Category Archives: Politics

Map of the day: Global separatist movements


From Reuters, and click on the image to enlarge:

Secessionist movements around the worldUPDATE: A video report on one set of Reuters findings from RT America:

Quarter of Americans want their state to secede from US

Program notes:

Nearly one-quarter of US residents would consider their state seceding from the US, according to a new poll from Reuters and Ipsos. Asked about how they view the idea of forming an independent country, 23.9 percent of respondents either strongly or generally supported the move, but 53 percent strongly oppose any such action. Among supporters, Obamacare, foreign policy and political gridlock were frequently cited. RT’s Ameera David has more on the surprising numbers

InSecurityWatch: Spooks, cops, wars, feints


We begin with the utterly outrageous via Motherboard:

The Navy Routinely Spies on Citizens Then Helps the Police Prosecute Them

It’s not just the NSA: A Federal Appeals Court has just noted a disturbing and “extraordinary” trend of the Navy conducting mass surveillance on American civilians, and then using what they find to help local law enforcement prosecute criminals.

In this specific case, a Navy Criminal Investigative Service agent in George scanned the computers of every civilian in Washington state who happened to be using the decentralized Gnutella peer-to-peer network, looking for child pornography. The agent, Steve Logan, found child porn on a computer owned by a man named Michael Dreyer.

Logan then passed his evidence on to local law enforcement, who arrested and eventually convicted Dreyer, who was sentenced to 18 years in prison. The US Ninth Circuit of Appeals ruled that this was a massive overstep of military authority, a disturbing trend, and a blatant violation of the Posse Comitatus Act, a law that prohibits the military from conducting investigations on civilians.

The government argued that it conducted the surveillance on the off chance that it caught a military member violating the law and suggested that it has this authority in any state with a military base.

From the Associated Press, serious Snowden blowback [or so they would have us believe]:

AP EXCLUSIVE: CIA halts spying in Europe

The CIA has curbed spying on friendly governments in Western Europe in response to the furor over a German caught selling secrets to the United States and the Edward Snowden revelations of classified information held by the National Security Agency, according to current and former U.S. officials.

The pause in decades of espionage, which remains partially in effect, was designed to give CIA officers time to examine whether they were being careful enough and to evaluate whether spying on allies is worth running the risk of discovery, said a U.S. official who has been briefed on the situation.

Under the stand-down order, case officers in Europe largely have been forbidden from undertaking “unilateral operations” such as meeting with sources they have recruited within allied governments. Such clandestine meetings are the bedrock of spying.

From the London Daily Mail, ah yes, those folks:

‘He is endowed with a certain lethal gentleness': The inappropriate remarks made by CIA supervisors during performance reviews declassified after decades

  • Comments were made by CIA supervisors during appraisals in the 1980s
  • Feature misused vocabulary, odd phrases and inadvertent connotations
  • Include: ‘He is endowed with a certain lethal gentleness’, ‘I both like and dislike this officer’ and ‘Although unmarried she has growth potential’
  • Quotes among hundreds of documents declassified by agency yesterday

And from Gizmodo, Old Spook ties?:

Larry Ellison’s Oracle Started As a CIA Project

Yesterday, Vox somehow managed to write an entire article about the history of Oracle and its founder Larry Ellison without mentioning the CIA even once. Which is pretty astounding, given the fact that Oracle takes its name from a 1977 CIA project codename. And that the CIA was Oracle’s first customer.

Vox simply says that Oracle was founded in “the late 1970s” and “sells a line of software products that help large and medium-sized companies manage their operations.” All of which is true! But as the article continues, it somehow ignores the fact that Oracle has always been a significant player in the national security industry. And that its founder would not have made his billions without helping to build the tools of our modern surveillance state.

“Recognizing the potential demand for a commercial database product, [Ellison] founded the company that became Oracle in 1977,” Vox writes, conspicuously omitting the whole “because CIA wanted a relational database” part of the history.

From BuzzFeed, the revolving door moves to the bedroom:

Wife: NSA Official. Husband: Exec At Firm Seeming To Do Or Seek Business With NSA

  • NSA: It’s secret.

A large government contracting firm that appears to be doing or seeking business with the National Security Agency employs the spouse of one of the most powerful officials at the agency, according to corporate records, press releases, and company websites. But the NSA has declined to address whether there is a potential conflict of interest or to disclose any information about contracts or the official’s financial holdings.

The spouse, for years, has also had an intelligence technology company incorporated at the couple’s suburban residence in Maryland.

The NSA official, Teresa H. Shea, is director of the Signals Intelligence Directorate, which means she oversees electronic eavesdropping for intelligence purposes. She’s held that crucial position since 2010. SIGINT, as it is called, is the bread and butter of NSA espionage operations, and it includes intercepting and decoding phone calls, whether cellular or landline; radio communications; and internet traffic. Shea’s directorate was involved in the controversial domestic surveillance program, much of which was revealed by Edward Snowden.

As for Shea’s husband, James, he is currently a vice president at DRS Signal Solutions, part of DRS Technologies, a major American defense contracting company owned by the Italian defense giant Finmeccanica. On his LinkedIn page, he boasts of his “core focus” in “SIGINT systems,” and cites his employer, DRS, for its work in “signals intelligence, cyber, and commercial test and measurement applications.”

Next, a new feint in Cold War 2.0 from the London Telegraph:

US sends jets to intercept Russian aircraft

  • American and Canadian jets scrambled after six Russian aircraft entered the US’s air defence identification zone (ADIZ)

On Wednesday, six Russian aircraft entered the United States’ air defense identification zone (ADIZ), an area beyond sovereign U.S. airspace, according to a statement from NORAD, a US and Canadian aerospace command, and US Northern Command (NORTHCOM).

In response, “two Alaskan-based F-22 fighter jets acting under the authority of NORAD identified and intercepted two Russian IL-78 refueling tankers, two Russian Mig-31 fighter jets and two Russian Bear long-range bombers in the ADIZ, west of Alaska,” the statement said.

On Thursday, Canadian fighter jets intercepted two Russian Bear long-range bombers in the Canadian ADIZ.

From the Guardian, when your secrets aren’t your secrets:

California judge rules against privacy advocate and protects police secrecy

  • Man loses bid to access to police license plate records in case with repercussions on surveillance and government databases

A California judge’s initial ruling against a tech entrepreneur, who seeks access to records kept secret in government databases detailing the comings and goings of millions of cars in the San Diego area, via license plate scans, was the second legal setback within a month for privacy advocates.

The tentative decision issued Thursday upheld the right of authorities to block the public from viewing information collected on their vehicles, by way of vast networks that rely on cameras mounted on stoplights and police cars.

The rapidly expanding systems and their growing databases have been the subject of a larger debate pitting privacy rights against public safety concerns in a new frontier over high-tech surveillance. A Los Angeles judge ruled in August that city police and sheriff’s departments don’t have to disclose records from the 3m plates they scan each week.

From Reuters, piling on political fortunes at home plunge:

French jets strike in Iraq, expanding U.S.-led campaign against Islamic State

French jets struck a suspected Islamic State target in Iraq for the first time on Friday, expanding a U.S.-led military campaign against militants who have seized a third of the country and also control large parts of neighboring Syria.

President Francois Hollande said Rafale jets hit “a logistics depot of the terrorists” near the city of Mosul, which has been held by Islamic State for more than three months. It promised more operations in coming days.

The French military action, which follows U.S. air strikes in northern Iraq and near the capital Baghdad, appeared to win qualified endorsement from Iraq’s top Shi’ite leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

From the Associated Press, indeed:

Islamic State plot in Australia raises questions

The Islamic State plot to carry out random beheadings in Sydney alleged by police is a simple and barbaric scheme that has shaken Australians. But terrorism experts on Friday questioned whether the ruthless movement had the capacity or inclination to sustain a terror campaign so far from the Middle East.

Some terrorism experts saw the plot as a potential shift in Islamic State’s focus from creating an Islamic caliphate in the Middle East. Others, including Professor of International Relations and Security Studies at Murdoch University, Samuel Makinda, said it is more likely a symptom of policy confusion within a disparate group.

“If you have people coming in from different backgrounds from all these countries, when it comes to policy making, they’re going to fight each other, they’re going to kill each other,” Makinda said.

“On ISIS, I see no direct threat to Australia or to any other country at the moment except those in the Middle East,” he added.

Channel NewsAsia Singapore covers political theater:

Australia terror crackdown sees armed police in parliament

Australia deployed armed police inside parliament on Friday (Sep 19) in the face of extremist threats, ramping up an anti-terror crackdown after foiling a plot by Islamic State militants to carry out gruesome “demonstration executions” in the country.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott called an emergency meeting of his national security committee after urging Australians not to be intimidated by murderous plots, including beheadings. “All levels of government will do whatever we humanely can to keep our community safe,” he told a press conference. “The best way for people to respond to the threat of terror is to go about their normal lives,” Abbott said. “Terrorists want to scare us out of being ourselves. There will be armed federal police in and around our national parliament at all times.”

The prime minister has refused to link the latest threats against Australia to the nation’s role in fighting the Islamic State organisation in Iraq. He refuses to use the word “state” and brands the group a “death cult”.

From the Guardian, applying stick to hornet’s nest:

Anti-Islam ad campaign to run on New York City buses and subways

  • Blogger paid $100,000 to place ads, one of which was rejected by MTA on grounds it could ‘incite or provoke violence’

Controversial blogger and activist Pamela Geller has paid $100,000 to place advertisements on New York City buses and in subway stations that feature anti-Islamic messages and images including one of James Foley, the American journalist beheaded by Isis in August.

The campaign, which is being funded by Geller’s advocacy group, the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AMDI), features six posters including the one that features Foley. All the posters carry messages critical of Islam. One features a picture of Adolf Hitler.

This is not the first time Geller’s organisation has used posters on New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority’s ad space to court controversy. In 2012, her organisation paid for posters to appear in ten New York subway stations.

After the jump, spawning a boom for drones, tanks-but-no-tanks at San Diego schools, killing on a Pakistani campus, troubling ghosts from the Korean/Japanese past, and troubling memories of a bloody British hand in Asia. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Carnivore costs, fuels, nukes


First up, from Kyodo News, killing to continue:

Despite IWC resolution, Japan to start “research whaling”: Suga

Japan plans to start “research whaling” in the Antarctic in fiscal 2015 despite a resolution by the International Whaling Commission against the practice, the top government spokesman said Friday.

“We will make preparations so we can start new research whaling in the Antarctic in fiscal 2015,” based on a ruling by the International Court of Justice, Suga said at a regular press conference. “It’s extremely regrettable” that the resolution was adopted, he said.

Suga said Japan’s practices are “completely in line with” the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.

The Mainichi covers some of the hypocrisy:

Research whaling costs 4 bil. yen per year

Japan has insisted on resuming research whaling because, in the words of a senior Fisheries Agency official, it needs scientific data for resuming commercial whaling.

If Japan is forced to pull out of scientific whaling, the chances of resuming commercial whaling will evaporate, and even limited coastal hunts for small whales may be further scaled down.

According to an estimation made by the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), there are 515,000 minke whales in the Antarctic Ocean. As there are no other whale varieties with populations this big, Japan believes it is reasonable to turn to minke whales for scientific purposes.

But scientific whaling in the Antarctic and Northwest Pacific costs about 4 billion yen a year. Japan’s nonprofit Institute of Cetacean Research is in charge of the project. It has sold whale meat gleaned from scientific whaling to help run its operations, but the number of whales it has caught in the Antarctic has been far lower than its targets due to interference from anti-whaling groups. The Fisheries Agency says the government supplements the institute’s budget with an annual subsidy of about 1 billion yen because proceeds from whale meat are not enough to fund its operations.

From Salon, crying foul on corporate factory fowls:

White House: Factory farms are putting the public at risk — but we’re not going to do anything about it

  • New executive orders aimed at staving off “the next pandemic” both acknowledge and ignore livestock’s contribution

The Obama administration is finally making serious moves toward addressing antibiotic resistance, calling up an executive task force and presidential advisory committee dedicated to the problem. The executive orders signed Thursday, the AP reports, also call for “new regulations to make sure there is appropriate oversight of the use of antibiotics in hospitals” and “encourage better tracking of antibiotic use and the development of new antibiotics and tests.”

Some experts, according to the New York Times, were impressed just that the president decided to take on this issue. But even though we’ve known about the threat of antibiotic resistance for years, warnings have recently become especially charged. This past April, the World Health Organization released a report characterizing antibiotic-resistant superbugs as a world-wide threat to public health: the bacteria that cause “common, serious diseases” bloodstream infections, diarrhea, pneumonia, urinary tract infections and gonorrhea, it found, are developing resistance to the drugs needed to treat them, including those classified as “last resort.” In July, CDC Director Thomas Frieden called for immediate action to address the crisis, which he warned could lead to the “next pandemic.” Currently, antibiotic-resistant bacteria are responsible for at least 23,00 deaths in the U.S. each year. So you could also argue that the problem has become pretty much un-ignorable.

Considerably less awesome is the fact that the government will continue to ignore the abuse of antibiotics in livestock, which in the U.S. occurs at astounding rates. To give just one example of how widespread the problem is, a recent Reuters investigation revealed that the use of antibiotics at the nation’s largest poultry companies is reserved not for illness, but is instead “a standard practice over most of the birds’ lives.”

From the Independent, another climate alarm:

Greenland’s dark snow may start global warming ‘feedback loop’

Dr Jason Box, a glaciology professor, has just finished his 23rd expedition to the Danish-owned island since 1994, a series of trips that included spending a year camped on the country’s inland ice. And this time, said Dr Box, he had never seen anything like it.

“Where I took the photos I was stunned by how large an area had such a dark appearance,” said Dr Box, who works for the Geological Survey of Greenland. “This rocket ride has just gotten off the launchpad. I expect the snow and ice to continue darkening – every indication is that the Arctic climate will continue warming and the number of wildfires will keep increasing.”

Unlike the black ice found on Britain’s streets, which is clear and takes on the colour of dark surfaces underneath it, Greenland’s ice and snow really is becoming darker. Dr Fox, who co-founded the Dark Snow Project to measure the impact of the blackening ice on its ability to reflect sunlight, has calculated that the ice sheet is 5.6 per cent darker this year than last.

From the Guardian, Global Corporate University strikes again:

University of California rejects student call to divest from fossil fuels

  • Straying from the precedent set by Stanford and Harvard, university’s board of regents will continue to invest in fossil fuels

The University of California voted on Friday to maintain its investments in fossil fuels, frustrating a student-led effort to divest its portfolio in oil, natural gas and coal.

UC is among the major college endowments have been reluctant to shake up their portfolios by pulling out of fossil fuels after Stanford University, one of the most prestigious and wealthiest in America, took that step in May.

Jagdeep Bachher, UC Regent’s Chief Investment Officer, said in a presentation that UC’s fossil fuel holdings amounts to $10bn of the $91bn in the college’s investment portfolio.

Mining the same vein, but across the Pacific, via Reuters:

China power plants exempt from ban on using low-quality coal: sources

China’s bid to limit the consumption of low-quality thermal coal in major cities to help curb pollution will not apply to power plants, traders and utility sources said, exempting a sector responsible for half the country’s coal use.

China said on Monday that from 2015 it would restrict the production, consumption and import of coal with high impurity levels in a bid to fight smog, much of which is caused by using coal for heating and electricity.

The government set three new quality thresholds, with the most stringent requirement banning the use of coal with more than 16 pct ash and 1 percent sulphur content in key population centers like Beijing and the Yangtze river delta region.

Next up, Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with the Japan Times:

Tainted water problems still plague Fukushima, despite some positive signs

To improve the situation, Tepco has been taking steps to reduce the daily buildup of tainted water and to empty the filled trenches running beneath it.

One of those steps, the so-called groundwater bypass, finally began showing progress this week. The bypass is designed to reduce the amount of groundwater merging with tainted water from the plant by pumping it up beforehand and discharging it into the sea.

Other steps have proved unsuccessful, including a recent effort to build ice walls between two of the flooded turbine buildings and their trenches.

The mingling of the waters is a huge headache for Tepco: 400 tons of groundwater seep into the cracked reactor and turbine buildings every day. It then mixes with highly radioactive water in the flooded basements of reactors 1, 2 and 3, which were hit by the meltdowns, and increases the overall volume.

The Asahi Shimbun encounters obstacles:

TEPCO struggling to win approval of fishermen over water-discharge plan

Local fishermen are crying foul over Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s latest plan to discharge processed contaminated water from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant into the ocean.

TEPCO and the central government held the first explanatory briefing over the plan on Sept. 18, seeking to win the approval of fishermen operating in southern Fukushima Prefecture.

Their explanation was apparently unconvincing. “I can’t believe anything TEPCO says,” one of the attendees said after the meeting.

The Asahi Shimbun stays the course:

Outgoing NRA commissioner insists safety screenings for reactors were fair

An outgoing commissioner of the Nuclear Regulation Authority rejected criticism from the pro-nuclear community, saying the safety screenings for restarting the nation’s idled nuclear reactors were conducted in a fair manner.

“No part of the safety screening process was strict,” Kunihiko Shimazaki, whose two-year tenure as deputy chairman of the nuclear watchdog ended on Sept. 18, told reporters. “Everything was done in a sensible manner.”

Another commissioner, Kenzo Oshima, a former diplomat, left the post the same day.

Shimazaki, a seismology specialist, proved a thorn in the side of power utilities with his calls for reassessing the potential force inflicted by seismic waves and tsunami upon nuclear plants.

NHK WORLD disposes:

Govt. aims to begin waste transport in January

Japan’s environment minister says the government wants to start transporting radioactive waste produced by the Fukushima nuclear accident to interim storage facilities in Fukushima next January as scheduled.

Yoshio Mochiduki said on Friday that the government wants to proceed with preparations for the transport quickly, and it has no plan to change the target date.

The government started studying transportation routes and negotiations with landowners after the Fukushima government agreed earlier this month to build the facilities in the prefecture.

For our final item, NHK WORLD opposes:

Towns vote to block radioactive waste dumps

The assemblies of 2 towns north of Tokyo have voted unanimously to block or limit the construction of final disposal sites for radioactive waste in their towns.

Kami Town in Miyagi Prefecture and Shioya Town in Tochigi Prefecture have both been named by the central government as candidate sites for the facilities.

Sludge, ash, and other waste containing more than 8,000 becquerels of radioactive materials per kilogram are to be permanently stored at the sites.

The government plans to build such facilities in 5 prefectures near Fukushima, where the 2011 nuclear accident occurred.

Why we call it Global Corporate U.


That would be the University of California as a system and the Berkeley campus as the nucleus, the same campus featured in a post earlier this week covering a proposed massive tuition hike for the college that teaches one of the poorest paid of the learned vocations.

A screencap of a post from from Romensko, the same journalism site featured in that earlier post:

BLOG Cal

EbolaWatch: Dire scenarios, complications, aid


Lots of ground to cover today, so we begin with a dire warning, via Bloomberg:

Ebola Worst-Case Scenario Has More Than 500,000 Cases

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa could spread to hundreds of thousands more people by the end of January, according to an estimate under development by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that puts one worst-case scenario at 550,000 or more infections.

The report, scheduled to be released next week, was described by two people familiar with its contents, who asked to remain anonymous because it isn’t yet public.

The projection, which vastly outstrips previous estimates, is under review by researchers and may change. It assumes no additional aid or intervention by governments and relief agencies, which are mobilizing to contain the Ebola outbreak before it spirals further out of control in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

And a complication, via Reuters:

Killings in Guinea show mistrust in Africa Ebola fight: WHO

The killing in Guinea of eight people trying to educate locals about Ebola showed how much rural populations in West Africa mistrust authorities after years of instability and conflict, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday.

Eight bodies were found after an attack on a team visiting remote southeastern Guinea, a government spokesman said on Thursday, showing the dangers faced by health workers fighting the deadly virus that is surrounded by suspicion and stigma.

Guinea was crippled by decades of corruption and political instability, and the other countries worst hit by the outbreak, Sierra Leone and Liberia, suffered civil wars in the 1990s. The legacy of these traumas now poses a risk to health workers battling Ebola, WHO expert Pierre Formenty said.

“This population in the forested area has really suffered a lot in the last 20 years. They are in a post-conflict behavior, there is lack of trust obviously between these populations and the different governments for the three countries,” Formenty told a news briefing in Geneva upon return from Liberia.

A further complication, via CCTV Africa:

Africa’s Food Security: FAO issues alert for Ebola affected countries

Program notes:

One in nine people — suffer from hunger. The latest UN report shows a decrease in world hunger, but fresh conflicts and the Ebola crisis is slowing down Africa’s efforts. Maria Galang has more.

Yet another, via Vice News:

Left to Die: Liberia’s Ebola Victims Have Nowhere to Turn as Treatment Centers Overflow

With the onset of Ebola, Liberia’s healthcare system is completely overstretched. People are dying of treatable diseases because they can’t get into hospitals, and pregnant women are giving birth in the street. Everything is collapsing.

An official familiar with the peace-building commission at the United Nations, which includes Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia, said that one of the dangers of the current situation is that in fragile countries like Liberia, which is still recovering after 14 years of civil war, is that all problems in a country coming out of conflict are exacerbated: mistrust of state institutions, poverty, security issues, and distrust in government. “You’re looking at food prices going up and schools closed, wages not being paid, businesses wrecked,” said the official.

“Rightly so everyone is focused on the health crisis, but once the disease is halted, all these problems are going to need to be dealt with, and it’s things these countries were making progress with and all that progress is turned back,” he said.

From Bloomberg, yet another complication:

Ebola Is Katrina Moment for WHO’s Chan Hobbled by Budget

When Margaret Chan was elected to lead the World Health Organization, she said the agency’s priority was to improve the health of people in Africa.

Eight years later, the 67-year-old Chan is under attack for letting an Ebola outbreak there spiral beyond control, and this week her group found itself eclipsed as the leader of humanitarian efforts to control the epidemic.

The United Nations said it would create a separate Health Mission to coordinate care in West Africa, and the U.S. announced it would send 3,000 troops to build hospitals there. Those plans come after Chan delayed designating the outbreak as a global emergency until thousands were infected in three countries, and in the wake of complaints her agency had done too little to manage the response. Now, the WHO is in the awkward spot of being little more than a voice in the crowd, critics suggest, and Chan is seen by some as being partly to blame.

Punch Nigeria issues a plea:

UN seeks support for Liberia, others over Ebola

Mrs Jane Giogh, United Nations Children’s Education Fund representative in Nigeria, has appealed to countries with adequate human resources capacity to assist Liberia and Sierra-Leone to fight Ebola disease.

Giogh made the call in Port Harcourt on Friday in a chat with newsmen.

She said Liberia, Sierra-Leone and Guinea that were being ravaged by the disease had less human and financial capacities.

Star Africa News covers aid arrival:

First shipment of US military response to Ebola arrives in Liberia

A US military aircraft arrived in Liberia on Thursday with the first shipment of US military equipment and personnel for the anti-Ebola fight, in line with the promise made by President Barack Obama in his September 16 speech at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia.

According to a press statement received by APA Friday, the cargo included a heavy duty forklift, a drill set and generator and a team of 7 military personnel, including engineers and airfield specialists. The personnel are here to quickly assess the payload and stability of airport runways and the forklift will be used to offload incoming supplies.

The statement said an additional large military aircraft transporting more personnel and supplies, are expected to arrive in Monrovia in the coming days.

It adds that Major General Darryl Williams, in his capacity as Commander of US Army Africa and Operation United Assistance, has been in Liberia since Tuesday, meeting with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and other senior Liberian government officials to discuss the stepped up US response to the Ebola crisis.

CCTV Africa covers a second mission:

Ebola: AU to Send Second Medical Team to West Africa

Program notes:

The African Union is set to send a second Ebola response team to West Africa. This will be part of the organisation’s larger efforts to deploy experts over a six month period. However funding still remains a concern. Here’s CCTV’s Girum Chala with more details on that story.

From the Los Angeles Times, yet another complication and a profound moral issue:

A looming problem: How to ration Ebola vaccines and medicines

For doctors and public health officials trying to contain the Ebola epidemic, the dearth of drugs and vaccines is only part of the problem. Once these medicines become available, there certainly won’t be enough of them to go around.

So experts are devising ways to ration the precious products — and that forces them to ask some difficult questions:

Is the life of a physician worth more than a truck driver? Is a foreign aid worker more deserving of a vaccine than a nurse who lives in West Africa? Is it fair to turn thousands of at-risk people into clinical trial guinea pigs?

“It’s hard to know what’s the right thing to do,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert and professor at Vanderbilt University.

Reuters covers drastic measures:

Ebola lockdown brings Sierra Leone capital to a halt

Streets in the capital of Sierra Leone were deserted on Friday as the West African state began a contested, three-day lockdown in a bid to halt the worst Ebola outbreak on record.

President Ernest Bai Koroma urged people to heed the emergency measures, and only vehicles driven by police and health workers took to the normally bustling roads of Freetown.

Radio stations played Ebola awareness jingles on repeat and encouraged residents to stay indoors.

Nearly 30,000 health workers, volunteers and teachers aim to visit every household in the country of six million people by Sunday to educate them about the disease and isolate the sick.

From Businessweek, context:

Sierra Leone Ebola Burial Teams Struggle as Bodies Decompose

Ebola burial teams in Sierra Leone can’t keep up with the rising number of dead, and some bodies are left to decompose at home for days as test results for the virus are slow to arrive.

“We are overwhelmed as we bury between 20 to 30 corpses a day,” Sas Kargbo, head coordinator for Sierra Leone’s burial teams, said in an interview in the capital, Freetown. “We want capacity to determine the cause of death in 24 hours so that those who did not die of Ebola will be buried with dignity.”

President Ernest Bai Koroma on Aug. 7 ordered that corpses can’t be buried without the Ministry of Health’s authorization. The measure was meant to stop the virus from spreading by preventing people from organizing funerals for relatives. The virus is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids from an infected patient, including a deceased person, according to the World Health Organization.

BBC News lends a hand:

Ebola aid donated by UK to Sierra Leone

The UK is donating hundreds of hospital beds to Sierra Leone as it fights to contain the Ebola virus.

Of the 700 beds to be donated, 200 are “in the pipeline”, with the remaining 500 to be handed over in coming months. British army engineers will also identify sites in Sierra Leone where treatment centres can be built.

Vickie Hawkins, executive director of the main Ebola aid agency in West Africa, Medecins San Frontiers, welcomed the “increased commitment of resources from the UK government”.

From the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation, measures to protect a huge gathering with participants from around the globe:

Hajj & Ebola: Pilgrims from Ebola infected countries will not attend

Program notes:

The Hajj Board says Ghana will not be used as a transit point for would-be pilgrims from any of the Ebola infected countries that have been denied visas into Saudi Arabia. This comes on the heels of the refusal by Saudi Arabia to grant visas to prospective pilgrims from Ebola-affected countries for fear of transmitting the virus. GBC visits the Hajj Village in Accra to find out whether any of the citizens from these infected countries have made their way into Ghana to travel to Mecca.

From Reuters, a reprieve:

Senegal says no risk of Ebola spreading from imported case

Senegal’s health minister said on Friday there was no further risk of Ebola spreading in the West African country, following the end of a quarantine period for those who came into contact with an infected Guinean man.

“The risk of the Ebola virus spreading from the imported case is non-existent for our country,” Awa Marie Coll Seck told a news conference.

Another clearance, from Punch Nigeria:

Lagos clears last Ebola suspect

The Lagos State Government on Friday said the last suspected case of the Ebola Virus Disease in the state had been cleared having tested negative after surveillance.

Gov. Babatunde Fashola disclosed this while giving an update on the virus at the Secretariat Central Mosque, Alausa, where he observed Jumat Prayers.

The governor said the development meant that the state was now Ebola free and that it was safe enough for schools to resume on Sept. 22.

Punch Nigeria with another clearance of sorts:

Ebola: Rivers, Oyo schools to resume Oct 6

The Rivers and Oyo states governments have declared October 6, 2014 as the resumption date for all public and private primary and secondary schools.

The State Commissioner for Health, Dr. Sampson Parker, who disclosed this on Friday while speaking with journalists in Port Harcourt, the capital city, said schools in Rivers would not resume on September 22, 2014 as earlier announced by the Federal Government as a result of the ongoing surveillance of some Ebola contacts.

He said, “We currently have 253 contacts under surveillance and we hope that by weekend, the number would have come down significantly. We expect that quite a number of those under surveillance would have been discharged in batches.

For our final item, the Washington Post offers qualified reassurance for the other side of the Atlantic:

Ebola outbreak in the U.S.? Probably not happening.

If the deadliest outbreak in history continues at its current pace, the probability of an exportation of Ebola to the United States by the end of September is between 3 and 15 percent, according to Alessandro Vespignani, a Northeastern University professor whose team has been continuously updating its model.

That range, Vespignani said, reflects the the best- and worst-case scenarios.

“These are relatively small probabilities,” Vespignani said in an interview this week. “If we have very good screening procedures, then the probability could be less. If we consider the worst-case scenario, we have basically a 15 percent probability.”

InSecurityWatch: Spooks, hacks, war, weapons


For the first item in today’s compendium pf the world of spies, snoops, cops, crimes, wars, geopolitics, hackery, and the like, we turn to reassurance from the Guardian:

CIA chief: ‘If I’ve done something wrong, I’ll stand up and admit it’

  • John Brennan expresses frustration with Senate and media while decrying lack of trust in agency at intelligence conference

The director of the Central Intelligence Agency expressed frustration with his Senate overseers and the media on Thursday, even as he and his fellow heads of US intelligence agencies pledged to win back the trust of a skeptical American public.

“I certainly believe having the public’s trust makes all of our jobs much easier and better,” Brennan said on a panel at an intelligence conference, where he was joined by his colleagues at the helms of the National Security Agency, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency.

But ahead of an impending clash with the Senate intelligence committee, which is due to release a public version of a report into CIA torture in the coming weeks, Brennan rejected “the narratives I see floating around the media.”

From Gigaom, someone’s takin’ a bit out of the Apple:

Apple’s “warrant canary” disappears, suggesting new Patriot Act demands

When Apple published its first Transparency Report on government activity in late 2013, the document contained an important footnote that stated: “Apple has never received an order under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act. We would expect to challenge such an order if served on us.”

Writer and cyber-activist Cory Doctorow at the time recognized that language as a so-called “warrant canary,” which Apple was using to thwart the secrecy imposed by the Patriot Act.

Warrant canaries are a tool used by companies and publishers to signify to their users that, so far, they have not been subject to a given type of law enforcement request such as a secret subpoena. If the canary disappears, then it is likely the situation has changed — and the company has been subject to such request.

Now, Apple’s warrant canary has disappeared. A review of the company’s last two Transparency Reports, covering the second half of 2013 and the first six months of 2014, shows that the “canary” language is no longer there.

From the Register, score another one for Edward the Leaker:

Snowden’s NSA leaks have galvanised the storage world

  • Vendors raise their game after gov securo-busting revealed

In a recent CyberArk survey of 373 C-level and IT security executives across North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific, 37 per cent of respondents said Snowden’s breach of NSA security had influenced their security strategy more than any other incident over the past year.

Difficult decisions are having to be made across industries. Where and how to store data tops the list of priorities. Who to trust has also become a pertinent question when it comes to access management and procurement processes. Storage and security have become sexy again.

Indeed, one of the material outcomes of Snowden’s leaks has already been realised: inspired by renewed consumer and business interest in privacy, technology is becoming more secure.

From the New York Times, oversharing reported by James Bamford:

Israel’s N.S.A. Scandal

In Moscow this summer, while reporting a story for Wired magazine, I had the rare opportunity to hang out for three days with Edward J. Snowden. It gave me a chance to get a deeper understanding of who he is and why, as a National Security Agency contractor, he took the momentous step of leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents.

Among his most shocking discoveries, he told me, was the fact that the N.S.A. was routinely passing along the private communications of Americans to a large and very secretive Israeli military organization known as Unit 8200. This transfer of intercepts, he said, included the contents of the communications as well as metadata such as who was calling whom.

Typically, when such sensitive information is transferred to another country, it would first be “minimized,” meaning that names and other personally identifiable information would be removed. But when sharing with Israel, the N.S.A. evidently did not ensure that the data was modified in this way.

Mr. Snowden stressed that the transfer of intercepts to Israel contained the communications — email as well as phone calls — of countless Arab- and Palestinian-Americans whose relatives in Israel and the Palestinian territories could become targets based on the communications. “I think that’s amazing,” he told me. “It’s one of the biggest abuses we’ve seen.”

From RT, bloody irony:

GTA-ISIS: Militants hooking youngsters with ‘Jihad video game’ trailer

Islamic State (IS) militants have released a jihadist video game trailer in which the aim is to destroy Iraqi and US forces, Arabic media report. The game, styling itself as a Grand Theft Auto adaptation, appears specifically aimed at young people.

The recruitment propaganda video trailer aimed to “raise the morale of the mujahedin and to train children and youth how to battle the West and to strike terror into the hearts of those who oppose the Islamic State,” according to the media wing of the IS (formerly known as ISIS), cited in Arabic media.

“The content includes all of the organization’s military tactics against its opponents,” the Islamic state said.

Homeland Security News Wire covers an intelligence failure:

U.S. intelligence, leaders unclear on exact danger posed by ISIS

Considerable discrepancies in the reporting from U.S. intelligence services regarding the strength of the Islamic State (IS) have led critics to the conclusion that the U.S. intelligence community knows little about the terrorists’ actual strength as the United States is in the process of developing a military strategy to defeat the Islamist organization.

Considerable discrepancies in the reporting from U.S. intelligence services regarding the strength ofthe Islamic State (IS) have led critics to the conclusion that the U.S. intelligence community knows little about the terrorists’ actual strength as the United States is in the process of developing a military strategy to defeat the Islamist organization.

From the Associated Press, The Most Transparent Administration in History™ flunks the test, again:

Journalists view Obama administration’s transparency as much worse than Bush’s

Editors and reporters meeting in Chicago raised concerns Wednesday about what they described as a lack of access and transparency undermining journalists’ work, several blaming the current White House for setting standards for secrecy that are spreading nationwide.

Criticism of President Barack Obama’s administration on the issue of openness in government came on the last day of a three-day joint convention of the American Society of News Editors, the Associated Press Media Editors and the Associated Press Photo Managers.

“The White House push to limit access and reduce transparency has essentially served as the secrecy road map for all kinds of organizations — from local and state governments to universities and even sporting events,” Brian Carovillano, AP managing editor for U.S. news, said during a panel discussion.

James Risen, a New York Times reporter who is facing potential jail time as he battles government efforts to force him to testify at the trial of a former CIA officer accused of leaking classified information, also spoke at the conference. Risen said intense pressure on reporters and their sources is having a chilling effect on newsgathering.

He spoke of scaring one source just by going to his home and knocking on the front door. “He opened the door and he turned white,” Risen said. “He marches me back through the kitchen [to a back exit] and said, “‘Go out that way.’”

Guns beat butter again, via the Guardian:

UN to cut food aid to Syria

Without more money, World Food Programme warns food rations will be reduced and voucher schemes slashed

The UN warned on Thursday that it will be forced to cut food rations for more than 6 million Syrians from next month unless it received more funding.

The World Food Programme said that while it still expects to reach almost 6 million Syrians inside the country and in neighbouring states in October and November, there will be significant cuts to the amount of food delivered. The WFP said it had no money for programmes in December.

A WFP official told Reuters that the food basket for Syrians could shrink to 825 calories, well under half the daily recommended intake.

From the Associated Press, bordering on sanity:

Border Patrol to test wearing cameras

The U.S. Border Patrol will begin testing body-worn cameras on agents next month, the head of its parent agency said Thursday, a step toward seeing if the technology should be used in the field as the government seeks to blunt criticism about agents’ use of force.

R. Gil Kerlikowske, Customs and Border Protection commissioner since March, said a variety of cameras will be tested beginning Oct. 1 at the Border Patrol’s training academy in Artesia, New Mexico.

He didn’t say when or even if cameras will be introduced to the roughly 21,000 agents in the field.

From Sky News, making a good point:

Assange: ‘Google Like A Privatised NSA’

  • Julian Assange tells Sky News the search engine gathers and files information just like America’s National Security Agency.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has accused Google of behaving like a “privatised version of the NSA” in the way it collects and stores information about people.

He told Sky News the internet giant was not doing anything illegal but its behaviour was highly questionable. “It is not doing things which are illegal, what it is doing is legal,” he said. “It is collecting as much information about people as possible, storing it, indexing it, and using it to create profiles of people and then selling that to advertisers and others.

“Those are the same procedures that security agencies go through. That is why the NSA has latched on top of what Google is doing. Since 2009 the NSA had been engaged in the Prism system where information collected online is available to it.”

The accompanying video from Sky News:

Julian Assange ‘Will Leave Embassy With Asylum Intact’

Program note:

Sky’s Sarah Hewson talks to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

From BuzzFeed, and reminding us of the a high school joke about the cat, who crept in, crapped, and crept out:

U.S. Company Distances Itself From Egyptian Surveillance System

  • And the website of its Egyptian affiliate is taken down.

The U.S.-based Blue Coat company has issued a statement distancing itself from a project to monitor Twitter, Facebook, and Skype in Egypt, following a BuzzFeed News report.

Egyptian officials had told BuzzFeed News that a company called See Egypt had won a tender to begin providing the government with a surveillance system that would allow them to comb through data from Skype, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, among others. In interviews, the Egypt-based SeeEgypt called itself a “sister company” to Blue Coat, and listed the company as one of their affiliates.

Now, Blue Coat has issued a response saying that their products are not being resold to the Egyptian government.

From the Dissenter, gee, are we surprised:

Email Suggests Manufacturer of Stingray Surveillance Equipment May Have Lied to FCC

The American Civil Liberties Union has accused the manufacturer of StingRay surveillance products of providing inaccurate information and possibly even lying to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which is the agency that is supposed to regulate communications over cable, radio, satellite, television and wire.

Harris Corporation is one of the leading manufacturers of StingRay technology. The technology was “initially designed for the military and intelligence community” and “operates by mimicking cellular service providers’ base stations and forcing all cellular phones in range to register their electronic serial numbers and other identifying information,” according to the ACLU.

The ACLU of Northern California chapter managed to obtain a series of emails from 2010 between the FCC’s Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) and Harris Corporation employees, where the “equipment authorization application for law enforcement use of Harris’ StingRay line of products” is being discussed.

After the jump, a death sentence for an Iranian blogger, beating the messenger in Russia, Plasticopalypse Now!, a horrifying traffic scenario suggested, China bases more claims in troubled waters, and a top cop’s curious pal. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Illness, fires, toxins, Fukushima


First, via Al Jazeera America, a biological bubble enlarging:

World population growing, not slowing

  • New methodology reverses earlier predictions, projects Africa population will quadruple this century

The possibility that the world’s population will climb to 11 billion by the end of the century is gaining traction now that demographers are using probability methods for their projections.

A paper published online on Thursday in the journal Science details new methodology that shows that most of the world’s anticipated growth is in Africa, where population is projected to quadruple from about 1 billion today to 4 billion by 2100.

“For the last 20 years, prevailing opinion was that world population would go up to 9 billion and level off in the middle of the century and maybe decline,” said Adrian Raftery, one of the paper’s lead authors and a professor of statistics and sociology at the University of Washington. “Population is going to keep growing. We can say that with confidence.”

From the London Daily Mail, another outbreak closer to home:

Cases of rare and severe infant respiratory illness enterovirus 68 confirmed in 14 states as it spreads quickly among children across America

  • As of Wednesday both Minnesota and New Jersey have confirmed cases of the severe virus enterovirus 68
  • Officials say Alabama, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, New York, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania together have 130 lab-confirmed cases
  • There are also suspected cases in Georgia, Michigan, Ohio and Utah
  • A child in Minnesota told Children’s chief nursing officer Roxanne Fernandes it felt like he had ‘an elephant sitting on his chest’
  • The virus has caused no deaths but has put some children in intensive care and on life support

And from Science, malpractice certain to feed the ISIS media mill:

Sixteen children in Syria die in measles immunization campaign

Sixteen children, all or most under age 2, have died after receiving an injection in a measles immunization campaign in an opposition-held area of northern Syria. Up to 50 more children were sickened.

Details are hazy, says a World Health Organization (WHO) representative in Geneva, Switzerland, but at this point the cause looks like a “very bad human error,” in which a strong muscle relaxant was administered instead of the measles vaccine. The tragic deaths threaten to undermine all vaccination efforts across Syria, where childhood immunization rates have dropped precipitously after years of civil war.

WHO and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have dispatched an investigation team but for now are dependent on secondhand information from nongovernmental organizations and other partners in northern Syria, says WHO’s Christian Lindmeier. (For security reasons, neither organization has staff on the ground in Idlib, where the deaths occurred.) Until the cause is confirmed, rumors will continue to circulate, he warns; various press accounts are alleging a plot by the government of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or perhaps the terrorist group ISIS.

According to Lindmeier, the children died almost immediately on Tuesday after receiving the shot, part of a measles immunization campaign under way in Idlib and Deir al Zour, two governorates of Syria.

Reuters covers a burning issue:

New evacuations ordered as California wildfire doubles in size

More residents of Northern California mountain communities were told to leave their homes on Thursday after an out-of-control wildfire doubled in size overnight, scorching more than 100 square miles of drought-parched timber and brush.

Nearly 3,700 firefighters struggled to stop the forward march of the King Fire, the largest and most dangerous of 11 major wildfires raging across California, but had managed to cut containment lines around just 5 percent of the flames as of Thursday morning, officials said.

The blaze raced across some 43,000 acres of forest land late on Wednesday and early on Thursday and has now burned more than 70,000 acres of state land in the El Dorado National Forest northeast of Sacramento.

The Associated Press covers a culprit:

Man arrested in fast-growing California wildfire

A man with a lengthy criminal history has been charged with deliberately starting a Northern California wildfire that has shown explosive growth and driven nearly 2,800 people from their homes, authorities said Thursday.

Wayne Allen Huntsman, 37, was arrested late Wednesday in Placerville and booked into El Dorado County Jail, where he was being held on $10 million bail.

Huntsman faces a forest-land arson charge, along with a special allegation of arson with aggravating factors because the blaze east of Sacramento put a dozen firefighters in serious danger, forcing them to deploy their fire shields. They all escaped unharmed.

From Environmental Health News, another menace:

Kids exposed in the womb to plasticizers more likely to have asthma

New York City children exposed in the womb to moderate levels of two plasticizers had a 72 to 78 percent higher chance of developing asthma, according to a new study published today.

The study is the first to link childhood asthma, which has been increasing in recent decades, to prenatal exposure to phthalates.

“These results suggest that phthalates may be one of the factors associated with that increase,” said Robin Whyatt, a Columbia University environmental health scientist who led the study. She added, however, that more studies are needed to understand how important a risk factor these chemicals may be.

Phthalates, used in the manufacture of vinyl and some cosmetics, have been connected to a number of health effects in lab animal and human studies, including airway inflammation, altered male genitalia, attention and learning problems and premature births.

Environmental Health News again, with another menace:

Mass murder by botulism: Surge in Great Lakes bird deaths driven by invaders

The nonnative creatures have been driving a deadly surge in avian botulism in the Great Lakes over the past 15 years, killing an estimated 80,000 birds, including loons, ducks, gulls, cormorants and endangered piping plovers. Now scientists are searching for what has triggered this change in intensity of the disease: If they can unravel where and why the lethal toxin is building up in food webs, they can predict which shorelines are death traps for birds.

The botulism bacterium “is the most toxic natural substance on Earth. Just one gram could kill off like 2 million people,” said Stephen Riley, a fisheries biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. “And for these birds it’s essentially just widespread food poisoning.”

Outbreaks were first documented in the Great Lakes in the 1960s, but they ebbed and flowed until 1999, when they intensified on Lakes Erie, Huron, Ontario and Michigan.

Common Dreams covers another controversy:

USDA’s Greenlighting of ‘Agent Orange’ Crops Sparks Condemnation

  • Following widespread outcry, Dow’s new genetically engineered corn and soybeans get approval.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s decision this week to approve two new genetically engineered crops is being denounced by watchdog groups as a false solution to herbicide-resistant weeds and a move that threatens human and environment safety alike.

The crops are Dow AgroSciences’ Enlist corn and soybeans, engineered to be resistant to its Duo herbicide, which contains 2,4-D, a component of the notorious Agent Orange. 2,4-D has been linked to Parkinson’s, birth defects, reproductive problems, and endocrine disruption. Dow states that the new system will address the problem of weeds that have become resistant to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s widely-used Roundup.

Food and environmental safety groups, however, say that it speaks to the failure of the genetically engineered crops strategy that fosters herbicide expansion—profitable for the chemical companies—and ignores the paradigm shifted needed in the industrial agriculture system.

From Al Jazeera America, on the rise:

Canary in a coal mine: Extreme weather, rising seas plague atoll nation

  • Marshall Islands president issues a call to action ahead of international climate summit next week hosted by the UN

As global leaders gear up to meet at next week’s United Nations Climate Summit in New York, the president of a small Pacific island nation vulnerable to rising seas caused by global warming said the future of his people depends on creating a carbon-free world by 2050.

“Out here in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, climate change has arrived,” Marshall Islands President Christopher Loeak said in a video address to his fellow heads of state. “Our atoll nation stands at the front line in the battle against climate change.”

In the video, Loeak stands in front of a sea wall he built to protect his home and family from rising seas which have already engulfed several of the nation’s atolls — making them disappear forever.

After the jump, the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!, including a decontamination claim, skeptical fishermen, a radioactive waste disposal plan, uncovering a hidden agenda, a major loss of seismic expertise, and rising chances for yet more reactors worldwide. . . Continue reading