Category Archives: Politics

InSecurityWatch: Pols, cops, hacks, terror, zones


And so much more, starting with the inevitable from BBC News:

US-Cuba shift: Opponents threaten to block changes

Opponents of President Barack Obama’s new Cuba policy have threatened to block his efforts to restore diplomatic relations after 50 years of hostility.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio promised on CNN to block the nomination of any US ambassador to Cuba. Other anti-Castro legislators suggested Congress would removing funding for any normalised ties with the country.

US-Cuban ties have been frozen since the early 1960s – a policy of isolation Mr Obama condemned as a failure. On Wednesday, the US president said it was time for a new approach.

Part of the deal with the New York Times:

C.I.A. Mole, Now Out of Prison, Helped U.S. Identify Cuban Spies

He was, in many ways, a perfect spy — a man so important to Cuba’s intelligence apparatus that the information he gave to the Central Intelligence Agency paid dividends long after Cuban authorities arrested him and threw him in prison for nearly two decades.

Rolando Sarraff Trujillo has now been released from prison and flown out of Cuba as part of a swap for three Cuban spies imprisoned in the United States that President Obama announced Wednesday in a televised speech. Mr. Obama did not give Mr. Sarraff’s name, but several current American officials identified him and a former official discussed some of the information he gave to the C.I.A. while burrowed deep inside Cuba’s Directorate of Intelligence.

Mr. Sarraff’s story is a chapter in a spy vs. spy drama between the United States and Cuba that played on long after the end of the Cold War, decades after Cuba ceased to be a serious threat to the United States. The story — at this point — remains just a sketchy outline, with Mr. Sarraff hidden from public view and his work for the C.I.A. still classified.

Another frightening case of transnational corporate exceptionalism from the Guardian:

US tries to strike deal with EU for immunity over online security breaches

  • Critics fear Tisa talks could be used to further interests of large corporations and undermine right to privacy

The US is attempting to secure immunity from investigation for online security breaches by major US companies under negotiations between Washington and Brussels, according to leaked documents seen by the Guardian.

Such a deal would prevent US companies that were operating inside the EU from being prosecuted by regulators or law officers for data breaches or claims of negligence in the host country, forcing European governments to pursue cases in the US courts.

Public service unions said the Trade in Services Agreement (Tisa) talks in Geneva revealed how the US planned to protect homegrown businesses from regulations that might hinder their expansion into sensitive areas such as government data handling and healthcare.

Rosa Pavanelli, general secretary of Public Services International (PSI), which represents 650 unions in 150 countries, said the leaked documents, obtained by the Associated Whistleblowing Press, confirmed her fears that “Tisa is being used to further the interests of some of the largest corporations on earth”.

Another major law enforcement failure, from the Los Angeles Times:

Feds sue N.Y.C. citing ‘deeply disturbing’ conditions at Rikers Island

Federal prosecutors sued New York City on Thursday over its handling of violence against young inmates held on Rikers Island, calling the jail complex a place where adolescents are “subjected to unconstitutional conditions and confinement.”

Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a filing Thursday that his office wanted to speed reforms at the facility following a Justice Department report in August that found “Rikers is a dangerous place” where a “pervasive climate of fear exists.”

At a news conference announcing the suit, Bharara said, “Today we have taken a legal step that we believe is necessary …. Much, much more needs to be done,” to safeguard inmates at Rikers.

Before federal officials filed the court documents, they notified New York Mayor Bill de Blasio of their intention. Bharara said the mayor supported the move.

The Los Angeles Times again, with the politics of race in Ferguson:

Ferguson-area school district strips power from black voters, ACLU says

The American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday filed a federal lawsuit against a school district that serves Ferguson, Mo., alleging that the district disenfranchises black voters.

The lawsuit, filed in conjunction with the Missouri NAACP, comes after months of scrutiny by government agencies and civil rights groups into the area’s local governments and predominantly white political leadership following the Aug. 9 police shooting of an unarmed black man. That incident has triggered a protest movement that has yet to fully subside.

The Ferguson-Florissant School District has seven board members, and only one is black. The district serves 11,000 students in northern St. Louis County, 79% of whom are black, according to the ACLU.

The school board members are selected in at-large elections. The lawsuit charges that because black voters are a minority inside the district’s boundaries, their relative voting strength is unfairly weakened in at-large elections.

From RT America, another troublesome Ferguson failure:

Ferguson grand jury witness wants to “stop calling blacks n*****s”

Program notes:

One of the witnesses in the grand jury that reviewed the actions of Ferguson, Mo. police officer Darren Wilson is under scrutiny by journalists who believe she may have not even been at the scene of the shooting. Adding to their speculation is a journal entry from “Witness 40,” in which she writes that she wanted to “drive to Florisant… Need to understand the Black race better so I stop calling Blacks n*****s.” Andrew Goldberg, managing editor of The Smoking Gun, gives more details to RT’s Ben Swann.

Cold War 2.0, with added repartee, via the Japan Times:

Danger in the skies as Russia, NATO play cat-and-mouse

Recent close shaves between Russian fighters and civilian aircraft highlight the dangers of the cat-and-mouse game being played out between Moscow and the West in European skies amid the crisis in Ukraine, analysts say.

In the latest incident, Sweden said Dec. 12 that a Russian military jet nearly collided with a passenger plane south of Malmo shortly after take-off from Copenhagen International Airport.

Both countries called in their Russian ambassadors to protest, only to be told that a huge increase in Russian military activity in recent months was “a response to NATO’s activities and escalation in the region.”

Russia later accused Swedish authorities of being under the influence after smoking too much cannabis.

World War 2.0, via Al Jazeera America:

Dutch right-wing politician charged with inciting hatred against Moroccans

  • Geert Wilders’ political party tops opinion polls in the Netherlands

Anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders will be prosecuted in the Netherlands for alleged discrimination and inciting hatred against Moroccans during election campaigning in March, prosecutors said on Thursday.

The charges stem from an incident in The Hague, when Wilders led an anti-Moroccan chant in a cafe, which was broadcast nationally and prompted 6,400 complaints to the police.

Wilders asked supporters if they wanted more or fewer Moroccans in their city, triggering the chant: “Fewer! Fewer! Fewer!” A smiling Wilders responded, “We’ll take care of that.”

In a later TV interview, he referred to “Moroccan scum.”

Torture lessons from Cold War 1.0, from Newsweek:

When Torture Backfires: What the Vietcong Learned and the CIA Didn’t

The CIA is hardly the only spy service to grapple with blowback from making prisoners scream. Even leaders of Communist Vietnam’s wartime intelligence agency, notorious for torturing American POWs, privately knew that “enhanced interrogation techniques,” as the CIA calls them, could create more problems than solutions, according to internal Vietnamese documents reviewed by Newsweek.

In many cases, torturing people wrongly suspected of being enemy spies caused “extremely regrettable losses and damage,” says one of the documents, released to little notice in 1993 by Hanoi’s all-powerful Public Security Service (PSS). But unlike the CIA, Vietnam’s security service constantly engaged in Marxist-style “self-criticism” to review its mistakes, particularly those caused by relying on confessions extracted by torture, the recently translated Communist documents show.

The documents were obtained and translated by Christopher E. Goscha, a history professor at the University of Montreal and one of the leading international scholars on Indochina during the French colonial period. He included them in his book, Historical Dictionary of the Indochina War (1945-1954): An International and Interdisciplinary Approach, which was published to little notice in Denmark in 2011. “Torture and intelligence gathering in a time of war are a tricky combination,” he told Newsweek, “and the [Communists’] policing and military intelligence services were no exception to the rule.”

On to the battlefield, via BBC News:

IS leaders killed by US air strikes, Pentagon chief says

US air strikes have killed several high-ranking military leaders of Islamic State (IS) in Iraq, the Pentagon’s top officer says. Gen Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the strikes aimed to hamper the Islamist group’s ability to conduct attacks, supply fighters and finance operations.

IS controls a swathe of Iraq and Syria, where it has declared a caliphate.

Meanwhile, Kurdish forces say they have broken the IS siege of Mount Sinjar.

Gen Dempsey told the Wall Street Journal that the loss of IS leaders was “disruptive to their planning and command and control”. He added: “These are high-value targets, senior leadership.”

Cyberconvolutions from CBC News:

Hackers posing as Syrian-Canadians may be tied to ISIS

  • Malware aims to expose location of attacker’s target

Hackers suspected of ties to ISIS posed as Syrian-Canadians to try to implant malicious software on a computer of a Syrian citizen media group, an internet watchdog says.

A Citizen Lab report released today says there’s strong evidence that the Islamic jihadist group sent the phishing email in late November, but it’s not conclusive.

“This bears little resemblance to anything we’ve seen from the usual suspects,” said report co-author John Scott-Railton. “That, combined with who they are targeting … gives us pause and makes us think that maybe we’re looking at ISIS malware.”

If ISIS is responsible for the attempted attack on the citizen media group, it could mark an early warning sign that the group is embracing a new tactic in its fight to establish a caliphate.

Another ironic hack, via Nextgov:

48,000 Federal Employees Potentially Affected by Second Background Check Hack

The Office of Personnel Management is alerting more than 48,000 federal employees their personal information may have been exposed following a breach at KeyPoint Government Solutions, which conducts background investigations of federal employees seeking security clearances.

The total number of employees affected is 48,439, according to an email from OPM Chief Information Officer Donna Seymour obtained by Nextgov.

Seymour said OPM worked closely with the Department of Homeland Security to investigate the incident, “and while we found no conclusive evidence that [personally identifiable information] was taken by the intruder, OPM has elected to conduct these notifications out of an abundance of caution.”

And yet another embarrassing hack, via the Los Angeles Times:

Internet authority ICANN says it was hacked

The Internet authority responsible the Web’s address system has been hacked, compromising employee emails and personal information.

The Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, said Tuesday that it fell victim to a “spear phishing” attack in November. The hack involved emails crafted to look as though they came from the organization’s own domain.

Earlier this month, ICANN learned that the stolen employee credentials were used to access other systems aside from email, including the Centralized Zone Data System that grants access to private employee information. Hackers accessed employees’ names, addresses, email addresses, phone numbers and usernames. The digital thieves also found employee passwords, though that information was encrypted instead of saved as plain text, ICANN said.

And a transition our first after-the-jump, hack-of-the-year stories, via the Associated Press:

Sony hacking fallout puts all companies on alert

Companies across the globe are on high alert to tighten up network security to avoid being the next company brought to its knees by hackers like those that executed the dramatic cyberattack against Sony Pictures Entertainment.

The hack, which a U.S. official has said investigators believe is linked to North Korea, culminated in the cancellation of a Sony film and ultimately could cost the movie studio hundreds of millions of dollars. That the hack included terrorist threats and was focused on causing major corporate damage, rather than on stealing customer information for fraud like in the breaches at Home Depot and Target, indicates a whole new frontier has emerged in cybersecurity. Suddenly every major company could be the target of cyberextortion.

“The Sony breach is a real wake-up call even after the year of mega-breaches we’ve seen,” says Lee Weiner, Boston security firm Rapid7’s senior vice president of products and engineering. “This is a completely different type of data stolen with the aim to harm the company.”

“Movie studios have, by and large, behaved as high-security intellectual property purveyors; prints have been tightly controlled, screeners are watermarked, and bootleggers are prosecuted wherever possible,” says Seth Shapiro, a professor at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. He said that’s what makes it so surprising that email leaks showed that Sony executives apparently gave out passwords in unencrypted emails and made other security blunders.

After the jump, on to the hack of the year, starting with another film pulled by another studio, a White House declaration, possible responses, a media war victor, potential impacts on the studio system, Sony emails force apologetics, an author enters the game, a plot twist about plot twists, revelations about studio battles with Google, plus curious legal ties, major router hackability revealed, Japanese ransomware debuts, a rebel ceasefire in Colombian and a violent protest in Brazil, complaints of wasted aid in Pakistan, thousands may be headed for Pakistani gallows, while Pakistan asks for help for Washington, and a court bails a major terrorism suspect, Christian fear in Indian as Hindu violence rises, a U.N. call for punitive action against North Korea and a North Korean nuclear count, a South Korean rift complicates air force plans, China clamps down on foreign television, Japan redefines scope of future military actions, and allegations of a curious cabal of upper crust British killer pedophiles. . .   Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Climate, health, pollution, nukes


And food, via the Thomson Reuters Foundation:

Climate change could cut world food output 18 percent by 2050

Global warming could cause an 18 percent drop in world food production by 2050, but investments in irrigation and infrastructure, and moving food output to different regions, could reduce the loss, a study published on Thursday said.

Globally, irrigation systems should be expanded by more than 25 percent to cope with changing rainfall patterns, the study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters said.

Where they should be expanded is difficult to model because of competing scenarios on how rainfall will change, so the majority of irrigation investments should be made after 2030, the study said.

“If you don’t carefully plan (where to spend resources), you will get adaptation wrong,” David Leclere, one of the study’s authors, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Infrastructure and processing chains will need to be built in areas where there was little agriculture before in order to expand production, he said.

Another food threat from the Thomson Reuters Foundation:

Tropical deforestation threatens global food production

Tropical deforestation in the southern hemisphere is accelerating global warming and threatening world food production by distorting rainfall patterns across Europe, China and the U.S. Midwest, a study released on Thursday said.

By 2050, deforestation could lead to a 15 percent drop in rainfall in tropical regions including the South American Amazon, Southeast Asia and Central Africa, the study published in the journal Nature Climate Change said.

Much of the logging taking place is to clear land for agriculture. This can cause a vicious cycle, increasing global warming, lowering food production on farms which in turn leads to growers cutting down more trees for farmland, experts say.

“When you deforest the tropics, those regions will experience significant warming and the biggest drying,” Deborah Lawrence, a University of Virginia professor and the study’s lead author, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Coal, the gift that keeps on giving, via the Washington Post:

Dam breaks, tainted wells prompt new look at coal-ash dumps that escaped EPA review

Since the 1970s, utility companies have been allowed to dispose of coal-ash under state laws that vary widely across jurisdictions. The exemption was created by Congress, which, to avoid rules that might discourage the use of coal, blocked the EPA from classifying coal ash as hazardous waste, or even subjecting it to the same national standards that apply to other kinds of solid waste.

That could change as early as Friday as the EPA prepares to issue new rules that will, for the first time, include coal ash in federal guidelines for waste disposal. The long-awaited decision could significantly increase disposal costs for utility companies, depending on whether the EPA decides to classify coal ash as “hazardous” waste, requiring more stringent standards for disposal and cleanup.

Industry officials are bracing for tighter rules while hoping the EPA will opt for something short of a “hazardous” label that they say will hurt companies and raise utility rates. Thomas H. Adams, executive director of the American Coal Ash Association, said stricter laws are unnecessary for a waste product that has been deemed harmless enough for use as an additive in cement and tarmac. He accused “anti-coal groups” of promoting a “steady stream of misleading publicity regarding the safety of coal ash.”

But community activists and environmental groups point to a decades-long record of dam breaks, spills and leaks in demanding greater protection for those living near such dumps. Hardly harmless, residue from coal-burning contains significant concentrations of arsenic, mercury and heavy metals that are toxic to humans and wildlife, environmentalists and regulators say.

Fears of a British health crisis from the Independent:

Norovirus closes wards in nine hospital amid fears of winter NHS crisis

Nine hospitals have been forced to close wards because of outbreaks of the norovirus, according to a report.

As the flu season got underway, ITV News reported that five wards had closed to visitors and all other adult wards had restricted visiting hours at Warwick Hospital. Four wards at Southampton General have stopped taking new patients and Weston General in Weston-super-Mare had been closed.

Hull Royal Infirmary, Diana Princess of Wales Hospital in Grimsby, James Paget Hospital in Great Yarmouth, Alexandra Hospital in Redditch, Warwickshire’s Ellen Badger Hospital and Royal Bournemouth have also been affected.

From McClatchy Washington Bureau, more fruits of neoliberalism:

Most states unprepared to handle infectious disease outbreaks, health group says

Most states are not prepared to handle outbreaks of severe infectious diseases, according to a new report by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“Outbreaks: Protecting Americans from Infectious Diseases” found that half the states and the District of Columbia scored five or lower out of a possible 10 on measures related to the prevention, diagnosis, detection and response to disease outbreaks.

Maryland, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia led all states, each scoring eight out of 10. California, Delaware, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin were next, scoring seven out of 10.

Arkansas had the nation’s lowest score with two. It was followed by Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey, Ohio and Wyoming, which each scored a three.

Another gift of fuelishness, via Bloomberg News:

Air Pollution Exposure in Pregnancy Linked to Autism in Study

Women who are exposed to high levels of air pollution during their third trimester of pregnancy may be twice as likely to have an autistic child, a study found.

Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health found the risk of autism rises in parallel with exposure to fine particulate matter during pregnancy, with the biggest effect occurring in the final months of gestation. The results appear in the Dec. 18 edition of Environmental Health Perspectives.

The findings add to other research suggesting the environment plays a role in the development of autism, a developmental disorder marked by repetitive behaviors and trouble communicating and socializing. The study, which started in 1989 and involved more than 100,000 nurses from across the U.S., will help researchers home in on the causes of autism and potential ways to prevent it, said Marc Weisskopf, a senior study author.

And from the Center for Public Integrity, a very generous giver in a ten-gallon Stetson:

Texas weakens chemical exposure guidelines, opens door for polluters

In 2007, Texas regulators quietly relaxed the state’s long-term air pollution guideline for benzene, one of the world’s most toxic and thoroughly studied chemicals. The number they came up with, still in effect, was 40 percent weaker, or less health-protective, than the old one.

The decision by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) was a boon for oil refineries, petrochemical plants and other benzene-emitting facilities, because it allowed them to release more benzene into the air without triggering regulatory scrutiny. But it defied the trend of scientific research, which shows that even small amounts of benzene can cause leukemia. The American Petroleum Institute, lobbyist for some of the nation’s largest benzene producers, privately acknowledged as early as 1948 that the only “absolutely safe” dose was zero.

It’s “the most irresponsible action I’ve heard of in my life,” said Jim Tarr, an air-quality consultant who worked for the TCEQ’s predecessor agency in the 1970s. “I certainly can’t find another regulatory agency in the U.S. that’s done that.”

The benzene decision was part of Texas’ sweeping overhaul of its air pollution guidelines. An analysis by InsideClimate News shows that the TCEQ has loosened two-thirds of the protections for the 45 chemicals it has re-assessed since 2007, even though the state’s guidelines at the time were already among the nation’s weakest.

A Big Agra GMO win in China, via Shanghai Daily:

Green light for GM crops from US

CHINA has approved the import of a genetically modified corn strain it blocked last year, and has given clearance to biotech soybeans that had been waiting years for clearance in a sign of warmer ties with the United States.

US Agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack said China had approved imports of American-grown Viptera corn developed by Swiss-based Syngenta, known as MIR 162, as well as shipments of biotech soybeans developed by DuPont Pioneer and Bayer CropScience.

Industry sources and analysts said China’s change of heart was due to a warmer political climate between Beijing and Washington since the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum last month, where the two nations announced a joint plan to limit carbon emissions and made breakthroughs on eliminating duties on technology products.

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

3,700 Fukushima evacuees running out of time to claim compensation

Some 3,700 of those forced to flee during the Fukushima nuclear crisis in March 2011 have yet to exercise their right to claim compensation from Tokyo Electric Power Co., a company executive said Thursday.

Tepco has received claims for provisional compensation from some 166,000 evacuees who fled coastal areas around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant because of the triple core meltdown.

Of them, 3,713 had yet to apply for full compensation as of the end of November, Tepco Executive Vice President Yoshiyuki Ishizaki said in an interview.

A bill due for the reactors’ owner, via the Yomiuri Shimbun:

TEPCO’s 1st repayment due for emergency loan

Tokyo Electric Power Co. will soon repay some of the ¥2 trillion in emergency loans it took out just after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, according to sources.

TEPCO will repay a total of ¥150 billion in loans due on Dec. 26 to main creditor banks Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp., Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ and Mizuho Bank.

The firm will make the repayment because it hopes to take out fresh loans from the three banks in fiscal 2015 and later to secure enough operating funds.

In a business rationalization report, TEPCO said it needs ¥300 billion in funds in fiscal 2015 and an additional one trillion yen by the end of fiscal 2016, during which the company aims to return to the corporate debt market.

EbolaWatch: Worries, vaccines, campaigns, fire


From IRIN, the malady lingers on:

Mystery over Ebola survivors’ ailments

For some Ebola survivors, overcoming the lethal viral assault has not heralded a full return to good health. An array of ailments including headache, joint pains, vision and hearing problems have afflicted convalescents; experts are still uncertain of the exact cause.

Not all survivors of the virus, which has been rampant in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone since earlier this year and killed some 70 percent of patients, suffer the symptoms, the extremes of which include amenorrhea (the absence of menstruation) and erectile dysfunction. It is also not yet known why only some are affected.

Margaret Nanyonga, World Health Organization (WHO) consultant clinician, who has assessed 85 Ebola survivors with various symptoms in Sierra Leone’s eastern town of Kenema, told IRIN that some of the ailments were treated, but others such as vision and hearing problems tended to persist.

“The ladies complained of menstrual failure, but these resumed after three months. They also complained about hair loss. Men complained of testicular pains. We don’t know whether it can lead to impotence or not. That is a worry. Some men have reported erectile dysfunction. There are also psychosocial disorders, loss of sleep, anxiety and depression,” she said.
Focus on survivors

Nanyonga explained that the clinic she operated in Kenema is still the only one of its kind in the country dealing with post-Ebola conditions. Responding to Ebola outbreaks in the past, she said, has often ended when the virus is brought under control.

“No one had taken interest in the survivors. After fighting the epidemic, that was the end. But before, there were fewer people surviving Ebola,” she said.

More on a story we posted Wednesday, via the Guardian:

World Health Organisation and DfID slow to react on Ebola, say UK MPs

  1. Parliamentary committee censures WHO and Department for International Development and warns of dangerous inadequacy of global health systems

The House of Commons international development committee has criticised the WHO and also the Department for International Development (DfID) for not reacting quickly enough when the virus took hold earlier this year.

But it commended DfID for the “vigorous efforts” now being made in Sierra Leone, where Britain has taken the lead in international aid, mirroring the US role in neighbouring Liberia and France’s role in Guinea.

The international development committee warned that the global health system “remains dangerously inadequate for responding to health emergencies” and said “DfID should not wait for its 2015 multilateral aid review” to do something about this, adding: “The urgency of the situation warrants immediate action.”

It pressed the international development secretary Justine Greening to move quickly and decisively to guard against a repeat of the disaster, which has claimed the lives of almost 7,000 people in west Africa.

Newsweek covers the Cuban contribution:

To Fight Ebola, Cuba Is Sending Its Biggest Export – Doctors

Cuba’s export of medical professionals has gained the Communist country much praise, including most recently from the island’s neighbor and nemesis, the United States, where top officials have praised Cuba’s response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa. The Cuban contingent of medical professionals sent to the epidemic’s hot zone was larger than any other country’s.

Cuba has trained many more medical professionals per capita than any other developing or developed country. In 2010 it had 6.7 doctors for every 1,000 citizens, according to the World Bank. In the United States in the same year, there were 2.4 doctors for every 1,000 Americans. Unlike America, however, in Cuba the government alone finances medical studies, and it then controls the careers of medical professionals.

When Cuba sent 256 health workers to combat Ebola in West Africa in October, Havana was universally applauded. The World Health Organization (WHO) is “extremely grateful for the generosity of the Cuban government and these health professionals for doing their part to help us contain the worst Ebola outbreak ever known,” said Margaret Chan, the WHO’s director general.

Another vaccine heads to trials, via Reuters:

China approves experimental Ebola vaccine for clinical trials

China has approved a domestically developed experimental Ebola vaccine for clinical trials, the official Xinhua news agency said on Thursday, citing the People’s Liberation Army logistics unit.

Scientists around the world are racing to develop Ebola vaccines after the world’s worst outbreak of the virus, which has killed more than 6,000 people in West Africa this year.

The Chinese vaccine is being developed by the Academy of Military Medical Sciences, Xinhua said, a military research unit which is also involved in developing a drug to treat the disease.

Another trial, via StarAfrica:

Kenya begins Ebola Vaccine trials

Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) researchers in Kilifi County in the country’s coastal region have started the human testing of a vaccine designed to protect against Ebola.

The first dose of the VSV Ebola vaccine was administered to a health worker on Wednesday evening at the Kilifi County Hospital. The Phase 1 trials are part of a wider World Health Organization (WHO) led consortium (VEBCON) funded by the Wellcome Trust.

The Kenyan trials, and other trials that are taking place in the USA, Germany, Switzerland and Gabon, will test the vaccine’s safety and its ability to generate an immune system response in healthy adults.

The vaccine is administered as a single dose after which the participants will be monitored closely. Early trial results will be provided in February 2015.

From Sierra Leone, a double tragedy via the Associated Press:

Ebola: 11th Sierra Leone doctor dies; fire destroys supplies

One of Sierra Leone’s most senior physicians died Thursday from Ebola, the 11th doctor in the country to succumb to the disease, a health official said.

In neighboring Guinea, a fire destroyed medicine crucial to fighting Ebola. The fire engulfed a warehouse at the Conakry airport and burned everything inside, said Dr. Moussa Konate, head of logistics for Guinea’s Ebola response. He could not immediately say how much had been lost.

The death of Dr. Victor Willoughby, who tested positive for Ebola on Saturday, was a major loss for Sierra Leone, said Dr. Brima Kargbo, the country’s chief medical officer.

“Dr. Victor Willoughby was a mentor to us physicians and a big loss to the medical profession,” said Kargbo. “He has always been available to help junior colleagues.”

The 67-year-old died Thursday morning, just hours after an experimental drug arrived in the country for him. The arrival of ZMAb, developed in Canada, had raised hopes for Willoughby’s survival. But he died before a dose could be administered, said Kargbo. ZMAb is related to ZMapp, another experimental drug that has been used to treat some Ebola patients. The drugs’ efficacy in treating Ebola has not yet been proven.

More on the fire from the U.N. News Center:

Ebola: ‘Regrettable loss’ caused by warehouse fire in Guinea

A fire engulfed a United Nations warehouse in Guinea today that contained medicines and laboratory materials used for the fight against Ebola, causing no casualties but “a regrettable loss” in supplies, which the UN mission there vowed to quickly replace. An investigation into the fire was underway.

“This is a regrettable loss, but no one was hurt and we will move quickly together with our partners to replace the lost supplies”, said Anthony Banbury, Head of the UN Mission for Emergency Ebola Response (UNMEER).

“We certainly won’t be deterred in our fight against Ebola,” he said.

UNMEER reported that the fire in the warehouse, mainly containing medicines and laboratory materials, was discovered around 8:00 a.m. local time when workers arrived at facility in the main humanitarian logistics base of the airport and of the city of Conakry, the capital of Guinea – one of the three most affected countries by Ebola in West Africa.

No casualties had been reported, the mission said, and added that the personal protective equipment stored in tents next to the warehouse had not been touched by the fire.

The exact amount of property and material damaged as a result of the fire is not yet known, and an investigation into the fire was underway, according to UNMEER.

The UNMEER warehouse is used by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), the World Health Organization (WHO), UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Red Cross, the World Food Programme (WFP), and Pharmacie Centrale de Guinée to store supplies for their Ebola Emergency Response.

Preparations, via Sky News:

Sierra Leone Braced For More Ebola Cases

  • Fears of a sharp increase in cases mean even those who have not died from the disease are being buried in Ebola graveyards

Sierra Leone, caught in the grip of the Ebola crisis, is bracing itself for a sharp increase in cases of the killer disease over the Christmas period.

The Government is so worried about the situation it has outlawed any seasonal public celebrations and soldiers are being put on the streets to make sure no one disobeys the directive.

The outbreak of the virus, which began a year ago in neighbouring Guinea and quickly spread to Liberia, is now dominating the lives of everyone in Sierra Leone.

The western part of the country, including the capital Freetown where around a third of the population of more than six million lives, is bearing the brunt of the current upturn in cases.

And the response, via Reuters:

Health teams scour Sierra Leone capital in Ebola drive

Health workers in Sierra Leone began combing the streets of the capital Freetown for Ebola patients on Wednesday, moving house-to-house as the government launched a major operation to contain infection in West Africa’s worst-hit country.

President Ernest Bai Koroma said on national television that, as part of “Operation Western Area Surge”, travel between all parts of the country would be restricted and public gatherings would be restrained in the run-up to Christmas.

An encounter in the Devil’s Hole neighbourhood just outside Freetown showed why the programme was vital. Ibrahim Kamara sat in a discarded vehicle tyre, his eyes glassy and his breath coming in gasps, as he tried to answer questions from Ebola surveillance officers.

“Is the body weak?” a surveillance officer shouted. Kamara, 31, nodded despondently while onlookers gathered round.

“Vomiting,” the officer asked. Kamara nodded again.

And a video report from CCTV Africa:

Sierra Leone Launches Teams & Ambulances Dispatched to Prevent Spread of Ebola

Program notes:

Sierra Leone launched Western Area Surge in the capital Freetown on Wednesday, in an effort to contain an alarming rise in Ebola cases. The emphasis will be on safe burials, ambulance dispatching and quarantine activities. CCTV’s Clementine Logan reports.

While the Sierra Leone Concord Times covers qualified reassurance:

‘It’ll take hard work to end Ebola’

…CDC chief warns

Director of the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has said that only hard work, resilience and collaborative efforts will help put a final halt to the deadly Ebola disease that continues the ravage the lives of Sierra Leoneans since the outbreak hit the country some seven months ago.

Dr. Tom Frieden, however, said he was encouraged by the response of the government of Sierra Leone and its partners in putting mechanisms in place to contain the epidemic.

The CDC boss was speaking yesterday at a press conference held at the Radisson Blu Hotel, Aberdeen in Freetown where he noted that “time is of essence for sick people to quickly go for medical examination” if they notice signs and symptoms of the Ebola disease.

On to Liberia and Ebola labor politics from the Liberian Observer:

Liberian Truckers Take WFP to Task

  • Complain to Four Gov’t Ministries, Agencies

The Port Truckers Association (PTA) of Liberia has taken serious exception to a recent contractual agreement signed between the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) Conakry and United Mining, a Guinean trucking company, to provide transport services in Liberia on behalf of WFP Monrovia’s Ebola response.

The Liberian truckers have rejected the agreement, describing it as an attempt to undermine the Liberianization policy and hurt the viability of the country’s transport industry.

In a statement issued on Thursday, December 10 the PTA announced that it has filed formal complaints with several regulatory institutions in the country, including the National Port Authority (NPA), the Ministry of Labor, Ministry of Commerce and the Ministry of Transportation, respectively, seeking their immediate intervention in investigating the contract entered into between the WFP Conakry Office and the private Guinean company.

From Heritage, recognition:

Internal Affairs Minister wants Burial Team remembered

Internal Affairs Minister Morris Dukuly has called on the Government of Liberia (GoL) to remember the Ebola burial team across the country. Minister Dukuly said the burial team needs to be remembered, because according to him, the team has sacrificially served the country.

He said the job of the burial team had been at very high risk in contracting the virus, and as such, there is a need for prayers and support to the team.

The MIA boss was speaking Monday, December 15 at the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism (MICAT) regular Ebola Hour.

“The burial team also needs to be remembered by national government, because they are sacrificing their lives to have our people buried in a decent and dignify manner” he stated.

And from the Monrovia Inquirer, taking the campaign to the street vendors:

Marketers Committed To Ebola Fight

The Liberia Marketing Association through its president Madam Lusu Slong has committed itself to the “Ebola Must Go” Campaign which was recently launched by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

The campaign is aimed at achieving zero Ebola infection comes December 31 of this year.

The head of the Liberia Marketing Association has called on all marketers to join the fight against the Ebola virus by observing all the necessary preventive measures given by the Ministry of Health and its local and international partners.

Madam Slong stressed that since the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, market women have been finding it difficult to carry out their daily activities something she described as troubling for them noting that most women have to sell in order to sustain their families.

MexicoWatch: Protests, vigilantes, & kidnaping


We begin with another teleSUR report about the parents of the missing youths:

Ayotzinapa Parents Accuse Mexican Attorney General of Cover-Up

  • The parents of the forcibly disappeared students also say the president is repressing protests with an “iron fist” strategy.

The family members of the 43 Atyotzinapa students are accusing Mexico’s Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam of covering up federal involvement in the deaths and forced disappearences.

During a press conference Wednesday, the relatives reiterated their demand for a direct investigation into the participation of the Mexican army and federal police in the deaths and enforced disappearances of the students, as well as into organized crime groups.

Spokesman for the families, Felipe de la Cruz, said that the authorities want people to forget about the state crimes committed in Iguala, Guerrero state on Sept. 26.

He said that while cover-ups happen all too often in Mexico, “in this case, the army, federal police, Iguala local police, ex Governor Angel Aguirre, and the President of Mexico himself have to own up to what really happened in Iguala.”

From BBC News, reaction to a lawless violence caused by lawlessness:

Mexico troops sent to La Ruana after vigilante shoot-out

  • More than 400 federal police officers and soldiers have been sent to a town in Mexico’s western Michoacan state.

The deployment follows a shoot-out between two vigilante groups on Tuesday in which 11 people were killed.

Ballistic tests showed all of those killed had fired their weapons in the two-hour gun battle in La Ruana.

The two groups of vigilantes were set up to fight the local drug cartel, but have since become bitter rivals and have started fighting each other.

March on Ayitla, from photographer Alberto Buitre via his Tumblr, #OficioRojo. http://oficiorojo.tumblr.com/post/105561798603/ayotzinapa-marcha-y-planton-contra-el-ejercito

March on Ayutla de los Libres, from photographer Alberto Buitre via his Tumblr, #OficioRojo.

And from teleSUR, the story of that dramatic confrontation over their own vigilantes:

Thousands Demand Army to Retreat from Mexican Town

  • Residents of Ayutla de los Libres, Guerrero, block a highway for six hours arguing that vigilante groups provide security to the communities.

Thousands of residents of the Mexican county of Ayutla de los Libres, in Guerrero, marched Wednesday on a local highway to demand that the Mexican army be ordered to retreat from the zone.

The demonstrators said that although Guerrero undergoes a serious security crisis the county is safe thanks, in part, to the vigilante groups, known as self-defense groups.

“Military checkpoints on highways are illegal and it has been proven that they do not really work,” said Luis Salgado Leyva during a rally in Ayutla-Cruz Grande highway.

Seventy of the 108 communities that constitute Ayutla took part in the peaceful demonstration. Local media estimated about 3,000 people participated in the rally.

teleSUR English covers electoral questions:

Mexican electoral authorities in Guerrero assess electoral landscape

Program notes:

As Mexico’s federal government remains under fire for its less than adequate response to the Ayotzinapa case, federal electoral officials are in Guerrero state in response to a meeting between the Ayotzinapa families and the Senate in which a request was made to halt upcoming elections in Guerrero due to the institutionalized political corruption at all levels in the coastal state. teleSUR

The Latin American Herald Tribune covers Guerrero cartel business as usual:

Mexican Lawmaker Rescued from Kidnappers

Authorities in the central Mexican state of Morelos rescued a lawmaker hours after he was abducted by members of the Guerreros Unidos drug cartel, the state’s governor said Thursday.

“Legislator David Martinez has been rescued,” Gov. Graco Ramirez said on Twitter.

Martinez, a member of the center-left PRD, was beaten and subjected to psychological torture by his captors, the state public safety commissioner said. “Fortunately, he is very strong and he is happy with this second chance that life is giving him,” Alberto Capella told Milenio Television.

The rescue operation led to the capture of eight members of Guerreros Unidos, an outfit active in southern and central Mexico that has been linked to the Sept. 26 disappearance of 43 students in Guerrero state.

And from teleSUR, a dose of common sense from the south:

Bolivian President Critical of Mexico’s Drug-War Model

  • At a graduation event of national police, Bolivia’s president said the violence in Mexico was a result of the country’s anti-narcotics model.

Bolivian President Evo Morales criticized what he calls a “failed” anti-narcotics model in Mexico and Colombia Thursday in a graduation ceremony of the country’s National Police Academy, while also celebrating Bolivia’s policies towards fighting narcotraficking.

“The market for cocaine is generally in industrialized and developing countries. But … look at what is happening in Colombia, and especially how it is in Mexico,” said Morales at the event.

The former union leader pointed to recent events in Mexico regarding the forced disappearance of 42 teacher-training students of the Ayotzinapa college as a result of the country’s anti-organized crime policies.

“The recent events [in Ayotzinapa-Mexico], I still think that [the forced disappearance of the students] is a failed model, a model of free market that is unfortunately subject to the U.S. empire. And now there are deep problems,” said Morales.

Chart of the day: Call it political fuelishness


From a new report [PDF] from the Pew Research Center, with the GOP ruling both houses of Congress, prepare for some drillin':

BLOG Fuelish

InSecurityWatch: Cuba, cops, Sony, war, woes


We open with the long-overdue, via the New York Times:

Obama Announces U.S. and Cuba Will Resume Relations

The United States will restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba and open an embassy in Havana for the first time in more than a half-century after the release of an American contractor held in prison for five years, President Obama announced on Wednesday.

In a deal negotiated during 18 months of secret talks hosted largely by Canada and encouraged by Pope Francis, who hosted a final meeting at the Vatican, Mr. Obama and President Raúl Castro of Cuba agreed in a telephone call to put aside decades of hostility to find a new relationship between the United States and the island nation just 90 miles off the American coast.

“We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries,” Mr. Obama said in a nationally televised statement from the White House. The deal will “begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas” and move beyond a “rigid policy that is rooted in events that took place before most of us were born.”

Hosting a sit-down with the Associated Press:

Canada hosted secret meetings between Cuba and US

Canada hosted about seven meetings between the U.S. and Cuba that helped lead to President Barack Obama’s announcement Wednesday that the two countries will establish full diplomatic relations, a senior Canadian government official said.

The meetings were held in Ottawa and Toronto from 2013 to 2014, according to the official. The official spoke on condition of anonymity, lacking authority to discuss the meetings publicly.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Canada did not play a role in the discussions themselves.

“I don’t want to exaggerate Canada’s role. We facilitated places where the two countries could have a dialogue and explore ways on normalizing relations,” Harper told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. “We were not trying in any way to direct or mediate the talks. We just wanted to make sure they had the opportunity to have the kind of dialogue they needed to have.”

Anticipating another missile crisis, presumably non-Cuban this time, via the Christian Science Monitor:

Pentagon’s floating missile defense future: a pair of billion-dollar blimps

  • The Pentagon previewed two helium-filled surveillance airships Wednesday. The giant dirigibles are expected to be deployed over the East Coast in February as the United States’ new missile defense system.

Two US military blimps flying 10,000 feet above the East Coast will act as a new missile defense system for the United States.

The giant airships, known as the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System, or JLENS within the Pentagon, will be able to scan the oceans and coastline in a 340-mile radius, or from Norfolk, Va., to Boston.

It is designed to defend against cruise missile attacks, or the sort of rogue aircraft incursions that happened during the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The US military previewed the giant balloons, which cost a reported $2.8 billion, in the skies near Baltimore for the media on Wednesday. They are expected to be fully operational by February and will be integrated into the defense systems of US Northern Command, which can respond with patriot missiles in the event of an attack on the US homeland.

On to U.S. domestic issue of the day, via the Smoking Gun:

“Witness 40″: Exposing A Fraud In Ferguson

  • TSG unmasks witness who spun fabricated tale

The grand jury witness who testified that she saw Michael Brown pummel a cop before charging at him “like a football player, head down,” is a troubled, bipolar Missouri woman with a criminal past who has a history of making racist remarks and once insinuated herself into another high-profile St. Louis criminal case with claims that police eventually dismissed as a “complete fabrication,” The Smoking Gun has learned.

In interviews with police, FBI agents, and federal and state prosecutors–as well as during two separate appearances before the grand jury that ultimately declined to indict Officer Darren Wilson–the purported eyewitness delivered a preposterous and perjurious account of the fatal encounter in Ferguson.

Referred to only as “Witness 40″ in grand jury material, the woman concocted a story that is now baked into the narrative of the Ferguson grand jury, a panel before which she had no business appearing.

That cop thing, much closer to Casa esnl, via the Oakland Tribune:

Berkeley: Police Department denounced at raucous City Council meeting

A smaller-than-expected crowd showed up at a rescheduled, venue-changed City Council meeting on a rainy Tuesday night, but what the gathering may have lacked in size, it more than made up in passion.

More than 50 speakers denounced, in often scathing terms, the conduct of Berkeley police and other cities’ forces that assisted them during recent, mostly peaceful protests against decisions by grand juries in Missouri and New York not to indict white police officers who killed unarmed black men.

But perhaps the biggest beating Tuesday was to Berkeley’s image as the most liberal city in America, a phrase used derisively by several speakers. Many painted a picture of a Berkeley not much different from Ferguson, Missouri, or the New York City borough of Staten Island, as a place where people of color as well as people with mental health issues bear the brunt of police suspicion and use of force.

“We haven’t come to grips with some of the issues that have plagued us for over 400 years in this country,” Councilman Max Anderson said during a break. “For us to have to declare, in 2014, that black lives matter, is an indictment of our failure to address the problems that beset us in this society.”

Terror ties question from StarAfrica:

Mauritania trade union wants CIA links clarified

The General Confederation of Mauritania Workers (CGTM) has demanded the government to clarify its alleged cooperation with the CIA over the presence of secret prisons in the country.

Over the last few days, some of the nation’s media have published articles, quoting [The Independent], suggesting information relating to a CIA program to build secret prisons in some countries, CGTM claimed in a statement.

According to the statement published in Nouakchott on Tuesday, the newspaper listed Mauritania among countries cooperating with the program.

For CGTM, “these practices banned by international conventions, including the Geneva Convention, must be prohibited and denounced by all those who have deep love for peace and justice.”

Old school spookery, via intelNews:

Estonian intel officer comes out as Russian spy in TV interview

Estonian authorities have charged a retired officer in the country’s internal intelligence service with espionage, after he revealed in a television interview that he spied for Russia for nearly 20 years.

Uno Puusepp retired from the Internal Security Service of Estonia, known as KaPo, in 2011. He first joined the Soviet KGB as a wiretapping expert in the 1970s, when Estonia was part of the USSR. Following the dissolution of the USSR, when Estonia became an independent nation, he was hired by KaPo and worked there until his retirement, three years ago, at which time he moved permanently to Russian capital Moscow.

Last Sunday, however, Puusepp was the main speaker in a documentary entitled Our Man in Tallinn, aired on Russian television channel NTV. In the documentary, Puusepp revealed that he was a double spy for the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), which is KGB’s successor, from 1996 until his retirement.

And the possibly related, via RT:

Italian ex-MEP arrested, kicked out of Estonia & called Russian ‘agent of influence’

Journalist and former European Parliament member, Giulietto Chiesa of Italy, was detained by the Tallinn police due to his pro-Russian views, which make him a threat to Estonia’s national security, the country’s Foreign Ministry told RT in an e-mail.

Chiesa spent several hours behind bars after being taken into custody from his hotel in center of the Estonian capital Monday. The police told the Italian politician that he had violated a ban on entering the country imposed on him on December 13.

“Due to the current activities of Mr Giulietto Chiesa, there is a good reason to believe that he is involved in the Russian influence operations and his stay in Estonia may pose threat to Estonia’s security, its public order and public safety,” Mari-Liis Valter, Estonia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, wrote in answer to questions from RT.

On to the hack of the year, first with the Los Angeles Times:

Sony Pictures cancels Christmas Day release of ‘The Interview’

Sony Pictures Entertainment has canceled the Christmas Day release of “The Interview” after the nation’s major theater chains said they would not screen the film.

The studio said “we respect and understand our partners’ decision” and “completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theatergoers.”

Regal, AMC and Cinemark — the three largest chains in the United States — decided not to screen “The Interview” starting on Christmas Day in the wake of threats made by Sony hackers, said people familiar with the decision. The chains asked Sony to postpone the release date of the controversial film.

“Due to the wavering support of the film “The Interview” by Sony Pictures, as well as the ambiguous nature of any real or perceived security threats, Regal Entertainment Group has decided to delay the opening of the film in our theatres,” Regal said in a statement.

And it’s not just theatrical release that’s DOA, reports USA Today:

Some industry insiders speculated Sony might release the film in the video-on-demand format, but the studio tells USA TODAY there will be no further release plans of any kind.

“I think they just want to wash their hands of it,” says Matthew Belloni, executive editor of The Hollywood Reporter.

Internal blowback, again via the Los Angeles Times:

Sony hack draws lawsuits by former employees

The massive computer breach at Sony Pictures Entertainment could test laws that require companies to protect their employees’ personal and medical information.

Lawyers representing former Sony Pictures employees have separately filed in Los Angeles two lawsuits that seek class-action status, alleging Sony Pictures Entertainment was negligent in the months leading up to the devastating hack. One of the complaints — a 45-page federal lawsuit, which seeks to represent former and current Sony employees — contends that Sony ignored warnings that its computer network was prone to attack.

Sony “failed to secure its computer systems, servers and databases, despite weaknesses that it has known about for years” and “subsequently failed to timely protect confidential information of its current and former employees from law-breaking hackers,” according to the federal complaint filed late Monday.

The other suit, which was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on Tuesday, also alleges negligence and invasion of privacy of former Sony employees.

The United Press International fingers a suspect:

Reports: U.S. officials blame Sony hacking on North Korea

U.S. officials believe those responsible for hacking into Sony Pictures were working under the direction of the North Korean government, several media organizations reported Wednesday.

Sources with direct knowledge of a U.S. government investigation into the security breach told the Wall Street Journal it is believed a North Korean government hacking team known as Unit 121 is behind the attack. The sources were not identified.

CNN, also quoting unnamed sources, reported that an official announcement is expected Thursday blaming the Pyongyang-based group called Bureau 121.

The London Daily Mail covers the sadly inevitable:

State Department saw graphic Kim Jong-un death scene in ‘The Interview’ and ‘approved of it,’ hacked emails reveal

  • Sony executives hired an foreign policy analyst to consult after North Korea called the film The Interview ‘an act of war’ for depicting the assassination of Kim Jon-un
  • The consultant gave a greenlight and said the scene showing the dictator’s death could be good for Koreans – on both sides of the dividing line
  • Consultant also said he spoke about the film to US envoy for North Korean issues
  • Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton said he also talked to a ‘very senior’ official at the State Department

And from the London Daily Mail again, , another film dies:

Hollywood studio pulls the plug on Steve Carell’s new movie Pyongyang just hours after Sony scraps release of The Interview

New Regency decided to cancel production of the thriller based on graphic novel by Guy Delisle

  • Movie that was set to be directed by Gore Verbinski, with Carell playing an American living in Pyongyang
  • The cancellation comes in the wake of Sony hacking scandal

The Sony hacking scandal continued reverberating throughout the Hollywood film industry Wednesday, leading New Regency studio to pull the plug on a new film about North Korea starring Steve Carell.

The announcement was made just hours after Sony scrapped the release of the controversial Seth Rogen-James Franco comedy The Interview, which was scheduled to premiere Christmas Day.

Titled Pyongyang, New Regency’s now-defunct film has been described as a thriller based on Guy Delisle’s eponymous graphic novel about his experiences living in the totalitarian state, reported The Wrap.

Following the news that Pyongyang has been scrapped, Steve Carell tweeted to his 3.64million followers: ‘Sad day for creative expression,’ followed by the hashtag, ‘feareatsthesoul.’

After the jump, it’s on to drone anxieties and a proposed Big Apple ban, Arab Springs succeeded by what was before, a born again demand on Swedish Jews, Nigerian mutiny ends in 54 death warrants, top Afghan spook bids a sad farewell to Western boots on the ground, a plea from Pakistan to Afghanistan to help catch the butchers of children, a lethal retaliatory assault, another killer drone strike, Pakistan’s peculiarly spooky complications, and the zealot in question whose most notable prior action made a Pakistani girl a Nobel Peace Price winner, and a solidarity demonstration for the children in Berkeley, Thai police launch an international hunt for lese majeste suspects, Chinese nuclear aircraft carrier ambitions, Obama and Abe — Trans-Pacific BFFs, and a university stands up to Tojo revisionism. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Fracked, nuked, heated, dried


Plus critters, health, and more.

First, via United Press International, a major development:

New York state bans fracking

New York state on Wednesday banned the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, as a means of extracting natural gas after a years-long study by environmental and health officials.

There had been an indefinite moratorium placed on fracking in the state since 2008 when then-N.Y. Gov. David Paterson ordered a review on the safety of the controversial process.

N.Y. State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker on Wednesday declared he wouldn’t be comfortable if his own children were to live near a fracking site.

“I cannot support high-volume hydraulic fracturing in the great state of New York,” he said during a year-end meeting of N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s cabinet.

From Al Jazeera America, implications:

New York fracking ban reverberates nationally

  • Activists say the ban, announced by Gov. Cuomo Wednesday, will embolden the anti-fracking movement in several states

The news took even the most seasoned environmental activists by surprise: after years of review, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday that New York State would ban hydraulic fracturing.

“I can barely contain myself,” said Nadia Steinzor, the eastern coordinator for national non-profit Earthworks. “Even though Cuomo recently said he was going to make a clear decision, we were not expecting something as exciting and straightforward as this.”

Activists hope that Cuomo’s decision will spark more bans across the country. “The fact that they took such a clear conclusion on these health risks sends a very strong signal that will reverberate nationwide about the risks to water, land and health,” Steinzor said.

From EcoWatch, more reinforcement:

Families Forced to Flee Their Homes From Out-of-Control Leak at Fracking Well

More than two dozen families have been forced to flee their homes in Monroe County in eastern Ohio as natural gas poured from a leak at an unused fracking well, the C0lumbus Dispatch revealed.

According to Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) spokeswoman Bethany McCorkle, crews lost control of the well Saturday and have not yet been able to stop the leak. Families were evacuated from homes within a 1.5-mile radius of the well near the Ohio River. “There’s still a steady stream of natural gas coming from the wellhead,” said McCorkle.

Texas-based Triad Hunter, which owns the drilling site, released a statement saying it had “experienced a loss of control of a well, the Stalder 3UH, located in Monroe County, Ohio. The previously drilled and completed Stalder 3UH well had been temporarily plugged and abandoned in preparation for the drilling of three additional Utica horizontal wells on the Stalder pad. However, despite numerous precautionary measures taken in connection with the temporary plugging and abandonment operation, the well began to flow uncontrollably while recommencing production operations. Triad Hunter personnel were removing the well’s night cap flange when a pressure disruption occurred. They attempted to bolt back down this equipment but were not able to safely do so prior to natural gas flowback.”

From the Ecologist, more fracking woes, potentially much more devastating:

With sub-$60 oil, fracking and tar sands losses threaten the whole financial system

A new financial crisis is threatening to dwarf the ‘subprime’ mortgage debacle, writes Paul Mobbs. Cheap money from central banks has fuelled some $1.3 trillion of risky investments in high-cost ‘unconventional’ oil and gas. Now, with oil sinking below $60, all that paper is turning to junk – and that’s putting the entire economic system at risk.

Brought about by the recent fall in oil prices, investors are beginning to review the economics of unconventional oil and gas. For the last few years there have been a number of damning reports about the economics of unconventional fossil fuels.

Now it seems those long-ignored observations are being taken seriously by the money-lenders of Wall Street.

Deck the halls with. . .Whoa! WTF? Via the Guardian:

Toxic chemicals found in majority of holiday decorations

A new study tested seasonal products from retailers Walmart, Target and CVS. Two-thirds contained substances linked to cancer, learning disabilities and other health problems

A range of seasonal holiday products containing high levels of toxic chemicals are being sold by top retailers, including Walmart, Target, Walgreens, Kroger, Lowe’s, CVS and Dollar Tree, according to a new study.

Researchers for the environmental non-profit The Ecology Center tested 69 seasonal holiday products and found that two-thirds contained one or more hazardous chemicals that have been linked to serious health problems.

Purchased at seven retail stores in southeast Michigan, researchers tested beaded and tinsel garlands, artificial wreaths and greenery, stockings, figurines and other tabletop decorations, and gift bags. The study identified lead, flame retardants, tin compounds and phthalates, among other hazardous substances. These have been variously linked to asthma, birth defects, learning disabilities, reproductive problems, liver toxicity and cancer.

Measles on the rise in South Africa, via StarAfrica:

S/Africa on measles alert

South Africa’s five provinces of Gauteng, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, Northern Cape and Western Cape have been hit by measles, Health Ministry spokesman Joe Maila confirmed on Tuesday.

Some 49 laboratory stations confirmed measles cases had been noted since the beginning of this year, with the majority of the cases being reported in the Northern Cape Province which has recorded 18 measles cases to date, Maila said.

He said the ministry was working with the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) to contain the virus and ensure that it would not spread further.

“Indeed, there is a breakout of measles in South Africa. However, we are doing everything (possible) to make sure that we contain it so that it should not spread at the level that would get people worried,” he added.

Global Times covers the tragic:

Village votes to expel HIV-positive child

  • Expert: needs care ‘immediately’

An 8-year-old boy was allegedly facing expulsion from a village in Southwest China’s Sichuan Province for being HIV-positive, news portal people.com.cn reported on Wednesday.

More than 200 villagers, including the boy’s grandfather, in Shufangya village, Liqiao township, signed an agreement on December 7 agreeing to expel the boy in an effort to “protect villagers’ health.”

Kunkun (pseudonym), the boy, was found to be HIV-positive in 2011 when he received treatment for minor injuries, according to his grandfather, surnamed Luo.

Luo, 69, said that the HIV virus was transmitted to the boy from his mother.

From the Associated Press, corporate killings:

14 charged in deadly 2012 meningitis outbreak

In the biggest criminal case ever brought in the U.S. over contaminated medicine, 14 former owners or employees of a Massachusetts pharmacy were charged Wednesday in connection with a 2012 meningitis outbreak that killed 64 people.

The nationwide outbreak was traced to tainted drug injections manufactured by the now-closed New England Compounding Pharmacy of Framingham.

Barry Cadden, a co-founder of the business, and Glenn Adam Chin, a pharmacist who was in charge of the sterile room, were hit with the most serious charges, accused in a federal racketeering indictment of causing the deaths of 25 patients in seven states by “acting in wanton and willful disregard of the likelihood” of death or great bodily harm.

Among other things, Cadden, Chin and others are accused of using expired ingredients, failing to properly sterilize drugs and failing to test them to make sure they were pure. The other defendants were charged with such crimes as fraud and interstate sale of adulterated drugs.

From the Guardian, GMO incrementalism?:

Australian organic regulator pushes for GM-tainted crops to retain certification

  • Move would protect farmers from losing their organic certification because of accidental contamination

One of the bodies that regulates Australian organic standards is pushing to allow crops that are accidentally contaminated with genetically modified material to retain their organic certification, in a move that would bring Australia in line with European regulators.

Under current Australian organic standards, products lose organic certification if they contain any level of GM material.

That’s what happened to Western Australian farmer Steve Marsh, who took his neighbour Mark Baxter to the WA supreme court claiming GM pollen from Baxter’s farm caused him to lose organic certification on part of his property. Marsh lost the case and has lodged an appeal.

But regulator Australian Certified Organic (ACO) has applied to the Organic Industry Standards and Certification Council (OISCC) to change the standards to allow a minimum level of “advantageous contamination” in organic crops, so long as GM material is not detectable in the end product.

Reuters covers more GMO politicking:

U.S, China making progress on biotech crop talks: USDA’s Vilsack

The United States and China are making progress in talks over Beijing’s acceptance of new biotechnology for crops, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on Wednesday.

The countries are “moving toward an understanding of how we might be able to establish a strategic dialogue on biotechnology,” Vilsack told Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang in a bilateral meeting in Chicago.

Biotech crops are a key trade issue between the countries because China has rejected more than 1 million tons of U.S. corn containing traces of a type of genetically modified corn, Agrisure Viptera, in the past year. The strain, developed by Syngenta AG, is approved for planting in the United States but not for import by Beijing.

From the Guardian, resistance to the neoliberal environmental agenda:

Italy says it will oppose EU plans to scrap environment law

  • Eleven member states signed letter opposing withdrawal of draft EU law on air quality and waste

Plans by European policymakers to scrap a draft EU law on air quality and waste send a “negative signal” about Europe’s ambition to curb climate change and governments will challenge them, the Italian environment minister said on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the European commission laid out its legislative plans for 2015, saying it would focus on priorities such as jobs and economic growth. At the same time, it planned to withdraw some proposals made by the previous EU executive, including on improving air quality and cutting waste.

Environment minister Gian Luca Galletti of Italy, holder of the rotating EU presidency, was one of 11 EU ministers who signed a letter to the commission saying they opposed plans to tear up environmental legislation. He told journalists the opposition would continue.

After the jump, climatic grounds for pick-me-up angst, the U.S. Southwest looks to replenish a critical reservoir, oceans now come with a plastic lining?, Obama saves a bay — at least for now, Peruvian environmental murders, the tragic price of Chinese ivory hunger, the Navajo coal problem, on to Fukushimapocalypse Now! and yet another leak, and a singularly bad timing problem, bad news for Japan’s power customer, another nuclear plant moves closer to a restart, and more ratepayer woes. . . Continue reading