Category Archives: Politics

InSecurityWatch: Robots, terror, hacks, drones


And a lot more.

We begin with a threat to jobs, one that will only get worse and lead to yet more global instability. First, from TheLocal.ch:

Nestlé to ‘employ’ robot clerks in Japan stores

Swiss-based food giant Nestlé says its Japan unit is hiring 1,000 robots as sales clerks at stores across the country.

The first batch of the robots — a chatty humanoid called Pepper — will report to work by the end of this year at outlets that sell coffee capsules and home espresso machines.

“From December, they will start selling coffee machines for us at big retail stores,” said Nestlé Japan spokeswoman Miki Kano.

“We are sure that our customers will enjoy shopping and being entertained by robots.”

More from PCMagazine:

Lowe’s Hires Robots for the Holidays

Lowe’s is hiring some new workers for the holiday season, but they’re not human.

The hardware store just announced plans to test customer service robots, which will be able to help you locate items in the store, and share real-time information about product promotions and inventory. Dubbed OSHbot, the robots can speak multiple languages and remotely connect with expert employees in other locations to answer project-related questions.

Unfortunately, the robots won’t yet be making an appearance at Lowe’s stores nationwide. Lowe’s will deploy two of the bots at its Orchard Supply Hardware store in San Jose, Calif. to see whether customers and employees embrace the technology.

The OSHbots roll right up to you, say hello, and ask what you need. They also feature 3D-scanning technology, so you can bring in a spare part, scan it under a 3D-sensing camera, and OSHbot will identify the product, tell you how much it costs, and then guide you to where you can find it on store shelves.

And another robotic development that’s particularly spooky, via United Press International:

Israeli company showcases manned/unmanned patrol boat

  • A patrol boat for homeland security applications that can operate autonomously or by personnel on board is being highlighted by Israel Aerospace Industries at an exhibition in France

A manned/unmanned patrol boat for homeland security and other applications is being highlighted in France this week by Israel Aerospace Industries.

The vessel being shown at the Euronaval International Naval Defense and Maritime Exhibition is the Katana, which the company launched earlier this year.

The Katana can operate autonomously through the use of an advanced command-and-control station or controlled by personnel on board.

On to the crisis of the year, via BBC News:

Islamic State crisis: Peshmerga fighters head to Turkey

Iraqi Kurdish forces are travelling to Turkey, from where they plan to cross into Syria to battle Islamic State (IS) militants besieging the town of Kobane.

Officials said a plane carrying 150 Peshmerga had left Irbil. Their heavy weapons will be transported by land.

Turkey agreed to the deployment last week after refusing to allow Turkish Kurds to cross the border to fight.

Earlier, the Turkish prime minister rejected claims that he was not doing enough to end the jihadists’ assault.

More from Reuters:

How the West buys ‘conflict antiquities’ from Iraq and Syria (and funds terror)

“Many antique collectors unwillingly support terrorists like Islamic State,” Michel van Rijn, one of the most successful smugglers of antique artifacts in the past century, told German broadcaster Das Erste this month.

And smuggling is booming in Iraq and Syria right now. In Iraq, 4,500 archaeological sites, some of them UNESCO World Heritage sites, are reportedly controlled by Islamic State and are exposed to looting. Iraqi intelligence claim that Islamic State alone has collected as much as $36 million from the sales of artifacts, some of them thousands of years old. The accounts data have not been released for verification but, whatever the exact number is, the sale of conflict antiquities to fund military and paramilitary activity is real and systematic.

Grainy video from soldiers fighting for President Bashar al-Assad’s regime at Palmyra, an ancient capital in what is now Syria, shows delicate grave reliefs of the dead, ripped out, gathered up and loaded into the back of their truck. The soldiers present the heads of decapitated statues to the camera. Other stolen Palmyrene treasures were exposed by an undercover reporter for The Sunday Times. Sculptures, pillar carvings and glass vessels were found to be on sale for knock-down prices in Beirut, Lebanon. Roman vases had been robbed from graves and were being sold by the box.

And this from Der Spiegel:

Interview with an Islamic State Recruiter: ‘Democracy Is For Infidels’

  • How does Islamic State think? How do its followers see the world? SPIEGEL ONLINE met up with an Islamic State recruiter in Turkey to hear about the extremist group’s vision for the future.

The conditions laid out by the Islamist are strict: no photos and no audio recording. He also keeps his real name secret as well as his country of origin, and is only willing to disclose that he is Arab. His English is polished and he speaks with a British accent.

He calls himself Abu Sattar, appears to be around 30 years old and wears a thick, black beard that reaches down to his chest. His top lip is shaved as is his head and he wears a black robe that stretches all the way to the floor. He keeps a copy of the Koran, carefully wrapped in black cloth, in his black leather bag.

Abu Sattar recruits fighters for the terrorist militia Islamic State in Turkey. Radical Islamists travel to Turkey from all over the world to join the “holy war” in Iraq or Syria and Abu Sattar examines their motives and the depth of their religious beliefs. Several Islamic State members independently recommended Abu Sattar as a potential interview partner — as someone who could explain what Islamic State stands for. Many see him as something like an ideological mentor.

And on a related note, via Reuters:

U.S. boosts security at government buildings, citing calls by terrorist groups

The United States is stepping up security at government buildings in Washington and other major cities in response to “calls by terrorist organizations for attacks on the homeland and elsewhere,” Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said on Tuesday.

“Given world events, prudence dictates a heightened vigilance in the protection of U.S. government installations and our personnel,” Johnson said in a statement.

From Reuters, a reminder of an earlier regime change venture:

Libya near ‘point of no return’, U.N. says as fighting toll rises

Factional warfare in Libya is pushing the oil producer “very close to the point of no return”, the U.N. special envoy to the country said on Tuesday with efforts to bring about a ceasefire and political dialogue showing no result.

The death toll from two weeks of street fighting between pro-government forces and Islamist armed groups in the eastern city of Benghazi has risen to 170, medics said. Seven people were killed alone on Tuesday, 15 on Monday.

The North African country has had two governments and parliaments since a militia group from the western city of Misrata seized the capital Tripoli in August, setting up its own cabinet and assembly.

From BuzzFeed, can you say “Hubris”?:

Blackwater Founder Blames “Anti-War Left” For The Convictions Of Guards Who Killed Iraqi Civilians

“In the Vietnam War, the anti-war left went after the troops and this time they went after contractors and Blackwater represented anything they love to hate.”

The founder and former CEO of Blackwater Erick Prince blamed the anti-war left Tuesday for the conviction of four former guards for the 2007 shootings of more than 30 Iraqis in Baghdad.

“There’s a lot of politics that surrounds the event,” Prince said on NewsMax TV’s Midpoint. “The government spent tens of millions of dollars after this one case and a lot came after that Nisour Square event.”

“The bureaucratic attack the company withstand because of this. It’s all wrapped into the anger of the Iraq War. In the Vietnam War, the anti-war left went after the troops and this time they went after contractors and Blackwater represented anything they love to hate.”

Panopticon pervasiveness from the Guardian:

GCHQ views data with no warrant, government admits

  • GCHQ’s secret “arrangements” for accessing bulk material revealed in documents submitted to UK surveillance watchdog

British intelligence services can access raw material collected in bulk by the NSA and other foreign spy agencies without a warrant, the government has confirmed for the first time.

GCHQ’s secret “arrangements” for accessing bulk material are revealed in documents submitted to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, the UK surveillance watchdog, in response to a joint legal challenge by Privacy International, Liberty and Amnesty International. The legal action was launched in the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations published by the Guardian and other news organisations last year.

The government’s submission discloses that the UK can obtain “unselected” – meaning unanalysed, or raw intelligence – information from overseas partners without a warrant if it was “not technically feasible” to obtain the communications under a warrant and if it is “necessary and proportionate” for the intelligence agencies to obtain that information.

The rules essentially permit bulk collection of material, which can include communications of UK citizens, provided the request does not amount to “deliberate circumvention” of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa), which governs much of the UK’s surveillance activities.

And from National Journal, we’ll show you yours if you’ll show us ours:

British Spies Allowed to Access U.S. Data Without a Warrant

Newly released documents from the British government reveal a lack of judicial oversight for how it sifts through communications data collected by the NSA and other foreign governments

British authorities are capable of tapping into bulk communications data collected by other countries’ intelligence services—including the National Security Agency—without a warrant, according to secret government documents released Tuesday.

The agreement between the NSA and Britain’s spy agency, known as Government Communications Headquarters or GCHQ, potentially puts the Internet and phone data of Americans in the hands of another country without legal oversight when obtaining a warrant is “not technically feasible.”

The data, once obtained, can be kept for up to two years, according to internal policies disclosed by the British government. GCHQ was forced to reveal that it can request and receive vast quantities of raw, unanalyzed data collected from foreign governments it partners with during legal proceedings in a closed court hearing in a case brought by various international human-rights organizations, including Privacy International, Liberty U.K., and Amnesty International. The suit challenges certain aspects of GCHQ’s surveillance practices.

Threatpost covers the bottom line:

Cyberespionage: ‘This Isn’t a Problem That Can Be Solved’

“This isn’t a problem that can be solved. Don’t think it has a solution,” Joel Brenner, former head of national counterintelligence at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and former senior counsel at the NSA, said in a keynote speech at the Kaspersky Government Cybersecurity Forum here Tuesday. “We are economically interdependent with the Chinese in an extraordinary way.”

Brenner pointed out a number of factors that have hoped lead to the current state of affairs, including the interconnection of virtually every conceivable asset and what he says has been the stasis in defensive thinking and operations in the last 10 years or so.

“If you thought the state of cyber defense had become substantially better in the last ten years, you’d be wrong,” he said. “We’ve been walking backward on cybersecurity for more than a decade and we’ll continue to walk backward unless and until we can address the core issues. The defensive stance needs to change from filter and guard to hunt and kill.”

From the Japan Times, the high price of apocalyptic security:

Imminent U.S. revamp of nuclear weapons, subs and planes is too costly, some say

Over the next 30 years, Washington will have to overhaul or replace much of its nuclear arsenal, an effort that experts say could cost as much as a trillion dollars. The problems will lie in choosing what is truly indispensable, and in how to pay for it.

The congressionally mandated National Defense Panel put it bluntly in a July review of the Pentagon’s defense plans, saying the effort to build a new triad of nuclear bombers, missiles and submarines is “unaffordable” under present budget constraints.

With legislation in 2011 putting in place a decade of budget spending cuts, analysts say the White House will ultimately have to delay some systems, trim others or find more money. Most likely, it will have to do all three.

Gee, they’ve got mail! From the New York Times:

Report Reveals Wider Tracking of Mail in U.S.

In a rare public accounting of its mass surveillance program, the United States Postal Service reported that it approved nearly 50,000 requests last year from law enforcement agencies and its own internal inspection unit to secretly monitor the mail of Americans for use in criminal and national security investigations.

The number of requests, contained in a 2014 audit of the surveillance program by the Postal Service’s inspector general, shows that the surveillance program is more extensive than previously disclosed and that oversight protecting Americans from potential abuses is lax.

The audit, along with interviews and documents obtained by The New York Times under the Freedom of Information Act, offers one of the first detailed looks at the scope of the program, which has played an important role in the nation’s vast surveillance effort since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The Kansas City Star’s Lee Judge offers his take on the snail mail “hack”:

BLOG Mailer

And they’re looking for more, via the Guardian:

FBI demands new powers to hack into computers and carry out surveillance

  • Agency requests rule change but civil liberties groups say ‘extremely invasive’ technique amounts to unconstitutional power grab

The FBI is attempting to persuade an obscure regulatory body in Washington to change its rules of engagement that would grant it significant new powers to hack into and carry out surveillance of computers throughout the US and around the world.

Civil liberties groups warn that the proposed rule change amounts to a power grab by the agency that would ride roughshod over strict limits to searches and seizures laid out under the fourth amendment of the US constitution, as well as violating first amendment privacy rights. They have protested that the FBI is seeking to transform its cyber capabilities with minimal public debate and with no congressional oversight.

The regulatory body to which the Department of Justice has applied to make the rule change, the advisory committee on criminal rules, will meet for the first time on November 5 to discuss the issue. The panel will be addressed by a slew of technology experts and privacy advocates concerned about the possible ramifications were the proposals allowed to go into effect next year.

South China Morning Post has the latest plumbing news:

FBI net closing on ‘Edward Snowden-style’ leaker of terror watch-lists

The net is closing on a second “Edward Snowden-style” whistle-blower who has reportedly been identified by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, it emerged yesterday.

Agents had identified an employee of a US contracting firm who was suspected of leaking a US government watch list of terrorists to a journalist linked to Snowden, Yahoo News reported.

Agents had reportedly searched the suspect’s home and a criminal investigation had been opened by prosecutors in the US state of Virginia. However, no one had been arrested or charged, the report said.

It is believed that the suspect was inspired by Snowden.

From the Associated Press, pressing the issue:

AP, Seattle Times object to FBI’s fake news story

The Associated Press and The Seattle Times are objecting after learning that the FBI created a fake news story and website using their names to catch a bomb threat suspect in 2007.

Police in suburban Lacey, near Olympia, sought the FBI’s help as repeated bomb threats prompted a week of evacuations and closures at Timberline High School in June 2007.

After police interviews of potential suspects came up empty, the agency obtained a warrant from a federal magistrate judge to send a “communication” to a social media account associated with the bomb threats, with the idea of tricking the suspect into revealing his location, according to documents obtained by the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The “communication,” which contained a software tool known as a “computer and Internet Protocol address verifier,” turned out to be a link to a phony AP story about the bomb threats posted on a fake Seattle Times webpage. The 15-year-old suspect clicked on the link, revealing his computer’s location and Internet address, and helping agents confirm his identity.

The boy was arrested.

Defense One covers hackery:

NATO’s Take on Cyberspace Law Ruffles China’s Feathers

Recent revelations by a group of security researchers of another China-based hacking group, reportedly more sophisticated than Unit 61398, is likely to set off the usual recriminations and denials, but have very little impact on the U.S.-China bilateral relationship. The Chinese embassy has already responded that “these kinds of reports or allegations are usually fictitious,” a response that Robert Dix, vice president of government affairs for Juniper Networks, colorfully and baldly describes as the Chinese giving “a big middle finger to anybody in the United States that’s tried to out them or point fingers in their direction.”

The report on the group, called Axiom, describes a six-year campaign against companies, journalists, civil society group, academics, and governments, and may preclude any real discussion on cyber issues between Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit next week. There was, however, very little chance that their sidebar discussion was going to lead to major progress. The differences between the two sides are deep.

An article that ran last week in the People’s Liberation Army Daily [Chinese] criticizing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and efforts to develop the laws of armed conflict in cyberspace shows just how deep the differences are.

And from CNET, most interesting:

People trust NSA more than Google, survey says

  • In a result consistent with previous polling, a new poll has respondents claiming they’re more concerned about Google seeing all their private data than the government

People don’t always say what they think. Especially in business and love.

Please, therefore, consider this question: whom would you trust more with your private data: the NSA, a company like Google, or your mom?

I ask because I’m looking at the results of a survey, conducted between October 9 and12, that asked just that. It asked simple questions, to which its sponsors hoped to get simple answers.

The results went like this. On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being “I am shivering uncontrollably with fear”) the idea of Google or a similar concern having access to all your private data got a concerned score of 7.39.

The idea of the NSA having its eyes and hands all over you? 7.06. What about your boss snooping? That merited a mere 6.85. While the notion of your parents knowing it all got a 5.93.

From PandoDaily, another reason to make you hinky about da Google:

You can run, but you can’t hide: Google expands its real-world surveillance system with Google Fit

The company has developed an application that allows Android smartphone owners to collect health-related information in one place. It’s called Google Fit, and besides challenging Apple’s HealthKit service, it also represents Google’s efforts to gather real-world data to complement the information it already has about the digital world.

It’s no longer enough for companies to track someone’s activity across the Web by monitoring their emails, analyzing their browsing history, or keeping tabs on their online searches. All that information now needs to be supplemented with data about what someone’s doing in the real world, whether that’s demonstrated through location tracking or through a health application.

Why else would so many companies rush to help people track their steps, count their calories, or collect other health-related information? It’s not just about making self quantification more convenient for the few self-obsessed consumers who actually use that information. It’s also about increasing the amount of information that can be offered to advertisers — maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow, but certainly as soon as these companies can get away with it.

From the Daily Dot, can you hear them now?:

Verizon is launching a tech news site that bans stories on U.S. spying

  • Verizon is getting into the news business. What could go wrong?

The most-valuable, second-richest telecommunications company in the world is bankrolling a technology news site called SugarString.com. The publication, which is now hiring its first full-time editors and reporters, is meant to rival major tech websites like Wired and the Verge while bringing in a potentially giant mainstream audience to beat those competitors at their own game.

There’s just one catch: In exchange for the major corporate backing, tech reporters at SugarString are expressly forbidden from writing about American spying or net neutrality around the world, two of the biggest issues in tech and politics today.

Unsurprisingly, Verizon is deeply tangled up in both controversies.

After the jump, killing the Fourth Estate with impunity, blood on the newsroom floor, White House hackery, a major hack of a cell-phone-based electronic payment system, millions of Californians lose personal data to hackers, a major malware breach of Gmail Drafts, hacking arrests to come at an amoral media baron’s Old Blighty holding, feds crack down on stadium droners while others drones may carry heart-zappers, cops arm for violence in Ferguson, sending a battlewagon to bust grandpa, On to Mexico and probing for graves in the search for missing Mexican students as more arrests ensue and parents confront a president, a police purge in Venezuela, droning up Down Under as civil rights take a hit, an assassination plot in Bangldesh, on to Hong Kong and pressing the fight, two bizarre tales from North Korea, a call for a purge in a Japanese shrine, and those threatening clowns and trolls of Europe. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: GMOs, Big Ag, oil, and nukes


And lots of nuclear news there is after the jump, including problems in reactor complexes in California and Britain.

We begin with an apocalyptic warning from The Physics arXiv Blog:

Genetically Modified Organisms Risk Global Ruin, Says Black Swan Author

  • Experts have severely underestimated the risks of genetically modified food, says a group of researchers lead by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

In 2012, for example, the American Association for the Advancement of Science declared that genetically modified crops pose no greater risk than the same foods made from crops modified by conventional plant breeding techniques.

Today, Nassim Nicholas Taleb at New York University and a few pals say that this kind of thinking vastly underestimates the threat posed by genetically modified organisms. “Genetically modified organisms represent a public risk of global harm,” they say. Consequently, this risk should be treated differently from those that only have the potential for local harm. “The precautionary principle should be used to prescribe severe of limits on genetically modified organisms,” they conclude.

Taleb and co begin by making a clear distinction between risks with consequences that are local and those with consequences that have the potential to cause global ruin. When global harm is possible, an action must be avoided unless there is scientific near-certainty that it is safe. This approach is known as the precautionary principle.

Other global ag woes from the Thomson Reuters Foundation:

Climate change a “threat multiplier” for farming-dependent states-analysis

Climate change and food insecurity are “threat multipliers”, and 32 countries dependent on farming face an “extreme risk” of conflict or civil unrest in the next 30 years, a global analytics firm said on Wednesday.

Food shortages and rising prices have the potential to worsen political, ethnic, class and religious tensions, the risk advisory firm Maplecroft reported in its annual “Climate Change and Environmental Risk Atlas (CCERA)”.

Analysts noted that several nations’ military leaders are ahead of their governments in focusing on such risks.

In Nigeria, for instance, the rise of the Muslim insurgency Boko Haram may be linked to population movements caused by a west African drought a decade ago, the UK-based company said.

Bangladesh, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Nigeria, Chad, Haiti, Ethiopia, Philippines, Central African Republic and Eritrea face the highest level of risk, the Maplecroft report said.

And controversy ensues, via Science:

A disagreement over climate-conflict link heats up

A debate among scientists over climate change and conflict has turned ugly. At issue is the question of whether the hotter temperatures and chaotic weather produced by climate change are causing higher rates of violence. A new analysis refutes earlier research that found a link, and the two lead researchers are exchanging some pointed remarks.

Last year, a team of U.S. researchers reported a robust connection between climate and violence in Science. But in a critique published online yesterday in Climatic Change, a team of mostly European researchers dismissed the connection as “inconclusive.” The Science authors are hitting back, claiming that the critics are fudging the statistics and even manipulating their figures. The new analysis “is entirely based on surprisingly bold misrepresentations of our article, the literature, basic statistics, and their own findings,” says Solomon Hsiang, the lead author of the Science paper and an economist at the University of California, Berkeley.

Numerous past studies have found a correlation between heat waves and violence, manifesting as conflicts between individuals and between groups. Demonstrating a direct connection between climate change and violence on a global scale, however, is tricky. It requires a meta-analysis of hundreds of already published studies that have slightly different techniques and measurement scales. Hsiang’s team performed just such a meta-analysis and grabbed headlines with their findings that a changing climate appeared to be amping up conflict.

Still more ag woes from Al Jazeera America:

Salt-ruined farmland costs billions of dollars every year, study finds

  • Irrigation methods that fail to employ proper drainage leads to degradation of 5,000 acres a day

Salt residue from soil irrigation degrades around 5,000 acres of farmland every day at a global annual cost of $27 billion dollars in lost arable revenues, according to a study released Tuesday.

Using cheap, short-sighted ways to water land without adequate drainage methods are the chief reason behind the land spoilage, according to the report by the UN University’s Canadian-based Institute for Water (UNU-INWEH). The total area being affected, the report notes, has shot up over the last two decades — from 111 million acres in 1991 to 160 million in 2013, representing some 20 percent of the world’s irrigated lands.

Researchers warn that big investment is necessary to reverse the trend.

The authors of the study said the most vulnerable parts of the world are arid regions in developing countries, where pressure to increase crop yields in the short term may lead governments to forgo installing or maintaining the simple, but costly, drainage systems necessary to keep salt away from the soil.

Water woes on the Subcontinent from the Hindu:

Cut water, power supply to industries polluting Ganga: SC

Observing that its “last hope” rests on the National Green Tribunal (NGT), the Supreme Court referred to it the responsibility to monitor and inspect industrial units along the Ganga and even cut off water and power connections if the units are found to be polluting the river.

A three-judge Bench led by Justice T.S. Thakur said official apathy and “failure at various levels” in both the State and the Central Pollution Control Board had led to the Ganga dying at the hands of “highly” and “grossly” polluting units, which flushed their untreated effluents into the river without any checks.

The inaction had continued even after numerous orders were passed by the Supreme Court directing the authorities to protect the river since 1980s, when a PIL was filed before the court by lawyer M.C. Mehta highlighting the alarming state of the river and its depletion owing to pollution.

Notable buzz from Al Jazeera America:

Tiny bugs could be the key to saving honeybee populations

  • Freshman student’s research on phages being touted as breakthrough against American foulbrood, a scourge of beekeepers

Tiny bacteria devouring viruses could hold the key to saving the U.S. honeybee population from a devastating disease that is destroying hives, according to research from a college freshman that is already yielding results.

American foulbrood, a bacterial infection that attacks bee larvae, has wiped out entire colonies and contributed significantly to worldwide agricultural losses. In order to prevent a larger infestation, affected hives are often burned to the ground to prevent further spread.

But a study into the use of bacteriophages — tiny viruses that infect and consume bacteria known as phages — to fight the bee disease by Bryan Merrill, a student at Brigham Young University (BYU), has raised hopes of a natural remedy to the bee blight. Merrill recently published his findings in the peer-reviewed journal BMC Genomics.

A beekeeper, Merrill is now working to identify the perfect phage for the job. So far, he has identified five phage candidates for honeybee treatment, a release from BYU said.

Hogging profiteers from MintPress News:

Density Of Industrial Hog Farms In North Carolina Prompts Civil Rights Investigation

People living near North Carolina’s large-scale hog farms have complained for decades about health and quality-of-life issues, with communities of color reportedly disproportionately affected. The EPA is now considering whether to launch a full investigation.

U.S. regulators are currently looking into whether the extraordinarily high density of industrial hog farms in eastern North Carolina is having a disproportionate negative impact on minority communities, as alleged in a new complaint.

In the coming days, the Environmental Protection Agency will make an initial decision on whether the filing satisfies basic administrative requirements. If EPA officials find that it does, the agency will then begin a full investigation into whether the North Carolina permitting process is in effect discriminating against minority communities in the state’s eastern regions.

While local frustration around this situation is longstanding, the complaint marks the first time that the issue has been appealed to the federal government on civil rights grounds.

“I was at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in the early 1990s, and people from eastern North Carolina were telling us these swine facilities were destroying their lives – that they could no longer sit on their porch and that this was a civil rights issue,” Marianne Engelman Lado, the lead attorney on the complaint, told MintPress News.

The Ecologist covers an all-too-familiar crisis:

Ghana’s farmers battle ‘Monsanto law’ to retain seed freedom

Ghana’s government is desperate to pass a Plant Breeders Bill that would remove farmers’ ancient ‘seed freedom’ to grow, retain, breed and develop crop varieties – while giving corporate breeders a blanket exemption from seed regulations. Now the farmers are fighting back.

Farmers in Ghana are on the frontlines of a battle. The national parliament has just returned from its summer break – and the first item on their legislative agenda is the government’s controversial Plant Breeders Bill.

The proposed legislation contains rules that would restrict farmers from an age-old practice: freely saving, swapping and breeding seeds they rely on for their own subsistence, and to feed the country.

Under the laws, farmers that use seed varieties claimed under new intellectual property rights by individuals and companies anywhere in the world risk hefty fines or even imprisonment.

According to the Ghanaian government and its corporate backers, the new laws would incentivise the development of new seed varieties and ensure crops are safe and saleable.

From the New York Times, and dam straight!:

Reversing Course on Beavers

Once routinely trapped and shot as varmints, their dams obliterated by dynamite and bulldozers, beavers are getting new respect these days. Across the West, they are being welcomed into the landscape as a defense against the withering effects of a warmer and drier climate.

Beaver dams, it turns out, have beneficial effects that can’t easily be replicated in other ways. They raise the water table alongside a stream, aiding the growth of trees and plants that stabilize the banks and prevent erosion. They improve fish and wildlife habitat and promote new, rich soil.

And perhaps most important in the West, beaver dams do what all dams do: hold back water that would otherwise drain away.

From CBC News, scum of the sea:

BP spill left big oily ‘bathtub ring’ on seafloor

  • BP says researchers failed to identify source of oil

The BP oil spill left an oily “bathtub ring” on the sea floor that’s about the size of U.S. State of Rhode Island or a little larger than Canada’s Manitoulin Island, new research shows.

The study by David Valentine, the chief scientist on the federal damage assessment research ships, estimates that about 37 million litres (10 million gallons) of oil coagulated on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico around the damaged Deepwater Horizons oil rig.

Valentine, a geochemistry professor at the University of California Santa Barbara, said the spill from the Macondo well left other splotches containing even more oil. He said it is obvious where the oil is from, even though there were no chemical signature tests because over time the oil has degraded.

After the jump, the Great Barrier Reef in peril — and banksters are the solution?, killer amphibians proliferate, Chinese ports polluted, another source of pollution profiteering, while the Russians stake a huge Arctic oil claim, Japanese schools in tsunami peril, and on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, including a visit by decommissioning experts,  a nuclear dump site protest, a nuclear plant in a volcanic zone wins a restart vote while another complex gets a seismic green light, fire at yet another reactor complex, major violations at Japan’s fast breeder reactor, Taiwan mulls nuke checks on Japanese food imports, plus allegations of major problems at nuke plants in California and Old Blighty. . . Continue reading

EbolaWatch: Quarantines, panic, pols, & Africa


We begin with root causes, starting with this from the Guardian:

Ebola is a product of a destructive and exploitative global economic system

Deforestation and increasing demands on habitats to produce food don’t just wreck the environment, they are increasing the risk of global pandemics like Ebola

Like a sleepwalker roused from his dream, the world is slowly waking up to the full nightmare of the Ebola outbreak decimating west Africa. With small numbers of cases turning up in western countries, governments here are belatedly pledging action to fight the disease, which has already claimed almost 5,000 lives.

Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea – all countries struggling to recover from wars still fresh in the memory – have buckled under the onslaught of this horrific virus. Inadequate, creaking health services have been no match for a ruthless killer. But while the shocking poverty of these countries provides the fertile ground for the disease to spread, there are bigger issues at play that ought to cause us to think about the macroeconomic conditions that brought us to this point.

Ebola – like HIV, anthrax, Sars, avian flu and other pandemics of recent years – is a zoonotic virus, one that has crossed from animals to humans. It was first identified in 1976 during near-simultaneous outbreaks in Sudan and what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The strain of Ebola implicated in the current outbreak is thought to have originated from a mutant pathogen found in fruit bats. This is where we see a direct connection with economic development. The conflicts which have done so much damage to the affected countries have also attracted a range of activities – both legal and illicit – including logging and extractive industries like bauxite mining, which have deforested large swathes of the region.

More from The Ecologist:

Oil palm explosion driving West Africa’s Ebola outbreak

The medical response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has been monstrously inadequate, writes Richard Kock. But so has been recognition of the underlying causes – in particular the explosive spread of industrial oil palm, which disrupts the ecology of forests and farms, and undermines local economy and traditional governance, leading to a ‘perfect storm’ of disease.

It is poverty that drives villagers to encroach further into the forest, where they become infected with the virus when hunting and butchering wildlife, or through contact with body fluids from bats – this has been seen with Nipah, another dangerous virus associated with bats.

The likelihood of infection in this manner is compounded by inadequate rural health facilities and poor village infrastructure, compounded by the disorganised urban sprawl at the fringes of cities.

The virus then spreads in a wave of fear and panic, ill-conceived intervention and logistical failures – including even insufficient food or beds for the severely ill.

Take for example the global palm oil industry, where a similar trend of deep-cutting into forests for agricultural development has breached natural barriers to the evolution and spread of specific pathogens.

The effects of land grabs and the focus on certain fruit crop species leads to an Allee effect, where sudden changes in one ecological element causes the mechanisms for keeping populations – bats in this case – and viruses in equilibrium to shift, increasing the probability of spill over to alternative hosts.

Next, some possibly good news from the Guardian:

Ebola may have reached turning point, says Wellcome Trust director

  • Dr Jeremy Farrar says international community is belatedly taking the actions necessary to stem the tide of the disease

Writing in the Guardian, Dr Jeremy Farrar says that although there are several bleak months ahead, “it is finally becoming possible to see some light. In the past 10 days, the international community has belatedly begun to take the actions necessary to start turning Ebola’s tide.

“The progress made is preliminary and uncertain; even if ultimately successful it will not reduce mortality or stop transmission for some time. We are not close to seeing the beginning of the end of the epidemic but [several] developments offer hope that we may have reached the end of the beginning.”

Farrar’s comments come as the World Health Organisation confirmed that the number of Ebola cases in Liberia has started to decline, with fewer burials and some empty hospital beds. But the WHO warned against any assumption that the outbreak there was ending.

“I’m terrified that the information will be misinterpreted,” said Dr Bruce Aylward, assistant director-general in charge of the Ebola operational response. “This is like saying your pet tiger is under control. This is a very, very dangerous disease. Any transmission change could result in many, many more deaths.”

Science qualifies the optimism:

Liberia’s Ebola progress real, but epidemic far from under control

The apparent decline in cases could mean that  families are hiding patients and secretly burying the dead, but it is more likely that a combination of factors has reduced the spread of the disease, said Aylward. “There was a rapid scale up in safe burial practices in the month of September,” he said, adding that many people were isolated in Ebola treatment units, further curbing spread. There also has been intensive education of communities about the disease, including how it is spread, the value of seeking care, and self-protection strategies.

The situations in Guinea and Sierra Leone, the other two hard-hit countries, have not changed as dramatically.

In a disconnect with the drop of cases in Liberia, Aylward noted that WHO has tallied 13,703 cases—a jump of more than 3000 from the figures released 25 October. He said the steep increase reflects reporting on a backlog of cases “With the huge surge in cases in certain countries, particularly in September and October, people got behind on their data,” he said. “They ended up with huge piles of paper and we knew we were going to see jumps in cases at certain times that are going to be associated with more new data coming in that are actually old cases.” He said about 2000 of the latest cases came from old data collected in Liberia, where reporting of cases continues to be a problem. “Data for Liberia are missing for 19, 20, 21, 26 and 27 October,” the latest update from WHO notes.

And from Liberia itself, another caution via The NewDawn:

Ellen warns against early excitement – Chinese military team arrives

President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has warned against early jubilation over news of reduction in the infection across the country with news of less than 400 cases nationwide.

The Liberian leader is cautioned citizens and residents against a repeat of a scenario in March this year when people got “too happy too soon” over decline in Ebola infection, thereby giving room for the virus to resurface by June when preventive measures were largely downplayed.

“Yes we feel good, but we want to be cautious. We don’t want people to get happy too soon; we got to continue this fight, and we got to continue it with everything that we got,” President Sirleaf said Tuesday in Monrovia when she received an advance Chinese military delegation of 15 personnel to build ETUs here.

Judging from previous scenario, she warned, “This time we want to be careful, we’ll not be satisfied until we are declared that the last Ebola victim has been cured and is freed of this disease.” President Sirleaf’s warning comes as government prepares to conduct a mid-term election for 15 senators in December.

A video report from euronews:

Ebola: WHO announces ‘slowing rate of new cases’

Program notes:

Liberia may be experiencing a slowdown in the rate of new cases of the deadly Ebola virus according to the World Health Organization.

“We are seeing a slowing rate of new cases, very definitely,” WHO Assistant Director General Bruce Aylward announced.

The African country has reportedly seen a drop in burials and new hospital admissions, while the number of laboratory-confirmed cases has levelled out.

While the Associated Press adds more nuance:

Top UN Ebola official: new cases poorly tracked

Authorities are having trouble figuring out how many more people are getting Ebola in Liberia and Sierra Leone and where the hot spots are in those countries, harming efforts to get control of the raging, deadly outbreak, the U.N.’s top Ebola official in West Africa said Tuesday.

“The challenge is good information, because information helps tell us where the disease is, how it’s spreading and where we need to target our resources,” Anthony Banbury told The Associated Press by phone from the Ghanaian capital of Accra, where the U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response, or UNMEER, is based.

Health experts say the key to stopping Ebola is breaking the chain of transmission by tracing and isolating those who have had contact with Ebola patients or victims. Health care workers can’t do that if they don’t know where new cases are emerging.

“And unfortunately, we don’t have good data from a lot of areas. We don’t know exactly what is happening,” said Banbury, the chief of UNMEER.

Meanwhile, the crisis remains both critical and costly. From Sky News:

Ebola: DEC Launches ‘Unprecedented’ Appeal

The charity group asks the public for money to halt the “explosive” virus – the first time it has done so for a disease outbreak.

The Disasters Emergency Committee is to launch a major television appeal over the Ebola crisis, the first time it has called for donations in response to a disease.

The committee, which is made up of 13 of the UK’s major aid charities, said it took the decision because the killer virus threatens to become a “catastrophe”.

The DEC described the spread of the virus as “explosive”, and said it was devastating communities, health services and people’s ability to support themselves.

Next, California joins the list of states with Ebola quarantine policies, via the San Jose Mercury News:

Ebola: California is latest state to impose 21-day quarantine for those exposed to Ebola

California on Wednesday became the latest state to order a 21-day quarantine for travelers who have been in close contact with Ebola patients.

In an attempt to avoid the criticism lodged against New York, New Jersey and Maine that had blanket quarantine orders, however, California will allow county health agencies to impose the quarantine on a case-by-case basis.

By working with county health departments to assess the individual risks, the California Department of Public Health said it “respects the individual circumstances of each traveler while protecting and preserving the public health.”

And a case at hand, via KCBS in San Francisco:

Stanford Surgeon Under ‘Modified Quarantine’ In San Mateo County After Returning From Liberia

A Stanford surgeon has been put on modified quarantine in San Mateo County after treating Ebola patients in Liberia for the past month.

Dr. Colin Bucks returned to the Bay Area on Friday, but no state or federal quarantine orders were in place at the time. Dr. Bucks is not experiencing any symptoms of Ebola, but he is the first Californian to be quarantined under the new guidelines. Bucks is considered by health officials to be at “some risk.”

The doctor contacted San Mateo County health officials. After consultation with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the California Dept. of Public Health, Dr. Bucks was told to stay away from work and to stay away from others for 21 days. However, he can leave his house to go jogging by himself. He is taking his temperature every day and has not developed any symptoms.

Politics of pain, via the Los Angeles Times:

Obama urges Americans to honor aid workers fighting Ebola in Africa

President Obama on Tuesday urged Americans to set aside their fears of the Ebola virus and make sure U.S. healthcare workers who go to West Africa are “applauded, thanked and supported” when they return home.

If those workers are successful in fighting the virus at the source of the outbreak, he said, “we don’t have to worry about it here.”

“They are doing God’s work over there,” Obama said, “and they are doing that to keep us safe.”

And a fundamental lack from the Associated Press:

Funding to tame an Ebola outbreak has fallen short

“We don’t really have a pharmaceutical response for Ebola,” said retired Air Force Col. Randall Larsen, the former executive director of the Congressional Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction. “But could you imagine if there were 20,000 sick people in 10 cities and we did not have a pharmaceutical response? We would be completely overwhelmed.”

Emergency preparedness programs ramped up significantly in the U.S. after the Sept. 11 attacks and the 2001 anthrax scare, said Dr. Gerald Parker, a former principal deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. Health and Human Services preparedness office. Those efforts included research and development of vaccines and anti-viral drugs.

“It was recognized that there would be a dual benefit from research on vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics to counter bioterror threats and emerging infectious diseases,” said Parker, now a vice president at Texas A&M Health Science Center.

But a combination of budgetary constraints and politics has delayed many of those plans.

Other quarantine news from the New York Times:

New York State Ebola Policy Allows for In-Home Quarantine

Offering the first detailed account of how New York State’s quarantine order for health care workers returning from West Africa will be put into effect, the Cuomo administration has issued guidelines that go beyond federal recommendations but seek to allow individuals to spend their enforced isolation in a location of their choosing.

The state documents, copies of which were obtained by The New York Times, show an effort by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration to portray the quarantine in a humane manner.

The protocols are meant to ensure “a respectful and supportive approach” to arriving travelers, who are supposed to be “treated with the utmost respect and concern,” according to a document prepared by the State Health Department that outlines the screening procedures.

While the Guardian covers a controversy:

Ebola: Maine deploys state police to quarantined nurse’s home

  • Kaci Hickox, who was held for days in an isolation tent in New Jersey, says she doesn’t plan on obeying home quarantine in her home state

A nurse freed from an Ebola isolation tent in a New Jersey hospital declared on Wednesday the she will not comply with a quarantine request imposed by state officials, saying the policy is not based on science and infringes on her civil liberties.

“I don’t plan on sticking to the guidelines,” nurse Kaci Hickox told the Today show from her home in Maine. “I remain appalled by these home quarantine policies that have been forced upon me, even though I am in perfectly good health and feeling strong and have been this entire time completely symptom-free.”

The governor’s office said in a statement that Maine state police would monitor Kickox’s home “for both her protection and the health of the community”. A TV reporter with the local WLBZ news channel said as of 1pm ET on Wednesday at least two police cars were parked out front of the home.

More from the Washington Post:

Maine Gov. Paul LePage is seeking legal authority to enforce Ebola quarantine on nurse

Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) is looking for ways to force a nurse released from mandatory Ebola isolation in New Jersey to abide by a similar 21-day quarantine in Maine.

“The Office of the Governor has been working collaboratively with the State health officials within the Department of Health and Human Services to seek legal authority to enforce the quarantine,” LePage’s office said in a statement Wednesday. “We hoped that the health-care worker would voluntarily comply with these protocols, but this individual has stated publicly she will not abide by the protocols.”

Still more from the Guardian:

Maine prepared to go to court to enforce nurse’s Ebola quarantine order

  • Officials plead with Kaci Hickox to abide by 21-day order
  • ‘I have been this entire time completely symptom-free’

Maine’s top public health official has said the state will if necessary seek a court order to ensure a nurse stays quarantined in her home after returning from treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone.

Mary Mayhew, the commissioner of the state department of health and human services, pleaded with Hickox to abide by the state’s 21-day at-home quarantine order.

“We do not want to legally enforce an in-home quarantine unless absolutely necessary,” Mayhew said on Wednesday afternoon.

More quarantine politics from Reuters:

Obama sees different Ebola rules for U.S. military than for civilians

President Barack Obama on Tuesday appeared to back more rigorous procedures for dealing with soldiers returning from missions to Ebola-hit West African countries, even as he criticized moves by some U.S. states to quarantine returning civilian health workers.

Obama said that American military personnel were in a “different situation” compared with healthcare workers. While civilians may be discouraged from volunteering to help fight the Ebola if they are facing quarantine on their return, troops were sent as part of their mission and could expect such inconveniences.

“They are already by definition if they are in the military under more circumscribed conditions,” Obama told reporters at the White House. “We don’t expect to have similar rules for our military as we do for civilians.”

More from USA Today:

Quarantine ordered for troops returning from W. Africa

U.S. troops returning from Ebola-stricken nations will be isolated for 21 days, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Wednesday, a day after the White House raised concerns about states imposing strict quarantines of health care workers returning from West Africa.

Top commanders for the Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps made the recommendation to Hagel on Tuesday. The Army instituted an isolation requirement for 21 days — the incubation period for the deadly virus — on Monday.

Hagel directed the isolation policy be reviewed in 45 days to see whether it was necessary to continue with it, said Rear Adm. John Kirby, Pentagon press secretary.

Still more from the Guardian:

Conflicting Ebola guidelines put US defense secretary in a tough spot

  • Hagel’s choice on quarantining troops returning from west Africa involves rebuking either government scientists or military leaders

The Ebola outbreak has placed the US secretary of defense on the horns of a dilemma: whether to back the military service chiefs about a quarantine for troops or to support the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which recommends no such thing.

Defense chief Chuck Hagel has received a recommendation for a “quarantine-like program” for all US servicemembers returning from Liberia and Senegal, where they are supporting civilian efforts to contain the disease, Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said on Tuesday.

The recommendation, made by the heads of the military services, would expand across the military a directive made on Monday from the army chief, General Raymond Odierno, to keep soldiers returning from Operation United Assistance in Liberia and Senegal under a 21-day period of “controlled monitoring”.

Kirby said Hagel has yet to make a decision, having received the quarantine recommendation earlier on Tuesday. But imposing a broader military quarantine for returning servicemembers goes beyond new guidance set on Monday by the CDC, which urged a home quarantine only for high-risk individuals, such as those whose body fluids have been directly exposed to Ebola. US troops have not been involved in treating Ebola patients.

And yet more from Reuters:

US isolates troops

The U.S. military has started isolating soldiers returning from an Ebola response mission in West Africa and Australia became the first rich nation to impose a visa ban on the affected countries amid global anxiety about the spread of the virus.

The latest measures, along with decisions by some U.S. states to impose mandatory quarantines on health workers returning home from treating Ebola victims in West Africa, have been condemned by health authorities and the United Nations as extreme.

The top health official in charge of dealing with Washington’s response to Ebola warned against turning doctors and nurses who travel to West Africa to tackle Ebola into “pariahs”.

From Reuters, intranational man of mystery:

In Ebola response, Obama’s ‘czar’ stays behind the curtain

It’s not often that a White House official gets mocked on both Saturday Night Live and a major daily newspaper before he makes his first public appearance.

But Ron Klain’s low-profile first week as President Barack Obama’s behind-the-scenes Ebola “czar” has become another attack point for a White House struggling to show it’s on top of the crisis.

Since starting last Wednesday, Klain has been seen only once, in a photo op on his first day, leaving health officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institutes of Health – and Obama himself – to be the public “face” of the response.

The White House has declined to give details about his activities, especially what role he played as governors Andrew Cuomo of New York and Chris Christie of New Jersey undermined the White House’s attempt to keep the nation calm about the risk posed by healthcare workers returning from Ebola-stricken West Africa.

More predictable politics from the Associated Press:

Jeb Bush: Obama handling of Ebola ‘incompetent’

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on Tuesday criticized President Barack Obama’s initial handling of the Ebola crisis as “incompetent,” saying it gave rise to unneeded fears among the American public about the virus.

Bush, who is the latest potential Republican presidential candidate to attack the president over Ebola, also said in a wide-ranging discussion at Vanderbilt University that he supports travel restrictions for people who have been to the most severely affected countries in Africa.

Bush said Obama should have been more “clear and concise” about his plans, and lent more credibility to health officials leading the response.

“It looked very incompetent to begin with, and that fueled fears that may not be justified,” Bush said. “And now you have states that are legitimately acting on their concerns, creating a lot more confusion than is necessary.”

Meanwhile, the Obama administration made a notable symbolic move sure to piss off some of Bush’s former Florida constituents, via the Associated Press:

US sends health official to Cuban Ebola meeting

The United States has sent a health official to a Cuban meeting on coordinating Latin America’s response to Ebola. The participation of the Centers for Disease Control’s Central America director is the most concrete sign to date of the two nations’ expressed desire to cooperate against the disease.

The two-day meeting that began Tuesday in Havana is sponsored by ALBA, a forum of left-leaning Latin countries founded by Cuba and Venezuela as a counterweight to U.S. influence in the region.

Cuba is sending at least 256 medical workers to West Africa to treat and prevent Ebola. The World Health Organization says it’s the largest contribution by a single government, although there may be more doctors of other nationalities who are sent by non-governmental organizations.

The U.S. has welcomed Cuba’s response.

Ebolaphobia from the New York Times:

Connecticut Child Barred From School After Trip to Africa; Father Sues

The father of a Connecticut third grader filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday, saying his daughter has been unfairly barred from school amid fears she may have been exposed to the Ebola virus while in Africa.

The daughter, Ikeoluwa Opayemi, and her family, who live in Milford, visited Nigeria for a wedding from Oct. 2 to 13, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in Federal District Court in New Haven.

When the girl tried to return to the Meadowside Elementary School, she was told by the school district’s health director that she would have to stay home until Nov. 3 “due to concern from certain parents and teachers that she could transmit Ebola to other children,” according to the lawsuit.

More from Ebolaphobics from Science:

Been to an Ebola-affected country? Stay away from tropical medicine meeting, Louisiana says

Ebola fears are interfering with the world’s premier scientific meeting on tropical diseases. Today, Louisiana state health officials asked anyone who has traveled to Liberia, Sierra Leone, or Guinea in the past 21 days, or has treated Ebola patients elsewhere, to stay away from the annual meeting of the American Society for Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH), which begins on Sunday in New Orleans.

ASTMH doesn’t know exactly how many scientists will be affected, but there are several, says incoming president Christopher Plowe, including representatives from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “They are quite disappointed,” says Plowe, a malaria researcher at the University of Maryland. ASTMH sent all meeting registrants an email today containing a letter from Kathy Kliebert, secretary of Louisiana’s Department of Health & Hospitals, and Kevin Davis, director of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness, that outlines the state’s position. ASTMH referred registrants to the state’s health department for further information.

“Given that conference participants with a travel and exposure history for [Ebola] are recommended not to participate in large group settings (such as this conference) or to utilize public transport, we see no utility in you traveling to New Orleans to simply be confined to your room,” the letter says.

After the jump, an infectious lie, a sole supplier, North Korean Ebolaphobia, Hong Kong preparedness, fast-tracking a vaccine, anger at Aussie exclusion, Japanese angst leads to a task force, then on to Africa and vigilance in the newest addition to the ranks of the stricken while a border remains open, a study of who survive in Sierra Leone, Tokyo lends mobile assistance, Brits train “Ebola warriors,” missing funds, and survivors are shunned, then on to Liberia and the crisis personified, the healthcare worker’s painful conundrum, another blow to overstretched police resources, long overdue pay for healthcare workers, a cultural belief hampering prevention efforts with specific voices heard, Christian leaders call a three-day fast, a Christian tradition invoked, a change in command of American boots on the ground, and a presidential birthday is deferred, thence to Nigeria and an unanticipated arrival, followed by a precipitous tourism decline in Kenya. . . Continue reading

Chart of the day: Bankster greed, harming kids


From a sobering new report from UNICEF, Children of the Recession: The impact of the economic crisis on child well-being in rich countries [PDF]. Click on the image to enlarge:

BLOG Eurokids

Earth in crisis: How NASA maps climate change


A remarkable presentation by top NASA scientists revealing how satellite data is combined with other observations to map the earth’s circulatory systems [air, water, and ice] and create the exquisitely detailed models from which predictions of climate are derived.

To fully appreciate the stunning detail their models capture, click on the gear symbol and set to 720p resolution and pop the video full screen.

Contrary to the cl;aims of politicians backed by Big Oil and Big Coal, the results of their research aren’t simply pipe dream conjectures, and their findings should be enough to move even the most glacial of temperaments to an awareness that we are confronted with a potential  catastrophe created by out own unending appetites for the stuff we can crate out of the planet’s “raw materials.”

And be ready for some images of astounding beauty that should inspire a deeper reverence for the world in which we live and move and have our being [to borrow from a writer of long ago].

From NASA Goddard:

Vital Signs: Taking the Pulse of Our Planet

Program notes:

Our planet is a beautiful and awesome place. In a new video, join NASA scientists on a 40-minute visual tour of Earth from space, presented at the IMAX Theater at National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. on September 10.

“Vital Signs: Taking the Pulse of Our Planet” was the theme for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center’s fifteenth installment of its annual lecture and reception sponsored by the Maryland Space Business Roundtable.

Earth is a complex, dynamic system we do not yet fully understand. Like the human body, the Earth system comprises diverse components that interact in complex ways.

On this global tour, scientists lead the viewer through Earth’s water cycle, forests and frozen regions as seen through the eyes of NASA’s Earth observing satellite fleet. They share a story of how we can make life better today and into the future.

NASA’s Earth science program aims to develop a greater understanding of Earth’s system and its response to natural or human-induced changes, and to improve predictions of climate, weather and natural disasters.

The lecture is given by:

Lennard Fisk, Ph.D
Distinguished University Professor of Space Science
University of Michigan
INTRODUCTION

Gail Skofronick-Jackson, Ph.D
Project Scientist for the Global Precipitation Measurement Mission
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
THE WATER CYCLE

Thorsten Markus, Ph.D
Project Scientist for Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2)
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
SEA ICE

Lola Fatoyinbo-Agueh, Ph.D
Principal Investigator, (Eco-Synthetic Aperture Radar) (EcoSAR)
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
LAND AND EARTH

Piers Sellers
Deputy Director, Science and Exploration Directorate
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
THE BIG PICTURE

Quote of the day: Obama’s transparency fail


From Erik Wemple, writing in the Washington Post:

At some point, a compendium of condemnations against the Obama administration’s record of media transparency (actually, opacity) must be assembled. Notable quotations in this vein come from former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson, who said, “It is the most secretive White House that I have ever been involved in covering”; New York Times reporter James Risen, who said, “I think Obama hates the press”; and CBS News’s Bob Schieffer, who said, “This administration exercises more control than George W. Bush’s did, and his before that.”

USA Today Washington Bureau Chief Susan Page has added a sharper edge to this set of knives. Speaking Saturday at a White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA) seminar, Page called the current White House not only “more restrictive” but also “more dangerous” to the press than any other in history, a clear reference to the Obama administration’s leak investigations and its naming of Fox News’s James Rosen as a possible “co-conspirator” in a violation of the Espionage Act.

The WHCA convened the event both to strategize over how to open up the byways of the self-proclaimed most transparent administration in history, as well as to compare war stories on the many ways in which it is not.

Peter Baker, the veteran Washington reporter from the New York Times, provided perhaps the best instance of White House-administered madness. In covering a breaking story recently, Baker received a note from a White House handler indicating that President Obama had been briefed on the matter in question.

That information came to Baker “on background.” The gist: Not from me — a meeting has occurred..

John Oliver: How sweet [and deadly] it is


With Berkeley voters facing a ballot measure to slap a tax on those addictive, over-sweetened, high-fructose-corn-syrup-laden soft drinks, and facing a barrage of costly ads and endless pseudo-survey phone hustles. consider this not-so-saccharine segment form HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver:

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Sugar

Program notes:

Sugar. It’s in everything!

Is it good for us? Well, the sugar industry thinks so.