Ice cream headache as black hat hacks sack Dairy Queen

  • I scream, you scream, we all scream ‘DATA BREACH’!

Ice cream mogul Dairy Queen appears to have been breached with hackers likely stealing credit cards from some of its many US stores.

The chilling news comes from sources within the US banking sector who separately told cyber-crime prober Brian Krebs that fraudulent transactions on credit cards appeared to have stemmed from a breach at the company.

Dairy Queen admitted the US Secret Service had been in touch after initial waffle claiming it had no evidence of a breach.

From the Guardian, the corporation strikes again:

US cable giants call on FCC to block cities’ expansion of high-speed internet

  • USTelecom wants to block expansion of popular networks in Chattanooga, Tennessee and Wilson, North Carolina

The US cable industry called on the Federal Communications Commission on Friday to block two cities’ plans to expand high-speed internet services to their residents.

USTelecom, which represents cable giants Comcast, Time Warner and others, wants the FCC to block expansion of two popular municipally owned high speed internet networks, one in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and the other in Wilson, North Carolina.

“The success of public broadband is a mixed record, with numerous examples of failures,” USTelecom said in a blog post. “With state taxpayers on the financial hook when a municipal broadband network goes under, it is entirely reasonable for state legislatures to be cautious in limiting or even prohibiting that activity.”

On to drones, starting with this from the Guardian:

California to introduce tough new measures to limit police drone use

  • Bill would require state’s police to seek a warrant for unmanned drone use in virtually all situations other than emergencies

California is poised to introduce tough new controls on police deployment of drones for surveillance, as the debate around the acceptable uses of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) gathers pace.

Bill AB1327 has passed all stages in the California legislature and now awaits the signature of governor Jerry Brown. Should Brown give it the green light, as expected, it would send a powerful message across America about the limits of drone surveillance from the technology capital of the country.

Under the bill, police departments throughout the state would be required to seek a warrant from a judge in virtually all situations other than in emergencies, such as an oil spillage, fire or hostage-taking. Where surveillance images have been recorded, they would have to be destroyed within one year.

And from United Press International, calling Ranger Rick!:

Yellowstone endures third drone violation in less than two months

“Even if we can locate it, is it feasible to remove it?” Yellowstone officials ponder of the second of three recently crashed drones.

Park and wildlife officials in Wyoming are experiencing déjà vu after a third individual was cited for flying an unmanned areal surveillance device in less than two months.

The latest offender was cited Aug. 19 for flying his personal drone in the area around the Midway Geyser Basin according to Yellowstone spokesman Al Nash. Unlike past offenders, the latest drone operator managed to avoid harming the national park.

Since National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis banned the use of unmanned areal devices across the park system’s 84 million protected acres in June, three individuals have been cited for flying drones in Yellowstone alone, with a fourth citation in Grand Teton National Park.

From Reuters, summing up:

Ukraine seeks to join NATO; defiant Putin compares Kiev to Nazis

Ukraine called on Friday for full membership in NATO, its strongest plea yet for Western military help, after accusing Russia of sending in armored columns that have driven back its forces on behalf of pro-Moscow rebels.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, defiant as ever, compared Kiev’s drive to regain control of its rebellious eastern cities to the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in World War Two. He announced that rebels had succeeded in halting it, and proposed that they now permit surrounded Ukrainian troops to retreat.

Speaking to young people at a summer camp, Putin told his countrymen they must be “ready to repel any aggression towards Russia.” He described Ukrainians and Russians as “practically one people,” language that Ukrainians say dismisses the very existence of their thousand-year-old nation.

From the Independent, a curious tale:

Oil tanker with $100 million cargo goes missing off Texas coast

An oil tanker loaded with $100 million of disputed Iraqi Kurdish crude has disappeared of the coast of Texas in the latest development in a high stakes game of cat-and-mouse between Baghdad and the Kurds.

The AIS ship tracking system used by the U.S. Coast Guard and Reuters on Thursday showed no known position for the United Kalavrvta, which was carrying 1 million barrels of crude and 95 percent full when it went dark.

Several other tankers carrying disputed crude from Iran or Iraqi Kurdistan have unloaded cargoes after switching off their transponders, which makes their movements hard to track.

After the jump, the latest from the Asian Game of Zones, including ongoing tensions in Pakistan, Abe’s Indian Modhi-vation, Sino-Russian military ties, more Chinese plane posturing and reasons therefor, Chinese courts open, Japan yens for a beefier military, and a curious North Korean defection. . . Continue reading

Joseph Stiglitz: On the corporate looting machine


In conversation with Bill Moyers, the Nobel laureate economist deconstructs the parasitic nature of the postmodern neoliberally reconstructed politically empowered machine that is, shall we say, RoboCorp.

From Moyers & Company:

Joseph E. Stiglitz: Let’s Stop Subsidizing Tax Dodgers

Program notes:

A recent report by Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz for the Roosevelt Institute suggests that paying our fair share of taxes and cracking down on corporate tax dodgers could be a cure for inequality and a faltering economy.

This week on Moyers & Company, Stiglitz tells Bill Moyers that Apple, Google, GE and a host of other Fortune 500 companies are creating what amounts to “an unlimited IRA for corporations.” The result? Vast amounts of lost revenue for our treasury and the exporting of much-needed jobs to other countries.

“I think we can use our tax system to create a better society, to be an expression of our true values,” Stiglitz says. “But if people don’t think that their tax system is fair, they’re not going to want to contribute. It’s going to be difficult to get them to pay. And, unfortunately, right now, our tax system is neither fair nor efficient.”

Chart of the day: Obama’s non-green thumb


From the Los Angeles Times, the amount of marijuana grown by Uncle Sam for doling out to researchers plunged after the inauguration of Barack Obama, the nation’s first President to ever admit using the stuff [a topic we’ve previously noted:

BLOG Doobie

And to close, from a previous post:

Excerpts from the Washington Post Associate Editor David Maraniss’s book Barack Obama: The Story on our president’s days as a serious Hawaiian pothead and member of the ironically named Choom Gang, via Buzzfeed Politics:

Barry popularized the concept of “roof hits”: when they were chooming in the car all the windows had to be rolled up so no smoke blew out and went to waste; when the pot was gone, they tilted their heads back and sucked in the last bit of smoke from the ceiling.

When you were with Barry and his pals, if you exhaled precious pakalolo (Hawaiian slang for marijuana, meaning “numbing tobacco”) instead of absorbing it fully into your lungs, you were assessed a penalty and your turn was skipped the next time the joint came around. “Wasting good bud smoke was not tolerated,” explained one member of the Choom Gang, Tom Topolinski, the Chinese-looking kid with a Polish name who answered to Topo.

 

InSecurityWatch: Cops, hacks, spies drones, zones


We begin with demilitarization in a California college town from Sacramento’s KOVR-TV:

Davis City Council Tells Police To Have Plan For Getting Rid Of MRAP Military Vehicle In Next 60 Days

The Davis City Council has told the police department it must get rid of a military vehicle it received in the next 60 days.

The controversy over the mine-resistant, ambush protected vehicle attracted a large crowd on Tuesday that was largely against it.

The council adopted the resolution to come up with a plan to get rid of the vehicle. A petition is circulating asking the council to press the police to either get rid of or destroy the vehicle.

From the Washington Post, imitation, flattery, and all that:

Captives held by Islamic State were waterboarded

At least four hostages held in Syria by the Islamic State, including an American journalist who was recently executed by the group, were waterboarded in the early part of their captivity, according to people familiar with the treatment of the kidnapped Westerners.

James Foley was among the four who were waterboarded several times by Islamic State militants who appeared to model the technique on the CIA’s use of waterboarding to interrogate suspected terrorists after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The victims of waterboarding are often strapped down on gurneys or benches while cold water is poured over a cloth covering their faces; they suffer the sensation of feeling they are drowning. “The wet cloth creates a barrier through which it is difficult — or in some cases not possible — to breathe,” according to a May 2005 Justice Department memo on the CIA’s use of the technique.

From Reuters, an intervention to protect the deep political agenda:

Exclusive: U.S. may use secrets act to stop suit against Iran sanctions group

The U.S. government is considering using a powerful national security law to halt a private lawsuit against a non-profit group, United Against A Nuclear Iran, according to a source familiar with the case.

Greek businessman and ship owner Victor Restis last year sued UANI for defamation after the New York-based group, whose advisors include former intelligence officials from the United States, Europe and Israel, accused him of violating sanctions on Iran by exporting oil from the country.

Earlier this year, U.S. government lawyers declared their interest in the lawsuit, warning that information related to UANI could jeopardize law enforcement activities.

Invasive Indian media demands, via the Guardian:

Indian journalists protest at publisher’s social media demands

  • Give us your Facebook and Twitter passwords, says Times of India company

The publisher of the Times of India wants its journalists to convert their personal social media accounts into company ones and, in order to do so, has asked them to reveal their Facebook and Twitter passwords.

Bennett Coleman & Co (BCCL) — India’s largest media conglomerate – was forced to amend its original demands after protests from journalists.

It had told staff they must sign contracts agreeing that management could continue to post updates on their personal accounts even after they had left the company. It also prohibited staff from posting news links on their own accounts.

From The Daily Dot, give the man a job at Comcast:

Iranian Ayatollah condemns high-speed Internet as ‘un-Islamic’

Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi, a senior Iranian cleric, believes that high-speed mobile Internet like 3G networks are “un-Islamic” and that they violate “human and moral norms,” Radio Liberty reports.

Shirazi further asserts that Iran’s Supreme Council of Cyberspace should do more to prevent access to “negative features” of the Web like anti-Islamic movies or pornography.

“Authorities should not merely think about the financial earnings of this program, and consider it as a type of religious intellectualism and academic freedom,” Makarem Shirazi wrote on his website.

From the Independent, medium and message:

Graffiti dying out as people vent spleen on Twitter, says top cop

Graffiti and other forms of public vandalism are dying off as people turn to social media to vent their anger instead, the most senior police officer in Scotland has said.

Sir Stephen House, the Chief Constable of Police Scotland, suggested that disaffected members of the public are increasingly using services such as Twitter and Facebook to make angry or abusive comments instead of spray-painting buildings, leading to a decline in recorded vandalism.

“Social media in some instances has replaced graffiti as a way of making your views heard. We have had to deal with offensive comments made on Twitter. My view is that 10 to 15 years ago, that would have been sprayed on the side of a building,” Sir Stephen told a meeting of the Scottish Police Authority.

He cited figures which show that vandalism, fire-raising, malicious damage and related crimes have been falling dramatically in Scotland in recent years. Between April and June this year 13,453 such offences were committed, down nearly eight per cent on the same period in 2013. The figure has more than halved since 2009/10, when it was 28,146.

From the Toronto Globe and Mail, clever, eh?:

Canadian couple detained in China were spies disguised as ‘ordinary citizens’: state media

A Canadian couple detained by Chinese authorities were spies disguised as “ordinary citizens,” according to new information published by China’s state media.

Kevin and Julia Garratt have been accused of stealing Chinese military and national defence research secrets. They were detained Aug. 4, but not formally arrested, and China has offered little information on what they are accused of doing. The Christian couple ran a coffee shop near the border with North Korea, worked to bring humanitarian aid into that secretive country and worked to train North Korean Christians inside China.

Their detention by China’s State Security Bureau has been seen by Canadian authorities as reprisal for the arrest of Su Bin, a Chinese immigrant to Canada suspected of masterminding the electronic theft of U.S. fighter jet secrets.

British Columbian dronal angst via CBC News:

Peeping drone ‘an invasion of privacy,’ B.C. homeowner says

  • Oak Bay woman says drone was buzzing her home, but police say no laws were broken

A Victoria-area resident says she spotted a drone buzzing around her property, but police say their hands are tied.

Laura Moffett says the man, who was flying the drone in a park across the street, was allegedly trying to peek inside her home in Oak Bay.

“It’s an invasion of privacy. We have a skylight above, and on the weekend I had my nieces and nephews around playing in the pool, and what if he had been doing it then and taking videos?” said Moffet.

But Oak Bay police Sgt. Chris Goudie says the actions weren’t criminal, and police won’t be recommending any charge.

More dronal business from the Atlantic:

Inside Google’s Secret Drone-Delivery Program

After two years of development, the Silicon Valley company reveals to The Atlantic that it has substantial research effort into building flying robots than can deliver products across a city in a minute or two.

A zipping comes across the sky.

A man named Neil Parfitt is standing in a field on a cattle ranch outside Warwick, Australia. A white vehicle appears above the trees, a tiny plane a bit bigger than a seagull. It glides towards Parfitt, pitches upwards to a vertical position, and hovers near him, a couple hundred feet in the air. From its belly, a package comes tumbling downward, connected by a thin line to the vehicle itself. Right before the delivery hits the ground, it slows, hitting the earth with a tap. The delivery slows, almost imperceptibly, just before it hits the ground, hardly kicking up any dust. A small rectangular module on the end of the line detaches the payload, and ascends back up the vehicle, locking into place beneath the nose. As the wing returns to flying posture and zips back to its launch point half a mile away, Parfitt walks over to the package, opens it up, and extracts some treats for his dogs.

The Australian test flight and 30 others like it conducted in mid-August are the culmination of the first phase of Project Wing, a secret drone program that’s been running for two years at Google X, the company’s whoa-inducing, long-range research lab.

From Network World, the feds are on the case:

FBI, Secret Service studying ‘scope’ of reported bank cyberattacks

A U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation spokesman said Wednesday the agency is working with the Secret Service to determine the “scope” of reported cyberattacks against several financial institutions.

Bloomberg reported on Wednesday that Russian hackers struck JPMorgan Chase and another bank earlier this month. A subsequent report in the New York Times said the attacks hit JPMorgan Chase and four other U.S. financial institutions. The Times reported that “gigabytes” of information were stolen, including customer account information.

A JPMorgan Chase spokeswoman did not confirm the attacks, saying that “companies of our size unfortunately experience cyberattacks nearly every day. We have multiple layers of defense to counteract any threats and constantly monitor fraud levels.”

From Al Jazeera English, cybercrime in Africa:

Cracking down on cybercrime in Ivory Coast

  • Ivory Coast tackles internet fraud scourge, but analysts say criminals continue to outsmart authorities.

The story is the same at almost every internet café in the main Ivorian city of six million inhabitants, with thousands of small and large computer halls for public use, which locals say have been seized by cybercriminals, who spend seven days a week in front of computer screens seeking fast cash.

“You can’t find any cybercafé in Abidjan without these rogues,” says Armand Zadi, founder of Internet pour l’Avenir, or Internet for the Future, an NGO that campaigns against abusive use of the internet in the West African country.

“They have abandoned schooling and believe they can succeed in life through internet scams because they see other young men in town who make money from it and later branch out into legitimate businesses. Our fear is growing that they could become role models for other youths,” he says.

From the Guardian, a secret in peril:

Zuma’s position weakens as he loses battle to keep ‘spy tapes’ under wraps

  • Secret recordings were key to dropping of corruption and fraud allegations against the South African president

Jacob Zuma, president of South Africa, suffered a court defeat on Thursday that could open the way for more than 700 corruption charges against him to be reinstated.

The decision, after a five-year legal battle, is a setback for Zuma, who is already besieged by criticism over taxpayer-funded upgrades of his private residence and concerns over his health.

South Africa’s supreme court of appeal dismissed Zuma’s bid to block the release of the so-called “spy tapes” containing conversations that were used as grounds to drop fraud and corruption allegations against him shortly before he became president in 2009. The tapes were said to reveal a political conspiracy against Zuma before a crucial African National Congress conference in 2007, where he defeated sitting president Thabo Mbeki in a bitter leadership struggle. They are said to show evidence of collusion between the former heads of an elite police unit and the national prosecuting authority to manipulate the prosecutorial process – though some are sceptical of the claim.

After the jump, the latest from Asia and the Game of Zones, including Aussie insecurity, an Aussie leak, border troubles and hints of an internal crackdown in Pakistan, hints of an Indo/Japanese nuclear deal, a Chinese beatdown and more Sino/American semantic volleys, Japan postures and gets a Chinese lecture, Chinese TV gets tough on Japanese history, a Japanese crackdown on dissent and an insular buildup, a consequences of a leak on Taiwan. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Ebola, climate, pest woes, nukes


We open with Ebola, and another alarm from the World Health Organization via the New York Times:

Ebola Could Eventually Afflict Over 20,000, W.H.O. Says

As the tally of deaths from the worst known outbreak of the Ebola virus continued its seemingly inexorable rise, the World Health Organization said on Thursday that the epidemic was still accelerating and could afflict more than 20,000 people — almost seven times the current number of reported cases — before it could be brought under control.

The dire forecast was made as the W.H.O. reported that the number of known cases and fatalities had risen once again. The organization also acknowledged that in areas of intense transmission “the actual number of cases may be two-to-four times higher than that currently reported.”

The outbreak “continues to accelerate,” the organization said.

According to the latest figures released by the W.H.O. on Thursday, the death toll has risen by more than 100, to 1,552 out of 3,069 cases in four West African countries: Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, which had previously indicated that its outbreak was under control.

And from the World Health Organization itself:

WHO issues roadmap to scale up international response to the Ebola outbreak in west Africa

The aim is to stop ongoing Ebola transmission worldwide within 6–9 months, while rapidly managing the consequences of any further international spread. It also recognizes the need to address, in parallel, the outbreak’s broader socioeconomic impact.

It responds to the urgent need to dramatically scale up the international response. Nearly 40% of the total number of reported cases have occurred within the past three weeks.

The roadmap was informed by comments received from a large number of partners, including health officials in the affected countries, the African Union, development banks, other UN agencies, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), and countries providing direct financial support.

It will serve as a framework for updating detailed operational plans. Priority is being given to needs for treatment and management centres, social mobilization, and safe burials. These plans will be based on site-specific data that are being set out in regular situation reports, which will begin this week.

A parallel alarm, via MercoPress:

Ebola outbreak needs an ‘unprecedented’ response to bring it under control

  • The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is going to get worse before it gets better, according to the top US public health official. Tom Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control, said the epidemic would need an “unprecedented” response to bring it under control.

Mr Frieden met Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to discuss ways to fight the disease.

“The cases are increasing. I wish I did not have to say this, but it is going to get worse before it gets better,” he admitted.

“The world has never seen an outbreak of Ebola like this. Consequently, not only are the numbers large, but we know there are many more cases than has been diagnosed and reported,” he added.

From the Associated Press, a ray of hope:

US to begin safety testing Ebola vaccine next week

  • Federal researchers next week will start testing humans with an experimental vaccine to prevent the deadly Ebola virus.

The National Institutes of Health announced Thursday that it is launching the safety trial on a vaccine developed by the agency’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and GlaxoSmithKline. Beginning Tuesday, it will test 20 healthy adult volunteers to see if the virus is safe and triggers an adequate response in their immune systems.

Even though NIH has been testing other Ebola vaccines in people since 2003, this is a first for this vaccine and its trial has been speeded up because the outbreak in West Africa “is a public health emergency that demands an all-hands-on-deck response,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the NIAID.

This isn’t a treatment for the disease, but a hoped-for preventative measure. Fauci said the vaccine cannot cause Ebola in the volunteers being tested.

A parallel test in Old Blighty, via the London Telegraph:

Ebola vaccine to be tested on British volunteers next month

  • British volunteers will be injected with an experimental vaccine against Ebola in emergency trials to begin next month

Volunteers in Oxford will be given an experimental vaccine against Ebola in fast-tracked emergency clinical trials to begin in September, it has been announced.

The vaccine will use a single Ebola protein and will not infect the subjects with live Ebola virus.

At the same time that trials are beginning at Oxford University, up to 10,000 doses will be made to ensure that it can be more widely used quickly if the trials are successful.

On the ground, with the New York Times:

As Ebola Grips Liberia’s Capital, a Quarantine Sows Social Chaos

The five-month-old outbreak here in West Africa, already worse than all other Ebola epidemics combined, is for the first time spreading uncontrollably in a major city — one in which a third of Liberia’s 4.5 million people are estimated to rub shoulders, often uneasily. Though Ebola reached Monrovia three months after its appearance in the rural north, the city has become, in a few weeks, a major focal point of the epidemic.

The outbreak has overwhelmed the government of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who has won the Nobel Peace Prize and the admiration of leaders around the world. But her management of Liberia has long drawn criticism at home, and now her handling of the Ebola epidemic has presented her with a political crisis that is galvanizing her opposition.

“We suffering! No food, Ma, no eat. We beg you, Ma!” one man yelled at Ms. Johnson Sirleaf as she visited West Point this week, surrounded by concentric circles of heavily armed guards, some linking arms and wearing surgical gloves.

BBC News prepares to quarantine:

Travel ban to Ebola affected countries, UK officials say

The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office says all travel to Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia should be avoided – unless essential, due to the Ebola outbreak.

British Airways has suspended flights to Sierra Leone and Liberia and other airlines are taking similar measures.

Such flight restrictions may make it increasingly hard for people working in these areas to leave, the FCO warns.

From Reuters, quarantine opposition:

West African states call for end to border closures over Ebola

West African states should re-open their borders and end flight bans put in place to halt the spread of Ebola, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said on Thursday.

The ECOWAS countries and airlines will make their own decisions on flight bans and borders, but the view of the main regional body, expressed at a meeting of ECOWAS health ministers in Ghana’s capital, is likely to prove influential.

“We must implement containment measures but we must not implement measures that will isolate or ostracise the affected countries,” Ghana President John Mahama, who is also ECOWAS’s current chairman, told the meeting.

And an alert in India via The Hindu:

One released from Ebola surveillance, 229 under watch

One passenger who travelled from Ebola-hit Sierra Leone to Tamil Nadu has now been released from health surveillance, after 30 days of monitoring.

As of Thursday, a total of 229 passengers who have travelled from the four countries where the deadly virus has broken out, are being monitored across the State, said director of public health K. Kolandaisamy. Of these, 227 passengers passed through Chennai airport and two at Madurai.

Among the 229 are 11 students from two city colleges, who had travelled to their home countries recently. However, all of them are in good health and show no signs of the virus, Dr. Kolandaisamy said.

The Associated Press covers the epidemiology:

Scientists dig into Ebola’s deadly DNA for clues

A single funeral caused many.

Stephen Gire and other health researchers on the ground in Africa had some hope that the Ebola outbreak was coming under control or at least plateauing in late May. Then came the funeral of a healer in Guinea. More than a dozen of the mourners contracted the disease there, probably by washing or touching the body, and took it to Sierra Leone, according to a new DNA mapping of the Ebola virus that scientists hope will help them understand what makes this killer tick.

“You had this huge burst after it looked like the outbreak was starting to die down,” Gire said. “It sort of threw a wrench in the response.”

Ebola exploded after that funeral and has now killed at least 1,552 people in West Africa. It’s probably more than that, with 40 percent of the cases in the last three weeks, according to the World Health Organization. WHO officials said Thursday the outbreak continues to accelerate and could reach more than 20,000 cases eventually.

Another genetic pursuit, via the Economic Times:

Ebola virus sequences may aid hunt for treatments

Scientists tracking the spread of Ebola across West Africa on Thursday released 99 sequenced genomes of the hemorrhagic virus, in hopes of accelerating diagnosis and treatment.

In a sign of the urgency and danger at hand, five of the nearly 60 international co-authors who helped collect and analyze the viral samples have died of Ebola, said the report in the journal Science.

“We’ve uncovered more than 300 genetic clues about what sets this outbreak apart from previous outbreaks,” said Stephen Gire, a research scientist in the Sabeti lab at the Broad Institute and Harvard University.

Reuters covers another casualty:

Doctor dies of Ebola in Nigeria’s oil hub Port Harcourt

A doctor in Nigeria’s oil hub of Port Harcourt has died from Ebola after treating a contact of a Liberian-American man who was the first recorded case of the virus in Africa’s most populous country, the Health Ministry said on Thursday.

Health Minister Onyebuchi Chukwu said in a statement that the doctor fell ill after treating a patient who was a contact of Patrick Sawyer, who died from Ebola in Lagos after flying in from Liberia last month.

The death in Port Harcourt brings the number of Ebola fatalities in Nigeria to 6, all of whom were direct or indirect contacts of Sawyer.

From the Guardian, precaution:

CDC staffer who worked with Ebola victim monitored for symptoms

  • The staffer had ‘low-risk’ contact with someone who later tested positive for the virus in Sierra Leone, officials said

A CDC staff member who worked in close proximity to someone infected by the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa has been flown by charter jet back home to Atlanta to monitor potential symptoms, officials said Thursday.

The staffer had “low-risk” contact with someone who later tested positive for the virus in Sierra Leone, said Tom Skinner, a spokesman at the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control.

“The worker is not sick, not showing symptoms, not showing any signs of illness whatsoever,” Skinner said.

Reuters covers economic impact:

Ebola causing huge damage to West Africa economies: development bank

The worst ever Ebola outbreak is causing enormous damage to West African economies as foreign businessmen quit the region, the African Development Bank said, while a leading medical charity branded the international response “entirely inadequate.”

As transport companies suspend services, cutting off the region, governments and economists have warned that the epidemic could crush the fragile economic gains made in Sierra Leone and Liberia following a decade of civil war in the 1990s.

African Development Bank (AfDB) chief Donald Kaberuka said on a visit to Sierra Leone he had seen estimates of a reduction of up to 4 percent in gross domestic product due to Ebola.

“Revenues are down, foreign exchange levels are down, markets are not functioning, airlines are not coming in, projects are being cancelled, business people have left – that is very, very damaging,” he told Reuters late on Tuesday.

Bloomberg covers another:

Country Confusion Keeps Ebola-Fearing Tourists Away From Africa

When Canadian tourist Shauna Magill posted on Facebook that she’d arrived safely in Uganda, a friend warned her to beware of “a thing called Ebola please.”

Another friend responded to that comment with a Google Maps link that showed Uganda’s capital, Kampala, and Nigeria, the closest nation affected by the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, are 4,900 kilometers (3,045 miles) apart by road. That’s about the width of the continental U.S.

Misperceptions about Africa’s geography mean that Magill is becoming an exception among the increasing number of tourists who are canceling trips to the continent as health workers battle to contain the worst Ebola outbreak on record. Airlines have suspended routes to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, the countries that are the epicenter of the disease. Flight bookings to sub-Saharan Africa may drop as much as 50 percent over the next four months, according to market research company Euromonitor International Plc. That would put the brakes on a tourism industry the World Bank says grew at the fastest pace globally over the past three years.

“Many travelers see Africa as one big country,” Paz Casal, a Spain-based travel and tourism research analyst at Euromonitor, said Aug. 26. “Ebola can damage Africa’s economic revival of recent years, resurfacing the continent’s negative stereotypes as a place of disease, famine and poverty.”

From USA TODAY, a more troublesome impact:

Ebola outbreak could lead to food crisis, U.N. says

The Ebola health crisis threatens to turn into a much broader “food crisis” in some of the world’s most impoverished countries, according to the United Nations’ World Food Program.

The program is scaling up its operations in West Africa to provide food to 1.3 million people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The food will go to people being treated for Ebola; their relatives; and those who have been quarantined by their governments, in an effort to halt the spread of Ebola.

“The food chain is threatened at many levels,” the World Food Program said in a statement. Hundreds of families have lost loved ones, many of whom were their family’s breadwinners.

After the jump, another illness spread in Japan, a climate change alarm, dangers for the world’s food crops, a sinking Louisiana coast, a rain forest victory, nuclear news from Japan and the U.S., and a smokin’ hot news for Down Under and Santa Fe. . . Continue reading

Borders only count for people, not corporadoes


From Democracy Now!, an excellent account of the schemes and scams employed by corporations to rip off taxpayers across the globe by forcing citizens rather than corporations to bear the tax obligations that would rationally accrue to them under an equitable system of governance.

From Democracy Now!:

The Biggest Tax Scam Ever: How Corporate America Parks Profits Overseas, Avoiding Billions in Taxes

Program notes:

As Burger King heads north for Canada’s lower corporate tax rate, we speak to Rolling Stone contributing editor Tim Dickinson about his new article, “The Biggest Tax Scam Ever.” Dickinson reports on how top U.S. companies are avoiding hundreds of billions of dollars by parking their profits abroad — and still receiving more congressionally approved incentives. Dickinson writes: “Top offenders include giants from high-tech (Microsoft, $76 billion); Big Pharma (Pfizer, $69 billion); Big Oil (Exxon-Mobil, $47 billion); investment banks (Goldman Sachs, $22 billion); Big Tobacco (Philip Morris, $20 billion); discount retailers (Wal-Mart, $19 billion); fast-food chains (McDonald’s, $16 billion) — even heavy machinery (Caterpillar, $17 billion). General Electric has $110 billion stashed offshore, and enjoys an effective tax rate of 4 percent — 31 points lower than its statutory obligation to the IRS.”