Category Archives: Politics

EbolaWatch: Numbers, hope, fear, & politics


First, the good news, via the U.N. News Center:

Ebola cases no longer rising in Guinea, Liberia, UN health agency reports

The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) reported today that the number of Ebola cases is “no longer increasing nationally in Guinea and Liberia, but is still increasing in Sierra Leone”, and that preparedness teams have been sent this week to Benin, Burkina Faso, Gambia and Senegal.

Earlier today, UN Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Sahel, Robert Piper, had appealed for funding for Ebola preparedness in the swath of Africa consisting of Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Gambia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal making up one of the poorest regions in the world.

WHO, in its most recent update, said the evolving Ebola outbreak “highlights the considerable risk of cases being imported into unaffected countries.”

“With adequate levels of preparation, however, such introductions of the disease can be contained before they develop into large outbreaks,” it said.

Next, the latest official numbers released today for all countries by the World Health Organization:

BLOG Ebola stats

More optimism from the Associated Press:

CDC chief drops worst-case Ebola estimate

he government’s worst-case scenario forecast for the Ebola epidemic in West Africa won’t happen, a U.S. health official said Wednesday.

In September, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated the number of people sickened by the Ebola virus could explode to as many as 1.4 million by mid-January without more help.

Things have changed. On Wednesday, CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said, “We don’t think the projections from over the summer will come to pass.”

Frieden did not provide new estimates.

And still more optimistic numeration from VOA News:

World Bank Sees $3B-$4B Ebola Impact in Africa

A World Bank official says the Ebola epidemic will not be as costly to West Africa’s economy as previously feared, thanks to effective containment efforts.

Francisco Ferreira, the bank’s chief economist for Africa, told an audience in Johannesburg Wednesday that he expects the epidemic’s economic toll on the region will range from $3 to $4 billion.

The World Bank in October had predicted the economic impact could be as high as $32 billion if the virus spread significantly outside the borders of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the three countries hardest hit by the outbreak.

And the accompanying video report from VOA News:

Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

Program notes:

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion – well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture – warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

From StarAfrica, a vow of solidarity from the regional economic organization:

ECOWAS restates solidarity with Ebola nations

The President of the ECOWAS Commission, Kadré Désiré Ouédraogo has assured that all institutions of the sub-regional organization are fully behind the affected countries battling the Ebola epidemic. “ECOWAS will do its best to help address the current Ebola crisis,” Ouédraogo promised.

“Let me pay a special tribute to you Madam President for your country’s courageous fight against the further spread of the Ebola virus disease.

ECOWAS stands ready to collaborate with your government, the UN System and all partners for an effective and efficient response to the Ebola outbreak,” the ECOWAS Commission President said.

The medium and the message, via Al Jazeera English:

UN Ebola effort faces ‘information challenge’

Top Ebola official says trouble figuring out new infection cases in West Africa makes controlling outbreak difficult.

Authorities are having trouble figuring out how many more people are getting Ebola in Liberia and Sierra Leone and where the hotspots are in those countries, according to the UN’s top Ebola official in West Africa.

This is harming efforts to get control of the outbreak, Anthony Banbury said on Tuesday.

Over the past week, the US said, Banbury met the presidents of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, where Ebola has infected at least 10,000 people and killed roughly half of them, as he focuses on adapting an operational framework for international anti-Ebola efforts.

“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,” Banbury told the Associated Press by phone from the Ghanaian capital of Accra, where the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response, or UNMEER, is based.

From Punch Nigeria, a call for screening at the border:

Ebola: NMA wants W’ African travellers tested

The Nigeria Medical Association has urged the government to ensure that passengers coming into the country from West African countries are properly checked during Christmas period to prevent fresh outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease in the country.

Chairman of the NMA in Osun State, Dr. Suraj Ogunyemi, gave the advice on Wednesday in Osogbo, the Osun State capital, at a press conference to usher in the 2014 Physicians’ Week.

Ogunyemi lauded the Federal Government, states and others who rose up in the battle against Ebola virus when it was brought into Nigeria by the late Liberian-American, Patrick Sawyer.

He said, “We must realise that the threat of importation of the EVD into the country is very much abundant. EVD could be imported from travellers from Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea to Nigeria, especially through Nigerians who work there and would return by road during Christmas.

“It can also be reintroduced by traders who travel across the nations of West Africa. So, government must ensure that our borders, seaports and airports are manned by health officials with adequate devices to check those coming into the country.”

On to the latest country to be stricken with the Associated Press:

Amid Ebola cases, Mali braces borders and beyond

On Mali’s dusty border with Ebola-stricken Guinea, travelers have a new stop: Inside a white tent, masked medical workers zap incomers with infrared thermometer guns and instruct them to wash their hands in chlorinated water.

After five recent Ebola deaths, Mali has become a front line in the fight against the virus, especially in the border town of Kouremale which two of those victims passed through last month. Malian authorities, with help from the U.N. and aid groups, this week deployed medical teams at the border to try to stop the disease’s spread.

“You are Mali’s portal. Don’t be the weak link in the fight against Ebola. Mali must not become a land of propagation for Ebola in the world,” President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita urged medical staffers and border guards during a visit as the deployment began. “We are counting on you to meet this challenge.”

Next, the bad news from Sierra Leone from Deutsche Welle:

Sierra Leone hit hardest in latest WHO Ebola numbers

The global Ebola infection tally has surpassed 15,000. Sierra Leone confirmed 533 new cases in the week to November 16, accounting for much of the increase.

Cases of Ebola reached 15,145, with 5,420 deaths, through November 16 – almost all in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, which reported the steepest uptick – the World Health Organization announced Wednesday. Sierra Leone has also reported 63 Ebola deaths since Friday.

“Much of this was driven by intense transmission in the country’s west and north,” the WHO announced. Sierra Leone has only managed to isolate 13 percent of Ebola patients, the agency’s figures show.

Ebola does not transmit easily, but it has particularly spread in the capital, Freetown, which accounted for 168, or nearly one-third of Sierra Leone’s 533 confirmed cases in the week to November 16, and nearby Port Loko. A doctor, the first Cuban infected with Ebola, who caught the virus in Sierra Leone will fly to Switzerland in the next 48 hours for hospitalization in Geneva. Five doctors from Sierra Leone have died of Ebola.

More from Reuters:

Ebola spreading intensely in Sierra Leone as toll rises – WHO

The figures, through Nov. 16, represent a jump of 243 deaths and 732 cases since those issued last Friday, and cases continue to be under-reported, the WHO said in its latest update.

Sierra Leone, a former British colony, confirmed 533 new cases in the week to Nov. 16, it said, accounting for much of the increase. It also reported 63 deaths since last Friday.

“Much of this was driven by intense transmission in the country’s west and north,” the WHO said.

The capital Freetown, which accounted for 168 new confirmed cases, and nearby Port Loko were particularly hard-hit.

British National Health Service help on the way, via the Guardian:

First NHS volunteers set to leave for Sierra Leone on Ebola mission

  • The 50 volunteers have undergone extensive training designed to ensure none of them return to the UK with the virus

The first batch of NHS staff who volunteered to treat Ebola patients in Sierra Leone are to leave the UK for west Africa after undergoing extensive training designed to ensure none return with the virus.

The 50 staff will depart nearly six weeks after they were shortlisted as suitable by UK-Med, the organisation funded by the Department for International Development to recruit NHS staff for secondment. Nearly 1,000 volunteered, but because of the need for careful selection and training, none have yet flown out.

The particular risk to health workers is highlighted by the news that one of the 250 Cuban doctors and nurses sent to the Ebola epidemic region has become infected. Félix Báez Sarría, one of about 165 Cuban medics in Sierra Leone, is being flown to Switzerland for treatment. “He’s not critical, he’s doing well, in a good condition,” said his boss, Dr Jorge Delgado Bustillo. “The most important thing now is to get him evacuated to Geneva.”

On to Liberia with some ominous numbers from another sector via BBC News:

Ebola crisis in Liberia: ‘One in two workers now jobless’

Nearly half of all Liberians who were employed when the Ebola outbreak began are no longer working, a survey by the World Bank has found.

It said many workers have been told to stay at home or have lost their jobs, while markets have been forced to shut.

Ana Revenga, a senior World Bank official, said even those living areas of Liberia that have not been hit by Ebola “are suffering the economic side effects of this terrible disease”.

The other side of the Ebola coin from StarAfrica:

Liberia’s Sirleaf delighted about decline in Ebola cases

Liberia President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has expressed delight that most Ebola Treatment Units (ETUs) around Monrovia are experiencing a decline in patient intake.She however warned Liberians to continue to follow the measures outlined by healthcare workers in order to break the transmission of the disease, as there are still hotspots and pockets in communities.

According to an Executive Mansion press release, President Sirleaf made the statement following a tour of several ETUs around Monrovia to assess conditions there, including constraints if any, and to thank healthcare workers, partners, and volunteers for their services to the country especially in the fight against the Ebola virus disease.

The President’s visit took her to treatment units at ELWA-II, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) ELWA-III, Ministry of Defense, the three ETUs under construction at the Samuel Kayon Doe Sports Complex, and the National Ebola Command Center in Sinkor.

An American de-escalation from the Associated Press:

Military scaling back treatment units in Liberia

A Pentagon spokesman says the U.S. military is scaling back the size and number of Ebola treatment facilities it is building in Liberia.

Army Col. Steve Warren said Wednesday that a total of 10 treatment facilities will be built; the Pentagon previously had planned to build as many as 17. Additionally, seven of the 10 will have 50 beds each rather than the 100 beds previously planned.

The first of the 10 treatment facilities has been completed and two more are expected to be finished this week. They are built by U.S. military personnel and are to be operated by local or international health workers.

Finally, a Liberian political impact from FrontPageAfrica:

Ebola Factor: Virus Crisis Could Dissuade Voters in Grand Bassa

It’s Friday, the busiest and most popular market day in Grand Bassa County’s second most populous district, and many people have turned out to either sell or buy at the Wayzohn Market, Compound Three – the district’s provisional capital. The most dominant issue nowadays is the Ebola crisis and it takes a lot to sway people from this discussion, especially in a county where new cases of the virus have emerged thus sparking fears amongst locals.

The debate now amongst many, not just those gathering at forums or market place, is ‘how much impact will the current Ebola crisis have on the Special senatorial election?’ The answer to this has prompted many to suggest, without any doubt, that the virus has already altered Liberia election’ time table. Like those men at the tea shop, many people who have spoken to FrontPage Africa fear that voters’ turnout will be lower than expected, mainly because of the compounded problem of the Ebola fear and the reluctance of people who see it meaningless to vote only because they claim the government has forsaken them.

“As we all know when elections is coming about this time the momentum is very high, but for this election, we’re only hearing about election, but the momentum is low,” Alexander Flankiah, a resident of Wayzohn, District Three said. Flankiah is expected to be on the campaign trail of one of the famous candidates in the race, but his pessimism about attracting a large crowd for rally is keeping him worried. During a recent trip to a town in rural Grand Bassa, he said it was difficult to bring people together. “People were stopping their immediate family from showing up because of the recent Ebola cases in the county.” he said.

MexicoWatch: Protests, hubris, anger, & threats


We start with an infuriating story from teleSUR, infuriating because uniformed armed thugs hauling students off a bus with threats is exactly what led to the disappearance of those 43 students:

Mexican Soldiers Intimidate, Threaten Students Outside Iguala

The army troops stopped a bus and threatened students from the Vicente Guerrero Teacher Training School.

At a checkpoint south of Iguala in the southern violent state of Guerrero, members of the 27th Infantry Battalion of the Mexican Army on Tuesday ordered the bus driver to stop and told the Teloloapan students to get off.

The soldiers lined the students up facing the bus, where they searched them and made insulting, humiliating remarks, especially to the young girls. They threatened the entire group, around 30 students in all, for more than an hour.

The troops specifically  warned the students that they’d better stop making trouble about the disappeared Ayotzinapa students, and then took pictures of each person. Afterward, they ordered them to go back to their school without causing any problems in Iguala.

And the accompanying video report:

Mexican Students intimidated and photographed by army yesterday

Program notes:

Yesterday in the Mexican state of Guerrero, a busload of students returning from a protest in solidarity with the Ayotinapa 43 (teaching college students who were kidnapped in late September by corrupt authorities in Iguala) was stopped by the army, who forced the students out of the bus, intimidated them, and told them to stop protesting, before photographing them and sending then back on their way. Also yesterday, parents of the 43 missing Ayotzinapa students recurred to the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, with whom they signed a contract. The OAS has pledged to help protect the families from danger, and to help continue the search for their children.

And then there’s strange silence of the media and public temper north of the border via the Chicago Tribune:

Americans ignore the mass murder of students that is roiling Mexico

The violent disappearance of 43 students from a rural teachers college in Guerrero state has caused a political earthquake the likes of which Mexico has not seen in generations — perhaps even since the revolution of 1910.

That makes it all the more baffling how little attention most people in the U.S. have paid to the unfolding tragedy. To understand the historical significance — and the moral and political gravity — of what is occurring, think of 9/11, of Sandy Hook, of the day JFK was assassinated. Mexico is a nation in shock — horrified, pained, bewildered.

These emotions have been swelling since late September, but have become overpowering since Nov. 10. That’s when Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam held a news conference to detail the federal government’s investigation into the students’ disappearance, a probe that relies heavily on witness testimony from men who allegedly participated in their murders.

Next, via teleSUR, a notable cancellation:

Protests for Ayotzinapa Cancel Mexico’s Official Revolution Parade

Mexico’s Interior Minister announced the cancellation of Thursday’s parade celebrating Mexico’s 1910 revolution, as a mass strike for the 43 missing students from Ayotzinapa will occur on the same day

The traditional official celebrations and military parade organized to commemorate Mexico’s 1910 revolution will be moved from the Zocalo square to a military installation in the Polanco neighborhood of the Mexican Capital this Thursday, announced Mexico’s Interior Minister, Miguel Angel Osorio Chong on Wednesday evening.

“November 20 is a date that we Mexicans celebrate the beginning of our revolution. This time, it was decided that the celebration will not be accompanied by the traditional festivities and parade,” said the minister.

“The Interior Ministry reports that the commemoration of November 20 will consist of a decorations ceremony and promotions of active military personnel from the Defense Ministry and Navy, which will be held in the Base Marte,” he added.

Bringing it home, via the Latin American Herald Tribune:

Teachers Take Over Judicial Branch HQ in Mexico Protest Over Disappeared

Teachers in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero on Tuesday took over the state judicial branch headquarters and held workers there for four hours as part of protests associated with the disappearance of 43 teaching students.

About 500 members of Guerrero’s state education workers coordinator, or CETEG, took over the Judicial Complex, which houses the offices of the state supreme court in Chilpancingo, the state capital.

The teachers demanded the release of “political prisoners” and the annulment of arrest warrants that, CETEG said, have been issued for their members for recent violent acts that were part of the protests over the students’ disappearance.

And from teleSUR English, national strike coming:

Mexico: national student strike planned in solidarity with Ayotzinapa

Program notes:

In Mexico, public universities and teacher training colleges across the country are organizing for a 24-hour strike to take place on Thursday November 20 to demand the safe return of the 43 missing students from the Ayotzinapa teacher training college who were kidnapped on September 26.

From Reuters, presidential arrogance at its worst:

Mexico president sees anti-government motive in massacre protests

Grappling with outrage over violence and impunity after the apparent massacre of 43 trainee teachers, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto on Tuesday accused unspecified groups of seeking to destabilize his government.

Protest marches over the crime, which the government has blamed on corrupt police in league with a drug gang and city officials, have overshadowed Pena Nieto’s efforts to boost years of sub-par economic growth via a raft of economic reforms.

“Structural reforms and big changes have … without doubt affected interests of those who have much and of others who oppose our nation-building project,” Pena Nieto said.

“We have seen violent movements which hide behind the grief (over the missing students) to stage protests, the aim of which at times is unclear,” he added. “They seem to obey interests to generate instability, to foment social unrest.”

Solidarity in Southern California from the Los Angeles Times:

Missing Mexico students: ‘We want them alive,’ L.A. activists chant

Standing in front of photos of 43 missing students in the Mexican state of Guerrero, activists and community members gathered across the street from the Consulate General of Mexico in Los Angeles on Wednesday chanting: “Vivos se los llevaron, vivos los queremos.”

“They were taken alive, we want them alive.”

Immigrant and human rights groups called on people to stand in solidarity with Mexico and the students who went missing in Iguala, Guerrero, on Sept. 26, and are presumed to likely be dead.

And a reminder, via Vice News:

There Are More than 43 Missing People in Guerrero and Mexico’s Military May Have a Role

There are more than 43 families looking for their missing sons and daughters in Guerrero, Mexico. The Pita family is one of them.

Felix and Guadalupe Pita’s son, Lenin Vladimir Pita, was 17 when he disappeared on March 1, 2010. He went missing in Iguala, the same city where 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Normal School vanished eight weeks ago.

“Talking about my son breaks my heart,” Felix Pita, a weather-worn man with greying hair and a gravelly voice, told VICE News. “If they could take my son, they can take more. I have been told that they kidnap them and make them work or they sell them to hitmen.”

On a related note, via teleSUR:

Dozen Mexican Mayors under Investigation for Drug Links

The Iguala mayor who was arrested for allegedly masterminding the forced disappearances of 43 students in September is among a dozen Mexican mayors currently under investigation for corruption

Twelve mayors have been investigated between January and July of this year for alleged links to criminal groups, Mexican federal intelligence sources told the Milenio newspaper Monday.

The investigation describes the mayors as “objects of special attention,” and their daily activities are being monitored.

The 12 mayors include four from the ruling center-right Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and eight from the center-left Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), including the mayor of Iguala Jose Luis Abarca.

And a video report from Deutsche Welle:

Mexico – The state and the drug cartels

Program notes:

The disappearance of 43 students in Mexico is symptomatic of much larger problems in the country: widespread corruption and drug-related violence. Many people feel their government can’t protect them.

From Reuters, oh, the poor baby:

Mexico’s first lady says will sell house at center of scandal

Mexico’s first lady said on Tuesday she would give up a house at the center of a scandal that created a potential conflict of interest between President Enrique Pena Nieto and a company bidding for a lucrative rail contract.

The Mexican government this month abruptly cancelled a $3.75-billion high speed rail contract awarded to a consortium led by China Railway Construction Corp Ltd that featured a Mexican company known as Grupo Higa.

It then emerged that a subsidiary of Grupo Higa owned a luxury house that Pena Nieto’s wife Angelica Rivera was in the process of acquiring, raising questions about the tender.

In a televised statement, Rivera, who was one of Mexico’s most popular soap actresses before marrying Pena Nieto in 2010, said she had paid off about 14.3 million pesos ($1.05 million) of the value of the house and would sell her stake to settle any outstanding questions about the matter.

Next, via teleSUR, filling in the memory hole:

Mexican Museum to House Ayotzinapa Exhibition

The Museum of Memory’s objective is to highlight crimes against humanity perpetrated by authoritarian groups and governments

The Mexican Museum of Memory and Tolerance will hold a 2015 exhibition about the murders, executions, disappearances and the impunity afflicting Mexico. It will feature the tragic events of the 43 missing students in Ayotzinapa.

The museum, which opened in 2010, seeks to preserve the historical memory of the most shocking crimes against humanity. It houses exhibitions about the Nazi holocaust, the genocides in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and massacres in Guatemala, among others.

According to its director, Shanon Zaga, 2015 will be the year the museum will focus on the crimes against humanity undertaken in Mexico itself.

Exhibitions will range from the 1968 Tlatelolco student massacre, to the the mass murder of hundreds of women in Ciudad Juarez in past decades. Most pressingly, one of the exhibits will focus on the recent events of the disappearance of 43 students in Ayotzinapa.

And to close, via CCTV America, corporate angst:

Protests over missing students affect private investment in Mexico

Program notes:

Mexico’s sputtering economy is facing more challenges following recent demonstrations over to the fate of 43 college students missing and presumed killed in a September mass abduction in Guerreo state, in the southern part of the country. CCTV America’s Franc Contreras reported this story from Mexico City.

Googleplexed: Is it more evil than the NSA?


A fascinating segment from Abby Martin’s Breaking the Set poses the question, Is thew private panopticon as embodied in the omnipresence of Google really any less potentially malevolent than the panopticon embodied by the National Security Agency, which, after all, is at least theoretically answerable to democratically elected [snicker] representatives:

Why Google May Be More ‘Evil’ than the NSA | Think Tank

Program notes:

Abby Martin speaks with Taylor Lincoln, Director of Research at Public Citizen’s Congressional Watch Division about a new report detailing how Google is invading users privacies and becoming the most powerful and influential political force in Washington.

Protests challenge California, British tuition hikes


The desideratum of the neoliberal regimes governing on both sides of the Atlantic can be summed up simply: It is the abolition of any barriers toi the infinite accumulation of wealth by that the very apex of an increasingly rigid and increasingly steep class hierarchy.

Two graphics drawn on the work of Berkeley economist Emmanuel Saez and colleagues sum up the reality:

First, the hyperconcentration of wealth by the American elite, via VoxEU:

BLOG wealth

Second, evidence that a parallel process is at work in Europe as well, most notably the U.K., via the London School of Economics:

Print

One major factor in this process of hyperaccumulation is the deconstruction of progressive income tax and the replacement of lost revenues by regressive taxation that penalizes the porr and, increasingly, middle classes.

And one major initiative has been the replacement of student tuition and fees to replace lost tax revenues, with the result that student costs are soaring at rates far higher than inflation, forcing the young to mortgage their futures through student loans, debts that in the U.S. can’t be forgiven in bankruptcy court, effectively insuring a form of debt servitude.

Just how bad has the increase been? Well, here’s what is looks like for the University of Califonia, via the Committee on Student Fees:

BLOG UC tuition

But it doesn’t stop there.

From the Associated Press:

Tuition hike tentatively approved in California

A proposed tuition hike was tentatively approved Wednesday by a committee of the University of California governing board.

The committee voted 7-2 to approve the plan recommended by UC President Janet Napolitano that would raise tuition in each of the next five years.

The proposed tuition hikes still must be reviewed by the full Board of Regents on Thursday.

Napolitano said the increases are needed to protect the quality of education in the face of insufficient state funding.

Before the meeting, students made their feelings known as the Los Angeles Times reports:

UC tuition hike: Shoving, anger among protesters, police

Student protesters and university police tussled outside a UC San Francisco meeting hall early Wednesday where the regents for the 10-campus system were about to debate a proposed tuition hike.

About 100 protesters tried to block entrances into the building as regents and other UC officials tried to enter. Some of the officials were jostled as they wedged their way through the yelling crowd. Pushing matches between police and protesters erupted at several entrances and at metal barricades.

There was one arrested in an incident that led to the shattering of a glass door in the building’s rear, UC police said. No one appeared to be seriously injured in the protest.

A video report on the protest from Sacramento Bee:

UC students standoff with CFO Nathan Brostrom

Program notes:

University of California students protested a proposed tuition hike outside the Board of Regents meeting in San Francisco on Nov. 19, 2014.

The Bee also covered a Tuesday protest in nearby Davis, home of another University of California campus:

UC Davis tuition protest

Program notes:

Hundreds of students at UC Davis marched Tuesday to protest proposed tuition hikes.

And from ABC 10 News in San Diego, a report on a protest at the UC campus there:

UCSD students protest proposed tuition hike

Program notes:

UC San Diego students staged a sit-in Tuesday to protest a tuition hike proposal — an action mirrored at other University of California campuses.

And just as the wealth concentration process is going on in the U.K., so is the ceaseless rise in unviserity tuition, so that at the same time studentds were taking to the streets in California, their counterparts were doing the same in London.

From the Guardian:

Student protest over tuition fees ends in scuffles with police

  • Organisers say 10,000 joined march, which saw NUS offices daubed with paint after it refused to back protest

Organisers said the demonstration against tuition fees and wider cuts to education was the biggest mobilisation of students since 2010 when demonstrators occupied Tory party offices at Millbank.

Wednesday’s protest saw the National Union of Students (NUS) headquarters in London daubed with paint after it decided not to back the demonstration due to “an unacceptable level of risk” to its members. That provoked anger among those who took part in the march. “We did not organise what happened at the NUS but we do know students are very angry about being let down by the NUS,” said Beth Redmond from the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, one of the groups that organised the demonstration. “When you see the numbers here today, they are in danger of becoming an irrelevance.”

Organisers claimed that up to 10,000 protesters took part in the march with university students joining those from further education colleges and sixth forms.

The protest passed off peacefully until demonstrators arrived at Parliament Square. A breakaway group of several hundred, including many who were wearing masks, pulled down fences blocking off the square, provoking minor scuffles with the police.

A video report for the Press Association:

Two arrested in mass student protest

Program notes:

Two protesters have been arrested after protesters on a student demonstration charged the headquarters of the Tory party in central London. Thousands of students marched through central London in protest against tuition fees and debt.

We agree with the students. Tax those who can afford it, and save the most precious resource any community has, its future, embodied in the students of today.

InSecurityWatch: Serfs, drones, war, hacks. . .


And more, much more.

We begin with an official endorsement oif penal servitude from a very strange place, via BuzzFeed News:

California AG “Shocked” To Learn Her Office Wanted To Keep Eligible Parolees In Jail To Work

Lawyers for California Attorney General Kamala Harris argued releasing non-violent inmates early would harm efforts to fight California wildfires. Harris told BuzzFeed News she first heard about this when she read it in the paper.

Lawyers for California Attorney General Kamala Harris argued in court this fall against the release of eligible nonviolent prisoners from California’s overcrowded prisons — because the state wanted to keep them as a labor force.

Harris, a rising star in the Democratic Party, said she learned about the argument when she read it in the paper.

“I will be very candid with you, because I saw that article this morning, and I was shocked, and I’m looking into it to see if the way it was characterized in the paper is actually how it occurred in court,” Harris told BuzzFeed News in an interview Monday. “I was very troubled by what I read. I just need to find out what did we actually say in court.”

Next, the latest madness from Ferguson, via the London Daily Mail:

Navy veteran FIRED and ‘branded a terrorist’ for taking pictures of scores of Homeland Security SUVs parked at Ferguson hotel where he works – as town awaits grand jury decision on Michael Brown shooting

  • Mark Paffrath worked for the Drury hotel chain in Missouri
  • Paffrath, a Navy veteran, posted photos of dozens of vehicles marked with the logos of the Department of Homeland Security to his Facebook
  • He was asked to take them down, then a day later he was fired
  • Vehicles were located about a 30-minute drive from Ferguson, Missouri

A Navy veteran has been fired and branded a terrorist for posting Facebook pictures of Homeland Security SUVs parked at a hotel where he works near Ferguson.

Mark Paffrath, who worked for the Drury hotel chain, took photos and a video of dozens of vehicles marked with the logos of the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Protection Services which arrived in the parking lot of Chesterfield’s Drury Plaza Hotel last week.

The vehicles are parked about a 30-minute drive from Ferguson, Missouri.

More Ferguson madness, from AJ+:

These Guns Aren’t Being Sold For Hunting Near Ferguson

Program notes:

People living near Ferguson are worried. Guns sales have exploded since the killing of Michael Brown. Local gun store owners say customers are preparing for the worst by buying up home defense weapons.

And some context from VICE News:

Ferguson’s State of Emergency Proves America’s Social Contract Has Been Broken

In Ferguson, Missouri, a festering truth about the entire United States has come to light. It is not a truth about flagrant racism, police impunity, or the systematic quashing of free speech. It is not even the truth that, in the eyes of US justice, black lives don’t matter. These truths, while bolstered by events in Ferguson, have made themselves perfectly evident via prison populations and police statistics for decades.

What Ferguson has made clear, specifically, is that the social contract has been broken. With the expected grand jury non-indictment of Officer Darren Wilson likely to provoke renewed and righteous unrest, we are seeing nothing less than the state proving itself illegitimate.

I mean this in a very particular sense. When the decisions of a justice system are so repugnant to a significant mass of people that the state apparatus expects and must contend with popular unrest, then this political system has lost the grounds on which political legitimacy is based. When, on Monday, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency in Ferguson ahead of the grand jury decision, I like to think the ghost of Jean Jacques Rousseau looked on and whispered through the icy Missouri air, “Rise up.”

From the Guardian, the storm before the calm:

Critics of surveillance bill lash out hours before vote in US Senate

  • Mitch McConnell: ‘worst possible time to be tying our hands behind our back’
  • USA Freedom Act faces uphill battle despite ‘strong support’ of White House
  • Privacy advocates believe bill lacks the teeth to end dragnet surveillance

Acrimony erupted in the US Senate over a major surveillance overhaul on Tuesday, hours before legislators are due to vote on moving it forward, as opponents labeled it a gift to terrorism.

The incoming Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, sharply warned that the USA Freedom Act, which, if passed, would be the first law to constrain the National Security Agency in decades, would cripple US intelligence against the Islamic State (Isis) in Iraq and Syria.

“This is the worst possible time to be tying our hands behind our back,” said McConnell, who will become majority leader in January.

“At the moment, we should not be doing anything to make the situation worse.”

And the outcome, from United Press International:

NSA reform bill dies in the Senate

  • Under the potential legislation, the NSA would not have been able to collect phone records of Americans not suspected of a crime

The U.S. Senate on Tuesday narrowly defeated a bill designed to overhaul the National Security Agency by halting the collection of phone records of Americans who are not suspected of a crime.

The bill was two votes shy of getting the 60 it needed to pass the USA Freedom Act.

Minority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., supported the defeat of the bill.

From Reuters, one in six hundred:

Top German spy says Berlin under cyber attack from other states

German government and business computers are coming under increasing cyber attack every day from other states’ spy agencies, especially those of Russia and China, Germany’s domestic intelligence (BfV) chief said on Tuesday.

Addressing a cybersecurity conference in Berlin, Hans Georg Maassen said that of an estimated 3,000 daily attacks by hackers or criminals on German government systems, around five were the handiwork of intelligence services. The latter are so sophisticated that they can easily be overlooked, he added.

“We have seen that there are ever more frequent attacks by foreign intelligence agencies on the German government IT infrastructure,” he said.

Imitation, flattery, and all that, via Want China Times:

PLA has set up Chinese version of PRISM in HK: Kanwa

The People’s Liberation Army has established a large-scale signals and information monitoring facility in Hong Kong similar to the US PRISM monitoring program exposed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, according to the Canada-based Kanwa Information Center.

In a report obtained by CNA, Kanwa, which publishes a monthly magazine on Asian defense issues, said that intelligence experts have made the findings after observing the facility from the top of Tai Mo Shan, the highest mountain in Hong Kong with a altitude of 950 meters.

The facility was reportedly constructed in 2011.

Opting out with Network World:

Swedish ISP to let users shield Internet activity from police

Swedes have started to sign up for a free service from ISP Bahnhof to hide their Internet communications metadata from the police, and the company’s CEO is urging other European ISPs to follow suit.

The Swedish ISP will start offering a free VPN (virtual-private-network) service to its customers on Monday. That same day it will also resume retaining customer location and traffic metadata for law enforcement purposes to comply with Swedish law, something it stopped doing in May. By complying again with the data retention rules, the ISP will avoid a fine of 5 million Swedish Kronor, or about US$678,000.

The free VPN service will let customers be anonymous online and avoid being subject to mass surveillance, Bahnhof CEO Jon Karlung said on Tuesday. “It is an alternative. It allows customers to choose whether they want data retention or not,” he said. The ISP is launching the VPN service on the same day it starts to retain customer data again “so we can countermeasure the effect of the data retention.”

And on the the military from, first with Der Spiegel:

The ‘Caliphate’s’ Colonies: Islamic State’s Gradual Expansion into North Africa

Chaos, disillusionment and oppression provide the perfect conditions for Islamic State. Currently, the Islamist extremists are expanding from Syria and Iraq into North Africa. Several local groups have pledged their allegiance.

The caliphate has a beach. It is located on the Mediterranean Sea around 300 kilometers (186 miles) south of Crete in Darna. The eastern Libya city has a population of around 80,000, a beautiful old town and an 18th century mosque, from which the black flag of the Islamic State flies. The port city is equipped with Sharia courts and an “Islamic Police” force which patrols the streets in all-terrain vehicles. A wall has been built in the university to separate female students from their male counterparts and the disciplines of law, natural sciences and languages have all been abolished. Those who would question the city’s new societal order risk death.

Darna has become a colony of terror, and it is the first Islamic State enclave in North Africa. The conditions in Libya are perfect for the radical Islamists: a disintegrating state, a location that is strategically well situated and home to the largest oil reserves on the continent. Should Islamic State (IS) manage to establish control over a significant portion of Libya, it could trigger the destabilization of the entire Arab world.

The IS puts down roots wherever chaos reigns, where governments are weakest and where disillusionment over the Arab Spring is deepest. In recent weeks, terror groups that had thus far operated locally have quickly begun siding with the extremists from IS.

And then there’s this, from the Los Angeles Times:

Israel vows tough response in killing of 4 rabbis, 3 of them Americans

Israel vowed a harsh response after two Palestinian attackers slashed and shot to death four rabbis who were praying in a Jerusalem synagogue early Tuesday — an attack that horrified Israelis, drew international condemnation and threatened to further inflame Jewish-Muslim tensions that were already running high over a contested holy site.

At least seven Israelis were hospitalized in the wake of the attack, the deadliest in Jerusalem since 2008. The two attackers, shot dead by police units that converged on the scene within minutes, were identified as Palestinian cousins from predominantly Arab East Jerusalem, which has been a flashpoint for attacks in recent months.

The attackers — armed with cleavers and handguns and said to have been shouting “God is great!” — burst into the synagogue in the ultra-Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Nof during morning prayers, witnesses said. Many devoutly religious immigrants to Israel have settled in the area, and three of the four rabbis killed held American citizenship, the State Department said. A fourth was a Briton, according to Israeli officials.

Next, corporate thuggery threatened, via the Guardian:

Uber executive apologises after suggesting the firm dig dirt on hostile journalists

  • Emil Michael says his comments that a journalist should have her private life exposed after criticising the site ‘did not reflect his actual views’

Luxury cab firm Uber has been forced to apologise after a senior executive suggested the company hire a team of opposition researchers to dig up dirt on hostile journalists.

Speaking at a dinner in Manhattan hosted by the Uber consultant and political “fixer” Ian Osborne, the company’s head of business, Emil Michael, singled out Sarah Lacy, the editor of tech news site PandoDaily, as somebody who could be targeted by the researchers.

Ben Smith, the editor of Buzzfeed, reported the comments after he was invited to the dinner by the media columnist Michael Wolff. He writes that Uber’s Michael was particularly incensed by an article in which Lacy accused Uber of “sexism and misogyny” after the firm was reported to be working with a French escort service.

“At the dinner, Michael expressed outrage at Lacy’s column and said that women are far more likely to get assaulted by taxi drivers than Uber drivers,” says Smith. “He said that he thought Lacy should be held ‘personally responsible’ for any woman who followed her lead in deleting Uber and was then sexually assaulted.

“Then he returned to the opposition research plan. Uber’s dirt-diggers, Michael said, could expose Lacy. They could, in particular, prove a particular and very specific claim about her personal life.”

After the jump, peeping drones Down Under, a game-changing ruling for photographers who drone, a Colombian capture acknowledged, on to China and a Game of Zones proposal, an ironically timed Internet crackdown, a massive police rollout in preparation for an Occupy crackdown as the first moves are made while protesters stage an attack of their own, an Aussie submarine deal with Tokyo draws near, tensions rise over an American base relocation in Okinawa, and Abe’s militarists continue to deny the past. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Politics, fuels, species, & nukes


From the Washington Post, a momentary win:

Democrats block Keystone pipeline, but GOP vows new fight when it takes over

Senate Democrats blocked a move Tuesday to compel construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, dealing a sharp loss to one of their own, Sen. Mary Landrieu (La.), who had pinned her chances for reelection on approval of the measure.

The vote was a victory for environmental activists who have turned defeat of the pipeline into one of the central symbolic causes of their movement. But Republicans, who will take majority control of the Senate in the next Congress, vowed to return to the fight next year.

On a 59 to 41 roll call, Landrieu’s campaign fell one vote shy of passing legislation meant to force President Obama to approve the nearly 1,700-mile, $7.6 billion project, which would deliver 830,000 barrels of oil a day from western Canada to the American heartland. With just 14 Democrats backing it, Landrieu’s bill fell victim to a filibuster by her own party. All 45 Republicans voted for the measure.

The only person who really needed the Keystone victory in November was Landrieu, who is trying to hold off Representative Bill Cassidy in Louisiana’s run-off election on December 6. Democrats allowed Landrieu her vote on the bill, but the cold calculation that most of them made is that with the limited polling out of Louisiana showing her losing by double digits, passage of the bill—which also had Cassidy’s name on it—wouldn’t be enough to save her.

From Reuters, a video of the decisive moment:

U.S. Senate fails to pass Keystone XL pipeline bill

Program notes:

U.S. Senate votes 59-41 in favor of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline bill, narrowly lacking the 60 votes needed to pass the measure.

From the Express Tribune, an ongoing struggle:

Crippling disease: Seven new cases as N Waziristan polio drive restarts

As seven fresh polio cases surfaced in different parts of the country on Tuesday, an initiative was renewed to drive out the contagious disease from North Waziristan Agency (NWA) – which has been off limits to vaccinators for the last 30 months.

According to officials, a formal polio vaccination drive was started in four different villages of the North Waziristan’s Razmak tehsil on Tuesday and 1,349 children were vaccinated on the first day of the drive.

Meanwhile, seven new polio cases surfaced across the country on Tuesday, taking the national count for 2014 to 255. The National Institute of Health (NIH) confirmed the emergence of seven new cases in a single day.

From the New York Times, Mine Kampf:

Clean Mining a Deception in Kentucky, Groups Say

In a state where coal-country creeks run red with iron, Frasure Creek Mining has been unusually clean of late: Amid tens of thousands of measurements that it submitted to Kentucky regulators in 2013 and early 2014, fewer than 400 exceeded the state’s limits for water pollution from coal-mine runoff.

Now environmental activists say they know why. In a letter released on Monday, four environmental groups said many of the monthly measurement reports that Frasure sent the state contained virtually identical data — line-for-line repeats of clean pollution reports submitted the month before.

The letter to Frasure and state and federal officials vowed to sue the company for what activists called tens of thousands of violations of the Clean Water Act unless Kentucky regulators act first. The act allows citizens to enforce

More New York Times coal coverage:

Coal Rush in India Could Tip Balance on Climate Change

“If India goes deeper and deeper into coal, we’re all doomed,” said Veerabhadran Ramanathan, director of the Center for Atmospheric Sciences at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and one of the world’s top climate scientists. “And no place will suffer more than India.”

India’s coal mining plans may represent the biggest obstacle to a global climate pact to be negotiated at a conference in Paris next year. While the United States and China announced a landmark agreement that includes new targets for carbon emissions, and Europe has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent, India, the world’s third-largest emitter, has shown no appetite for such a pledge.

“India’s development imperatives cannot be sacrificed at the altar of potential climate changes many years in the future,” India’s power minister, Piyush Goyal, said at a recent conference in New Delhi in response to a question. “The West will have to recognize we have the needs of the poor.”

Mr. Goyal has promised to double India’s use of domestic coal from 565 million tons last year to more than a billion tons by 2019, and he is trying to sell coal-mining licenses as swiftly as possible after years of delay. The government has signaled that it may denationalize commercial coal mining to accelerate extraction.

And from RT, frack off!:

No fracking, we’re German! Berlin reiterates moratorium on drilling

Germany says it is not going to loosen restrictions concerning its moratorium on fracking. A report in Der Spiegel had said the government was considering making it easier to extract shale gas and allow test drilling.

The government said on Monday it has no plans to lift the ban on fracking, Reuters reported.

Currently there are only plans to allow fracking at a depth below 3,000 meters to ensure that the water supply does not become contaminated. The effective ban is popular with Germans as the process of hydraulic fracturing involves pumping water and chemicals through drill holes at a high pressure to try and open rocks that may contain gas.

Getting the tubes tied off, via the Guardian [and, yes, we know they ain’t got tubes any more]:

Brussels targets super-sized TVs in drive for energy efficiency

  • Mega-TV screens will be forced to reduce energy use under new proposals that set the scene for ‘ecodesign’ battles to come over kettles, toasters, and hairdryers

The amount of energy that big screen TVs can use will be capped under an EU energy efficiency drive which the European commission expects will cut consumers’ energy bills by around €8bn a year.

After similar energy-saving rules for vacuum cleaners provoked a storm of criticism from UK newspapers last autumn, the planned TV rules may be a test case for new ‘ecodesign’ formulas for kettles, toasters and hairdryers, due to be announced next year.

The new TV standards, which could come into effect as early as June 2016, would set more challenging energy use requirements for larger TV screens, which currently benefit from a ranking methodology that only measures internal components for energy efficiency.

Coming clean with the Associated Press:

Dry Central California town gets portable showers

Hundreds of people living in a drought-stricken California farm town could soon be taking their first hot shower in months after county officials set up portable facilities in a church parking lot.

Residents of East Porterville in the agricultural Central Valley must bring their own towel and soap, but the hot shower is free. Until now, many have been forced to bathe from buckets and drink bottled water.

Andrew Lockman, manager of the Tulare County Office of Emergency Service, said Tuesday that officials were worried about residents taking sponge baths during the colder weather.

“The poor certainly get poorer,” he said. “We’re trying to provide a safety net, a basic quality of life as people struggle through this disaster.”

Ceaseless cetacean slaughter reduced, via the Guardian:

Japan cuts Antarctic whale quota after UN court ruling

Japan has reduced quota by two-thirds after UN court called the controversial ‘research whaling’ programme a commercial hunt masquerading as science

Japan has unveiled a plan to kill 333 minke whales in the Southern Ocean next year as part of its push to resume whaling following a legal setback instigated by Australia.

The plan, released by the Japanese government on Tuesday, sets out a 12-year program that would result in the slaughter of a total of 3,996 whales. The whales will be hunted in a vast sweep of Antarctic waters, including ocean claimed by Australia.

The 333 annual figure is a sharp reduction in the previous quota Japan awarded itself last year, when it aimed to take 855 minke whales, 50 humpback whales and 10 fin whales. Japan ended up harpooning far fewer than this amount, however, due to the disruptive tactics of anti-whaling activists Sea Shepherd.

Japan state broadcaster NHK WORLD put a different spin on the story:

Japan to resume Antarctic research whaling

Japan aims to resume its research whaling in the Antarctic Ocean late next year by drastically downsizing the program.

Fisheries minister Koya Nishikawa announced a revised plan for the program on Tuesday.

Under the plan, a fleet will hunt only minke whales and the catch limit will be cut to 333. That’s about one-third of the number in the past.

Researchers will also conduct visual studies that do not involve killing whales.

Another slaughter, equally tragic, from the Guardian:

Elephants are being wiped out, but not enough people seem to care

  • Progress on wildlife poaching is slow because there is little public pressure. Let’s hope Interpol’s ‘most wanted’ eco criminals list will help

I asked a senior environmental journalist the other week what he thought was the single most under-reported environmental issue. He replied, unhesitatingly, wildlife poaching. “It’s as if the wildlife is just being hoovered out of Africa,” he said. “In the 1960s people campaigned around whales and wildlife. The Daily Mail actually put rhino poaching on their front page. But now there just doesn’t seem to be the same level of interest.” Dr Paula Kahumbu, a wildlife campaigner based in Kenya, echoes his sentiment, but adds that the UK public is still more active than most areas of the world. “Not a single African leader has spoken out on this,” says Kahumbu. “The silence is deafening.”

The scale of the “hoovering” is hard to comprehend. Take elephants, for example. In Africa, where some but not all of the poaching is concentrated, elephants are being slaughtered at a rate of 20,000-25,000 a year, from a population of just 420,000-650,000. The forest elephant population has dropped by 62% since 2002. There is a word for the killing of elephants (elephanticide) and a word for destruction of the natural world (ecocide) but oddly enough – given our magnificent form in this area – there doesn’t seem to be a word for killing off a whole species. We probably need one.

And then there are the other species we “hoover” up, from illegal logging and the dumping of hazardous waste. Taken altogether, a UN report earlier this year estimated that the cost of these crimes is $70-213bn annually. So these are not small operations, not a few farmers sneakily chopping down a few trees to augment their subsistence income, or the odd fisherman going over his quota. These are international cartels systematically and illegally stripping our natural resources and selling them on for profit. Some of them are running parallel drug and human trafficking operations. There is even evidence that some of this income is supporting terrorism.

From CCTV America, another fuel, other consequences:

US wood pellet industry stirs environmental controversy

Program notes:

Europe’s search for biofuels has led them to Americas’ southern forests and wetlands, such as the Nottoway River in Virginia. Many of the trees are logged for the sole purpose of grinding them up to later be converted into wood pellets. A clear cutting site in Waverly, Virginia was logged by the U.S. company Enviva, according to the non-profit organization, Dogwood Alliance. CCTV America’s Nitza Soledad Perez reported this story.

More fuel from Kyodo News:

Tokyo to set up 80 hydrogen stations by 2025

The Tokyo metropolitan government Tuesday announced a plan to increase the number of hydrogen stations for fuel cell vehicles in Tokyo to 35 by the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and to 80 by 2025.

“We would like to make a (hydrogen utilization) model first in Tokyo in the run-up to nationwide diffusion,” Tokyo Gov. Yoichi Masuzoe said at a meeting of the metropolitan government.

The metropolitan and central governments will provide subsidies covering 400 million yen of some 500 million yen required for building each hydrogen station.

On to Fukushimapoocalypse Now!, first with NHK WORLD:

Radioactive water leak found at Ikata plant

Workers at the Ikata nuclear power plant in western Japan have found a radioactive water leak from the facility’s wastewater disposal system.

Officials of the plant’s host Ehime Prefecture said none of the water leaked outside the site, and that no worker was exposed to it. The plant operated by Shikoku Electric Power Company is offline.

They say workers found traces of leaked water on piping insulation in a building adjacent to the plant’s Number 2 reactor on Tuesday.

The piping is part of the disposal system for solidifying concentrated low-level radioactive wastewater by mixing it with asphalt.

German decommission deconstruction from TheLocal.de:

Government doubles nuclear waste count

Germany will have to dispose of twice as much radioactive waste as previously expected as it continues to shut down its nuclear power plants, according to parts of the government’s disposal plan that were leaked on Tuesday.

Some 600,000 cubic metres of waste will have to be placed in permanent underground storage instead of the anticipated 298,000 cubic metres, the Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) reported.

The newspaper was citing figures from a copy it obtained of the draft “National Disposal Plan” the government is currently negotiating with individual federal states.

The new projection is significantly higher because of the inclusion for the first time of 13,000 tons of waste from uranium enrichment, equivalent to around 100,000 cubic metres.

Decommission deconstruction closer to Casa esnl from the New York Times:

Nuclear Agency Rules Are Ill-Suited for Plant Decommissioning, Leader Says

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s rules are not geared for supervising the decommissioning of nuclear reactors, the task that will occupy much of its time in the coming years, the head of the agency, Allison M. Macfarlane, said Monday.

Speaking at the National Press Club in a wide-ranging look at her agency and the industry before she leaves the job at the end of the year, Dr. Macfarlane said the industry had instead set itself up about 15 years ago to oversee more reactor construction, a revival that did not occur. “The industry was really expecting to expand,” she said. “The agency’s not facing the future that five years ago people envisioned.”

Instead, a plunging price of natural gas and slack demand for electricity have made some existing plants uncompetitive, and the pace of retirements has been high. But the commission’s rules on areas like security and emergency planning are geared to operating plants, she said. So shut-down plants are applying for exemptions to the rules that no longer seem to fit the risk that the reactors pose when decommissioned.

And to close, hints of our past? From BBC News:

Comet landing: Organic molecules detected by Philae

The Philae lander has detected organic molecules on the surface of its comet, scientists have confirmed.

Carbon-containing “organics” are the basis of life on Earth and may give clues to chemical ingredients delivered to our planet early in its history. The compounds were picked up by a German-built instrument designed to “sniff” the comet’s thin atmosphere.

Other analyses suggest the comet’s surface is largely water-ice covered with a thin dust layer.

EbolaWatch: Numbers, cases, treatment, angst


We begin with the latest educational video from the World Health Organization, released today:

WHO-EMRO: Animated video on Ebol

Program notes:

This two minutes and forty seconds animated video provides basic information and precautions on how to protect self from Ebola virus disease. It also outlines modes of transmission, symptoms, as well as the top-listed frequently asked questions.

Next, improv, from the Associated Press:

Hospitals improvise Ebola defenses, at a cost

On Wednesday, a U.S. Senate committee will hold a hearing on Ebola preparedness. President Barack Obama has asked Congress for $6.18 billion to fight Ebola globally, some of which could be used to strengthen domestic health defenses.

There is no tried-and-true way to build an Ebola ward, but the administrators cobbling them together have been guided by a few key principals gleaned from clinics in Africa and the few full biocontainment facilities in the U.S.

At a minimum, treatment units need a “hot” zone where patients can be isolated, a “cold” zone kept free of anything that might be tainted with the virus, and a “warm” zone where workers can peel off protective gear while spotters watch for any small break in protocol. Most hospitals have also preferred to locate their Ebola treatment areas far, far from other patients.

Global Times covers a potential breakthrough for development new treatments:

US research reports ‘weak spots’ in Ebola’s defenses

US researchers said Monday they have identified “weak spots” on the surface of the deadly Ebola virus that are targeted by the antibodies in ZMapp, the experimental drug cocktail administered to several patients during the recent Ebola outbreak.

The study, led by researchers at the Scripps Research Institute and published by the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, provided a 3-D picture of how the ZMapp antibodies bind to the virus.

“The structural images of Ebola virus are like enemy reconnaissance,” said coauthor Erica Ollmann Saphire, a Scripps structural biologist. “They tell us exactly where to target antibodies or drugs.”

Using an imaging technique called electron microscopy, the new study found that two of the ZMapp antibodies bind near the base of virus, appearing to prevent the virus from entering cells.

From the New York Times, quarantined because of his. . .er:

Indian Ebola Survivor Is Under Quarantine at Delhi Airport

A 26-year-old Indian man who recovered from Ebola is being held at a quarantine facility at Delhi airport as a cautionary measure after his semen tested positive for the virus, health officials announced on Tuesday.

When he arrived at the airport on Nov. 10, the man volunteered that he had been successfully treated for Ebola in a Liberian hospital and had been released on Sept. 30.

Though tests of three blood samples came up negative, Indian officials opted to hold him because the virus can linger in other bodily fluids, like semen or urine, for as long as three months, according to a government statement carried by the Press Trust of India. Two samples of the man’s semen tested positive for the virus on Monday.

The Associated Press covers presidential caution:

Obama: West Africa not out of the woods on Ebola

President Barack Obama said Tuesday that West Africa is “nowhere near out of the woods” in its fight against Ebola despite some improvement in the three countries hardest hit by the virus. Obama said the disease remains a threat to the world, including the U.S., and he urged Congress to quickly approve his request for billions of dollars in emergency spending to combat the spread of Ebola at home and abroad.

Meeting at the White House with his Ebola response team, Obama also offered condolences to the family of Dr. Martin Salia. The surgeon contracted Ebola in his native Sierra Leone but died Monday at a Nebraska hospital after being rushed there over the weekend for specialized treatment.

Obama said it’s important to “continue to push forward until we stamp out this disease entirely in that region. Until we do, there are threats of additional outbreaks and, given the nature of international travel, it means that everybody has some measure of risk.”

“We are nowhere near out of the woods yet in West Africa,” Obama said.

Next, the latest Ebola curve from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control [PDF], which reports that as of Monday, 14.415 case have been recorded, with 5,177 ending in death:

BLOG Ebola curve

On to Africa, starting with Mali and some questions from IRIN:

Questions over Mali’s Ebola response

The failure of a top Malian hospital to detect probable cases of Ebola has raised questions about whether the country’s health system is sufficiently prepared to tackle the disease.

“We have several confirmed cases,” Samba Sow, head of the Mali’s National Centre for Disease Control (CNAM), told IRIN. “Our goal is to prevent the virus from spreading.” But the government only released an Ebola emergency plan on 30 October, a week after the first Ebola case.

In Kayes, where a two-year-old girl tested positive for Ebola on 23 October, the hospital was caught off-guard. Only two of its 160 workers had received training on how to detect and treat Ebola patients and how to protect themselves while doing so, said hospital director Toumani Konaré. “The staff had the right protective gear, but they didn’t know how to use it,” he told IRIN.

Vanguard covers mobilization:

Conflict-scarred Mali pulls out the stops to beat Ebola

The leader of the war-torn west African nation of Mali has come in person to galvanise his people as they do battle with the most elusive foe they have ever faced.

On the country’s remote southern border with Guinea, the enemy is not the armed jihadists who wreak havoc elsewhere, but the Ebola virus, which has sparked a national crisis despite just four deaths.

On a strip of dusty asphalt a cavalcade of several dozen government vehicles comes to a halt in the southern frontier town of Kouremale, which is almost perfectly bisected by the border with Guinea.

While the U.N. News Center covers the WHO response:

Efforts by UN health agency under way to step up Ebola response in Mali

The United Nations is intensifying its efforts to keep the Ebola outbreak from spreading in Mali by working to identify all chains of transmission and stepping up social mobilization campaigns to include a range of actors, from religious leaders to truck and bus drivers.

According to the UN World Health Organization (WHO), Mali has officially reported a total of 6 cases of Ebola, with 5 deaths. The virus was re-introduced into the country last month.

WHO is currently assisting the Government of Mali to identify and monitor contacts, and prevent the outbreak from growing. To date, 554 contacts have been identified and nearly all have been placed under surveillance.

The health agency’s focus will be to work closely with the Government to identify all potential chains of transmission and monitor the contacts so that everybody could be monitored for 21 days, after which, the transmission would hopefully stop, said WHO spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic.

On to Sierra Leone and another healer felled, via the Associated Press:

7th doctor dies of Ebola in Sierra Leone

A top health official says a seventh doctor in Sierra Leone has died of Ebola.

Dr. Moses Kargbo, who had been a retired medical officer in the Ministry of Health, died Tuesday at the Hastings Ebola Treatment Center east of the capital, Freetown, where he had been receiving treatment. He had been volunteering to help fight the spread of the virus at a government hospital in the central Tonkolili district.

Kargbo’s death was confirmed by Dr. Amara Jambai of the Health Ministry. It comes a day after that of Dr. Martin Salia, a surgeon who contracted Ebola in Sierra Leone and was transported to a Nebraska hospital over the weekend for aggressive treatment.

From Reuters, still another healer stricken:

Cuban doctor in Sierra Leone tests positive for Ebola

A Cuban doctor treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone has tested positive for the disease and will be sent to Geneva for treatment, the official website Cubadebate reported on Tuesday, citing a Health Ministry statement.

The Guardian covers a critical clinical trial:

Sierra Leonean doctors to start clinical trial using blood of Ebola survivors

  • Convalescent serum therapy trial will test whether antibodies from plasma of 200 survivors can help infected fight disease

Doctors in Sierra Leone are to start their own clinical trial, using the blood of Ebola survivors, to speed up the search for a cure for the disease, which has so far killed more than 5,000 people in west Africa.

The trial, organised by a global group of Sierra Leonean medics, will take place in parallel with similar trials announced last week by Médecins Sans Frontières to be run in Guinea in December.

The Sierra Leone Action Group has some 200 survivors registered as possible donors, and hopes to start banking their blood plasma in mid-December after receiving equipment donated by a US medical devices firm. Scientists hope that the antibodies in the blood of people who have recovered from the disease will help other patients fight the infection.

From Agence France-Presse, ancillary impacts:

Spike in pregnancies and abuse in Ebola-hit Sierra Leone

Program notes:

In Ebola-hit Sierra Leone aid workers and health professionals worry that the epidemic is giving rise to a darker trend — spiralling teenage pregnancies and violence against women.

While Vanguard covers action from the top:

S’ Leone leader punishes uncle for breaking Ebola laws

Sierra Leone’s president has suspended his uncle from a prestigious position as a tribal chief for flouting laws designed to contain Ebola, officials said on Tuesday.

Amadu Kamara, the head of the northern village of Yeli Sanda, is accused of covering up secret burials of victims who are supposed to be reported by their families to the authorities.

Bombali District Council, the local authority, said President Ernest Bai Koroma had handed his uncle an “indefinite suspension and fine of 500,000 leones ($115, 92 euros)”.

And on to Liberia, with good numbers from the capital via the NewDawn:

Monrovia’s Ebola cases drop to 25

The World Health Organization says while the number of Ebola cases appears to be declining, with reported cases in Monrovia falling from 75 to 25 daily, a mixed picture emerges in different counties across the country.

The head of the Ebola Response team at the WHO Dr. Bruce Aylward, paid a four- day visit to Liberia to get a better understanding of the Ebola response activities on the ground.

In a press statement, WHO says the transmission of Ebola virus disease is consistently high in Montserrado County while there are declines in Lofa County where zero cases have been reported for more than a week, according to Dr. Aylward. WHO report as of 8 November says Liberia reported a total of 6,822 cases including 2,836 deaths.

FrontPageAfrica voices some healthy skepticism:

Zero Ebola Cases by X-Mas? Complacency Compounds Reality

Amid the optimism many fear that the political atmosphere and people’s perception that the worst has passed Liberia is giving rise to complacency in some quarters, even as infections in Bong County remained stagnant for the past three weeks and Cape Mount and Montserrado report new cases.

Dr. Bruce Aylward, the World Health Organization (WHO) Assistant Director General for Polio and Emergencies who was in Liberia last week, urged Liberians not to begin relaxing the measures aimed at stopping the transmission of the Ebola virus disease that has ravaged Liberia and its two neighbors, Guinea and Sierra Leone. The reality, is according to Dr. Bruce Aylward, there are still traces of the virus popping up in a number of areas across the country and any change in attitude in relation to the Ebola fight could be devastating to the population.

According to the latest Ministry of Health and Social Welfare case tracker, new Ebola cases are springing up in Bong, Grand Cape Mount, and Rivercess Counties. Montserrado has seen at least 24 new cases, Rivercess 14, Grand Bassa 3, Bong 5 and 1 new cases in Cape Mount. In contrast, the rest of the country is seeing zero number of cases in the past weeks with Lofa, Sinoe, Grand Gedeh, Bomi, Sinoe, River Gee, Grand Kru, Maryland, Nimba, and Gbparpolu have all reported zero case of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) for the past four weeks, a positive signal that the Christmas goal is within reach.

Dr. Aylward agrees that Liberia stands a good chance to record zero new case in the coming months, but this will only become a reality if Liberians maintain those measures put into place by health authorities to fight the Ebola virus disease. More importantly, person to person transmission has dropped from 45% to 18%.

While the NewDawn covers curious behavior by Asian helpers:

Chinese discriminate at SKD

A Chinese team building a hundred bed Ebola Treatment Unit in Paynesville has been complained to President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf for “shutting off” power and water supplies to counterparts that are also building another 200-bed capacity ETU at the SKD Sports Stadium in the same community.

But President Sirleaf has told Mr. Liangquan Fu, Managing Director for CICO’s West Africa Headquarters that the Chinese team should cooperate with its colleagues as one team because they are doing the same work for the same people.

During President Sirleaf visit at ETUs in Monrovia Tuesday, November 18, 2014, a local architect working on the World Food Program ETU that will be run by IRC and German Red Cross, Mr. Bennie D. Tickey, said UNICEF “is exploring digging another well” after being shut off by the Chinese.

“We want you to negotiate because they say you cut their water off; you cut the light off. They had people sleeping in an empty place; you say no they must move. You need to cooperate – one team because the same work you are doing for the same people; that are the same objective, so your need to work together,” the Liberian leader urged the Chinese.

From AllAfrica, a plea for days to come:

Liberia: Chief Karwor Requests Land for Post-Ebola Farming

The Chairman of the National Traditional Council of Liberia, Chief Zanzan Karwor, is urging the Ministry of Internal Affairs to request local officials in each county to provide 250 acres of land for farming after Ebola is kicked out of Liberia.

He said the Ministry should instruct County Superintendents to liaise with Statutory District Superintendents to prepare the land for citizens to grow food to avert any post-Ebola food shortages.

Chief Karwor observed that after Ebola is wiped out of Liberia, hunger will be the next to attack the country.

“The hunger that is in this country is too high and if we don’t do something now, after Ebola is gone, the next attack on the citizens will be hunger,” Karwor told the Liberia News Agency at the administration building in Buchanan, Grand Bassa County Tuesday.

While the Associated Press finds a hopeful symptom:

Liberian couples marry, a sign of less Ebola fear

“It is absolutely premature to start being optimistic,” Birte Hald of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said Monday in Brussels. She noted that the virus “is flaring up in new villages, in new locations.”

In Monrovia, though, ordinary life is resuming and there are some signs of normalcy that were all but absent during the height of the crisis here. Washing hands before entering is no longer enforced in many shops. Radio stations are not playing anti-Ebola jingles as often as they did two months ago.

And on Sunday, a small park near the Ministry of Health was full of cameramen jostling for space to get the best shots of the newly wedded.

Jordan Jackson, 36, and his bride Jacquelyn, 33, were married on Sunday after more than a decade together. The couple already has three children — 10, 7 and 5 years old — who took part in the ceremony along with them.

“The feeling I am leaving this park with this afternoon is that Liberia is returning to normalcy and things are getting better,” the groom said.

And from AllAfrica, another cautionary note:

Liberia: Unchecked Migration of Ebola Patients Troubling MoH

An official of the Ministry of Health has expressed concern that the migration of Ebola patients from Monrovia to other parts of Liberia is leading to the rapid spread of the virus.

Assistant Health Minister for Preventive Services Tolbert Nyenswah blamed the recent emergence of few hotspots of the Ebola virus in Grand Bassa and Bong counties on the movement of Ebola patients to those areas.

He made the statement Tuesday at the Ministry of Information daily Ebola press conference held at the ministry in Monrovia.