Category Archives: Politics

InSecurityWatch: Canada, war, spies, Hong Kong


And lots more. . .

We begin with a familiar routine, this time with Canada sacrificing civil liberties, via Reuters:

Canada must do more to rein in threat from radicals: police head

The head of Canada’s national police told a parliamentary committee on Monday the government must do more to stop homegrown radicals, such as those who killed two soldiers on home soil last week, from going overseas for militant training.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Commissioner Bob Paulson said last week’s killings in Ottawa and outside Montreal, which he said appeared to be carried out with minimal planning or preparation, show the nation faces a “serious” threat.

“While we are facing this threat at home, we must focus our efforts on preventing individuals traveling abroad to commit to commit acts of terrorism,” Paulson said. “Preventing the individuals from traveling is critical. If these individuals return with training and/or battle experience, they pose an even greater threat to Canada and our allies.”

More from Xinhua:

Canadian government introduces protection of Canada from terrorists act

Canada’s Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Steven Blaney Monday announced that the Canadian government has introduced the Protection of Canada from Terrorists Act to better protect Canadians.

The announcement came five days after an armed terrorist stormed into the Canadian parliament after killing a soldier at the War Memorial nearby last Wednesday. The attacker, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, a homegrown radical, was killed later by security officers in the parliament.

Blaney said terrorism remains a serious threat to Canada and Canadian interests. The nature of this threat continues to be apparent both abroad and at home.

And from The National, a surprisingly realistic assessment:

Panel: What do we sacrifice to be safe?

Program notes:

Given the killings of two Canadian soldiers this week, should police and intelligence officials have more power to stop terror attacks and other security threats? Brian Stewart, Veronica Kitchen and Barry Cooper talk through the implications.

From Reuters, China follows the same course:

China to streamline counter-terrorism intelligence gathering

China will set up a national anti-terrorism intelligence system, state media said on Monday, as part of changes to a security law expected to be passed this week after an upsurge in violence in the far western region of Xinjiang.

Hundreds of people have been killed over the past two years in Xinjiang in unrest the government has blamed on Islamists who want to establish a separate state called East Turkestan.

Rights groups and exiles blame the government’s repressive policies for stoking resentment among the Muslim Uighur people who call Xinjiang home.

More from SINA English:

China to set up anti-terror intelligence gathering center

China will set up an anti-terrorism intelligence gathering center to coordinate and streamline intelligence gathering in the field, according to a draft law submitted for reading on Monday.

The counter-terrorism law aimed to improve intelligence gathering and the sharing of information across government bodies and among military, armed police and militia, and enhance international cooperation, said Lang Sheng, deputy head of the Legislative Affairs Commission of the National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee, the top legislature.

Explaining the draft to lawmakers, Lang said China is facing a serious and complex situation against terrorism, with more influence from “international factors.”

And in Old Blighty, a trial date is set, via the Guardian:

June trial for four accused of Isis plot to kill police and soldiers in London

  • Group allegedly swore allegiance to Islamic State and carried out “hostile reconnaissance” on military targets

Four men accused of a terror plot to kill police or soldiers in London will face a jury next June, a court has heard.

The four are alleged to have sworn allegiance to Islamic State (Isis) and carried out “hostile reconnaissance” on police and military targets, as part of a plot in which a gun, silencer and ammunition were obtained, as well as a moped.

The four men, all from London, appeared at the Old Bailey on Monday. Tarik Hassane, 21, Suhaib Majeed, 20, and Momen Motasim, 21, appeared by video link, speaking only to confirm their names. A fourth man, Nyall Hamlett, 24, appeared in the dock.

From the Intercept, a symptom of endless war:

Iraq War Now Being Fought By People Who Were Just Kids When It Started

Last week, the Pentagon announced the death of the first American serviceman in the war against ISIS. Marine Lance Cpl. Sean Neal was killed in what was described as a “non-combat incident” in Iraq, making him the first American to die in “Operation Inherent Resolve” – America’s latest military excursion into that country.

Cpl. Neal was only 19 years old. He would have only been eight at the outset of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and merely six on 9/11 – a child at the time of both these events.  The fact that he ended up losing his life in Iraq is on one hand tragic, and on the other completely absurd.

The tragedy here is that a young man with a long future ahead of him ended up dying in a distant country before even reaching the age of twenty. The absurdity is that men such as him are still losing their lives as a result of still-inexplicable decisions made over a decade ago. The Iraq War never ended, but now it’s being fought by men who were just children when it started. Walter Lippman once said, “I don’t think old men ought to promote wars for young men to fight.” In our time, old men have been promoting wars that kids would ultimately end up fighting.

The New York Times ups the ante:

Missiles of ISIS May Pose Peril for Aircrews in Iraq

From the battlefield near Baiji, an Islamic State jihadist fired a heat-seeking missile and blew an Iraqi Army Mi-35M attack helicopter out of the sky this month, killing its two crew members.

Days later, the Islamic State released a chilling series of images from a video purporting to capture the attack in northern Iraq: a jihadist hiding behind a wall with a Chinese-made missile launcher balanced on his shoulder; the missile blasting from the tube, its contrail swooping upward as it tracked its target; the fiery impact and the wreckage on a rural road.

The helicopter was one of several Iraqi military helicopters that the militants claim to have shot down this year, and the strongest evidence yet that Islamic State fighters in Iraq are using advanced surface-to-air missile systems that pose a serious threat to aircraft flown by Iraq and the American-led coalition.

From the Associated Press, nothing succeeds like failure:

INSIDE WASHINGTON: Profiting from failure

The Army’s $5 billion intelligence network has largely failed in its promise to make crucial data easily accessible to soldiers and analysts in the field. But for a select group of companies and individuals, the system has been a bonanza.

Designed to provide a common intelligence picture from the Pentagon to the farthest reaches of Afghanistan, the Distributed Common Ground System has proven crash-prone, unwieldy and “not survivable,” in the words of one memorable 2012 testing report.

Meanwhile, the defense companies that designed and built it continue to win multi-million-dollar intelligence contracts. And a revolving door has spun between those and the military commands that continue to fund the system, records show.

Several people who worked in key roles in Army intelligence left for top jobs at those companies. In the world of government contracting, that’s not illegal or entirely uncommon, but critics say it perpetuates a culture of failure.

Legal challenges, via the Associated Press:

NSA surveillance challenges moving through courts

While Congress mulls how to curtail the NSA’s collection of Americans’ telephone records, impatient civil liberties groups are looking to legal challenges already underway in the courts to limit government surveillance powers.

Three appeals courts are hearing lawsuits against the bulk phone records program, creating the potential for an eventual Supreme Court review. Judges in lower courts, meanwhile, are grappling with the admissibility of evidence gained through the NSA’s warrantless surveillance.

Advocates say the flurry of activity, which follows revelations last year by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden of once-secret intelligence programs, show how a post-9/11 surveillance debate once primarily hashed out among lawmakers in secret is being increasingly aired in open court — not only in New York and Washington but in places like Idaho and Colorado.

“The thing that is different about the debate right now is that the courts are much more of a factor in it,” said Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union. Before the Snowden disclosures, he said, courts were generally relegated to the sidelines of the discussion. Now, judges are poised to make major decisions on at least some of the matters in coming months.

From Yahoo News, the second Snowden?:

Feds identify suspected ‘second leaker’ for Snowden reporters

  • The FBI recently searched a government contractor’s home, but some officials worry the Justice Department has lost its ‘appetite’ for leak cases

The FBI has identified an employee of a federal contracting firm suspected of being the so-called “second leaker” who turned over sensitive documents about the U.S. government’s terrorist watch list to a journalist closely associated with ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden, according to law enforcement and intelligence sources who have been briefed on the case.

The FBI recently executed a search of the suspect’s home, and federal prosecutors in Northern Virginia have opened up a criminal investigation into the matter, the sources said.

But the case has also generated concerns among some within the U.S. intelligence community that top Justice Department officials — stung by criticism that they have been overzealous in pursuing leak cases — may now be more reluctant to bring criminal charges involving unauthorized disclosures to the news media, the sources said. One source, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter, said there was concern “there is no longer an appetite at Justice for these cases.”

From Gallup, a source of high anxiety:

Hacking Tops List of Crimes Americans Worry About Most

As the list of major U.S. retailers hit by credit card hackers continues to grow this year, Americans are more likely to worry about having credit card information they used in stores stolen by computer hackers than any other crime they are asked about. Sixty-nine percent of Americans report they frequently or occasionally worry about this happening to them. Having a computer or smartphone hacked (62%) is the only other crime that worries the majority of Americans.

Here’s the full list of America’s top criminal worries:

BLOG Compucrime

A security breach, via SecurityWeek:

Tor Exit Node Found Maliciously Modifying Files

A researcher has identified an exit node on the Tor anonymity network which is set up to maliciously modify the files that go through it.

Josh Pitts, a researcher with the Leviathan Security Group, has been analyzing ways to alter binary files during download with the aid of man-in-the-middle (MitM) attacks. In a presentation he made at the DerbyCon security conference this year, the expert noted that cybercriminals had probably been using techniques similar to the one he disclosed, but he only had circumstantial evidence.

To put his theory to the test, Pitts developed a module for Exitmap, a Python-based tool that allows users to check Tor exit nodes for traffic modifications. Roughly an hour after he started running the tool, the researcher identified a “very active” Russian exit node that was wrapping binary files that passed through it with malware.

Network World covers another costly hack attack:

Disaster as CryptoWall encrypts US firm’s entire server installation

“Here is a tale of ransomware that will make your blood run cold,” announced Stu Sjouwerman of security training firm KnowBe4 in a company newsletter this week and he wasn’t exaggerating.

One of his firm’s customers contacted him on 14 October for advice on how to buy Bitcoins after all seven of its servers containing 75GB of data had been encrypted by a recent variant of the hated CryptoWall ransom Trojan.

An admin had clicked on a phishing link which was bad enough. Unfortunately, the infected workstation had mapped drives and permissions to all seven servers and so CryptoWall had quickly jumped on to them to hand the anonymous professional a work day to forget.

From SecurityWeek, not altogether surprising:

Hackers Target Ukraine’s Election Website

Hackers attacked Ukraine’s election commission website Saturday on the eve of parliamentary polls, officials said, but they denied Russian reports that the vote counting system itself had been put out of action.

The http://www.cvk.gov.ua site, run by the commission in charge of organising Sunday’s election, briefly shut down. Ukrainian security officials blamed a denial-of-service (DDoS) attack, a method that can slow down or disable a network by flooding it with communications requests.

“There is a DDoS attack on the commission’s site,” the government information security service said on its Facebook page.

The security service said the attack was “predictable” and that measures had been prepared in advance to ensure that the election site could not be completely taken down.

Network World covers metastasis:

The ‘Backoff’ malware linked to data breaches is spreading

The number of computers in North America infected by the Backoff malware, which is blamed for a string of payment card breaches, has risen sharply, according to research from network security company Damballa.

The company detected a 57 percent increase between August and September in devices infected with Backoff, which scrapes a computer’s RAM for leftover credit card data after a payment card has been swiped, said Brian Foster, Damballa’s CTO.

Damballa based its finding on data it collects from its ISP and enterprise customers, who use its traffic analysis products to detect malicious activity.

Damballa sees about 55 percent of internet traffic from North America, including DNS requests, though for privacy reasons it doesn’t know the IP addresses of most of those computers, Foster said.

From BuzzFeed, America’s finest allies, at it again:

Saudi Lawyers Sentenced To Eight Years Behind Bars For Tweeting

The criminal court, which usually tries terrorism cases, said that the lawyers’ actions on Twitter “undermines general order.”

A Saudi Arabian court on Monday sentenced three lawyers to up to eight years in jail for sending tweets critical of the government.

The tweets were directed against the justice ministry, which has since 2010 promised to reform the courts system and codify just how the country’s legal adherence to Sharia law works.

Prosecutors charged the three lawyers with “contempt of the judiciary, interfering with its independence, criticizing the justice system and the judiciary.”

For unexplained reasons, the case took place under the auspices of the Specialized Criminal Court — which was created in 2008, ostensibly to conduct trials against suspected terrorists.

After the jump, ghosts from World War II including Italian compensation demands to Germany and the Greek demand for repayment of war debt incurred at gunpoint plus Uncle Sam’s Nazi minions, latter-day wannabes, rising pressure over a murdered Mexican journalist, arrests in the case of the missing Mexican students as a town waits for answers and a new governor is named, repression in Egypt, India builds up its military, China and Vietnam seeks maritime accommodation, on to Hong Kong and Beijing allegations and a media campaign, China accuses Taiwan of spy games, and America’s Kafka Kops. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Disease, climate, critters, nukes


We begin with a gripper from the Independent:

Humanity’s ‘inexorable’ population growth is so rapid that even a global catastrophe wouldn’t stop it

The global human population is “locked in” to an inexorable rise this century and will not be easily shifted, even by apocalyptic events such as a third world war or lethal pandemic, a study has found.

There is no “quick fix” to the population time-bomb, because there are now so many people even unimaginable global disasters won’t stop growth, scientists have concluded.

Although measures designed to reduce human fertility in the parts of the world where the population growth is fastest will eventually have a long-term impact on numbers, this has to go hand-in-hand with policies aimed at reducing the consumption of natural resources, they said.

“The inexorable demographic momentum of the global human population is rapidly eroding Earth’s life-support system,” say Professor Corey Bradshaw of the University of Adelaide and Professor Barry Brook of the University of Tasmania in their study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Side effects anticipated from BBC News:

Fears that Ebola crisis will set back malaria fight

A leading malaria control expert has said efforts to contain the disease may be jeopardised by the Ebola crisis.

Dr Fatoumata Nafo-Traoré, who heads the Roll Back Malaria (RBM) Partnership, said after visiting west Africa: “Understandably, all the health workers’ attention is on Ebola.” Children’s wards which used to be full of malaria patients were becoming “ghost areas,” she added.

In 2012, malaria killed 7,000 people in the three countries worst hit by Ebola. Most of these will have been young children – although malaria is curable. The disease caused almost 4,000 deaths in Sierra Leone in 2012 – as well as around 2,000 deaths in Liberia and approximately 1,000 in Guinea.

Now the three countries are wrestling with the Ebola virus and Dr Nafo-Traoré said she feared that recent gains in preventing malaria could be threatened by the crisis.

Another outbreak from Reuters:

Rise in MERS cases prompts Saudi warning to residents

Saudi Arabia’s Health Ministry on Monday urged residents of the world’s top oil exporter to renew precautions against Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) after a rise in new cases of the disease since early September.

The Health Ministry has announced a total of 23 confirmed new cases this month of the virus, which causes coughing, fever and sometimes fatal pneumonia. In addition to the 12 cases detected in September, this brings the total number in the kingdom to 777 since it was identified in 2012, of which 331 died.

Other cases have been found elsewhere in the Middle East, in European countries, the Far East and in the United States, but many of those were found in people who had travelled in Saudi Arabia.

Neglect in the Pakistani polio outbreak from Reuters:

“Disastrous” health campaign feeds Pakistan’s worrying polio spike

Taliban militants have long been the scourge of Pakistan’s polio vaccination campaign, attacking aid workers and the police who protect them as they distribute doses to children.

But experts say there is another reason for the sharp spike in cases of the crippling disease in Pakistan this year – government mismanagement.

“Pakistan’s polio programme is a disaster. It continues to flounder hopelessly, as its virus flourishes,” the Independent Monitoring Board, which advises agencies fighting polio, will say in a report to be released this week.

The prime minister’s polio cell was disbanded during 2013 elections, the new government delayed reconstituting it, and in recent months the prime minister has been consumed with protests in the capital that have only just ended.

More from the Express Tribune in Karachi:

PM Nawaz took six months to appoint official responsible for polio

Despite an alarming rise in the number of polio cases reported in Pakistan, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took six months to appoint an official responsible for the epidemic while a funding plan for the eradication was only approved last month.

Protests in the capital city in recent months have kept the PM consumed resulting in his government delaying the reconstitution of the polio cell which was disbanded during the 2013 elections.

That meant provinces did not pay workers their stipends of $2.50 a day on time, said Shahnaz Wazir Ali, a polio adviser to Sindh province.

“We had a loss of about nine to 10 months, which is a very big setback,” Ali said.

Climactic concerns from Deutsche Welle:

Climate experts meet in Copenhagen amid fresh warnings

The UN climate chief has urged world leaders not to lose hope in tackling the issue of global warming. Hundreds of researchers and government delegates are taking part in a five-day climate conference in Copenhagen.

Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said at the opening session of the Copenhagen conference that policymakers should “avoid being overcome by the seeming hopelessness of addressing climate change.”

“It is not hopeless,” Pachauri said in a speech relayed on the IPCC website.

The IPCC meeting is seeking to adopt a concise report – encapsulating the three documents released over the past 13 months – on how to tackle and mitigate climate change.

The 100-page document “will provide the road map by which policymakers will hopefully find their way to a global agreement to finally reverse course on climate change,” said Pachauri.

Chinese GMO complications for Big Agra from MintPress News:

Syngenta Facing Legal Blitz Over Genetically Modified Corn

Biotech giant Syngenta’s fact sheet on a genetically modified corn urges farmers to “plant with confidence,” yet when China rejected this corn because the country hadn’t approved that particular product for its market, the entire U.S. corn industry suffered

An unusual cluster of legal filings in recent weeks has capped a tumultuous year for the Swiss biotechnology giant Syngenta Corp., and highlights ongoing concerns over the inability of the United States to keep genetically modified crops separate from conventional crops.

This month, three class action proposals were filed on behalf of farmers in Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska, with the potential to include almost anyone who grew or sold corn commercially across the country over the past year. The moves came just weeks after similar lawsuits were filed by two of the country’s largest grain exporters, Cargill and Trans Coastal Supply.

All of these legal actions revolve around genetically modified corn hybrids that Syngenta began selling in 2009. While those products have been approved for general use in the U.S., they have not been approved in China, and there is no formal indication as to whether they will be.

The problem for U.S. corn farmers and exporters is that the current commodities system in this country makes it almost impossible to compartmentalize the country’s massive corn production. Instead, corn from different farmers, fields and states is all consolidated as a single product.

Last November, Chinese authorities found traces of Syngenta’s hybrid – known as MIR162, under the brand name Agrisure Viptera – in massive shipments from the U.S. So, they rejected the entire sale, and have taken similar actions since then.

But that opposition doesn’t mean China does like GMOS, via MIT Technology Review:

China’s Growing Bets on GMOs

  • New technology and large government research initiatives in -genetically modified crops are giving China a storehouse for a more populous future.

How will China get enough to eat? More than 1.3 billion people live in the world’s most populous nation, and another 100 million will join them by 2030. China is already a net food importer, and people are eating more meat, putting further demands on land used to grow food. Meanwhile, climate change could cut yields of crucial crops—rice, wheat, and corn—by 13 percent over the next 35 years. Mindful of these trends, China’s government spends more than any other on research into genetically modified crops. It’s searching for varieties with higher yields and resistance to pests, disease, drought, and heat. The results are showing up in the nation’s hundreds of plant biotech labs.

Environmental devastation in China from Want China Times:

Over 50% of China’s coastal wetlands gone due to land reclamation

Unregulated land reclamation has caused serious coastal erosion across the intertidal zones of the Yellow Sea and Bohai Sea, threatening flocks of migratory birds and local environmental conditions, not to mention local residents’ daily lives, Shangahi’s China Business News reports.

Thus far, an total area of about 2,000sq km has been reclaimed from the Bohai Sea over the past two decades and the area is still expanding.

The coast of Bohai Bay and the northwestern Yellow Sea are critical for water birds migrating along the East Asia-Australasian flyway. Three major migratory bird sites are located in the reclaimed area.

Faced with the challenge of coping with a growing population and seeking economic development, the provinces and municipalities of the Bohai Economic Rim have sought to develop the coastal areas and reclaim land for industrial expansion, which has become an integral part of local authorities’ growth strategy, the report said.

And a violent protest in France from VICE News:

Protester Killed After Clash With Riot Police at Disputed Dam Site in France

A 21-year-old activist died Saturday night after a violent clash between police and demonstrators at the site of a controversial dam project in the Sivens Forest in southwest France. More than 2,000 environmental activists gathered in the woodlands for a rally that turned violent when militants attacked security forces.

Speaking to radio station France Info, local prosecutor Claude Derens said that the initial results of a post-mortem examination confirmed that the man died as a result of an explosion. Derens also stated that it was too early to know yet if the death was caused by a grenade blast, a hypothesis put forward by several witness statements. Investigations are still underway, and further results are expected tomorrow.

Body found near disputed dam site in France’s Sivens Forest. Read more here.

The timing of the autopsy coincides with the publication of a report commissioned by the French Ministry of Ecology that criticizes the decision by local officials to proceed with the construction of the controversial dam. Eco-activists argue that the dam, which would provide irrigation to surrounding farms, poses a huge environmental threat to the biodiverse Sivens wetland.

From ABC Australia via Journeyman Pictures, Down Under coal questions:

Catalyst: Coal Dust – How the consequences of Australia’s coal boom are choking the population of Newcastle, New South Wales

Program notes:

Australia is among the world’s largest coal producers and exporters – not something to brag about when you account for the worrying health consequences in port cities such as Newcastle. Since the mining boom in the late 1990s, respiratory diseases such as asthma have been climbing sharply, largely attributed to dust particulates given off in the extraction and transportation of coal. Mark Horstman heads to Newcastle, New South Wales, and investigates the efforts that are underway to identify harmful concentrations of coal dust particulates.

After the jump, avian slaughter in the Balkans, a seal hunting subsidy slashed, China’s flagrant disregard of oceanic fishing rules, a swan population clash in Britain, a remarkable viral resurrection, another American news medium slashes environmental coverage, an Asian partnership for the spoils of oceanic oil, asbestos in Japanese schools, and the latest Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

EbolaWatch: Fears, pols, profits, and Africa


And after the jump, there’s an extensive compendium of reports from African news media covering the crisis day-to-day.

First, a warning from South China Morning Post:

Ebola outbreak will hit China, virus pioneer Peter Piot warns

  • Number of workers in Africa raises threat, says Peter Piot, who also dismisses HK screening

One of the scientists who discovered Ebola has warned that China is under threat from the deadly virus because of the huge number of Chinese workers in Africa.

Professor Peter Piot also made the grim prediction that Ebola would claim thousands more lives in the months ahead.

“It will get worse for a while, and then hopefully it will get better when people are isolated,” said Piot, who is in Hong Kong for a two-day symposium. “What we see now is every 30 days there is a doubling of new infections.” He estimated the epidemic would last another six to 12 months.

“In Africa, there are many Chinese working there. So that could be a risk for China in general, and I assume that one day [an outbreak of Ebola in China] will happen,” said Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

More from the New York Times:

As Ebola Spreads, Asia Senses Vulnerability

“What happened in the [United] States took us by surprise,” said Louis Shih, the president of the Hong Kong Medical Association. “We were sort of feeling like, ‘Oh, don’t worry’ — the medical sector is now quite alarmed.”

An analysis published online last week by The Lancet, a medical journal, reviewed International Air Transport Association data for flights from Sept. 1 to Dec. 31 this year, as well as data from 2013, out of the three countries in West Africa with the biggest outbreaks of Ebola virus: Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. It found that six of the top nine estimated destinations for travelers from these countries were elsewhere in Africa. The others were in Europe: Britain, France and Belgium.

But the 10th-largest destination was China. India was 13th. (Mali, a West African country that reported its first Ebola death on Friday, was 11th, and the United States was 12th.)

And another warning from the NewDawn in Monrovia, Liberia:

Ebola’s Next Frontier

Which countries, beyond those in West Africa, are most susceptible to the Ebola epidemic? Most epidemiologists do not fear much for the developed world, with its effective quarantine measures and tracking procedures, or even for sparsely populated developing countries. An outbreak could easily be contained in both groups of countries. But large, densely populated areas, lacking the proper containment mechanisms are highly vulnerable.

India, with its large emigrant population (the second largest in the world), high urban density, and inadequate public health-care infrastructure, potentially has the most to lose if the Ebola virus spreads. Links to West Africa are close and go back over the last century, with almost 50,000 Indians or people of Indian origin living in the region.

Indeed, scores of people fly between Accra, Lagos, Freetown, Monrovia, or Abidjan and New Delhi, Mumbai, Calcutta, or Chennai on a daily basis, transiting through the Middle East or Europe. While exit controls are in place in all of the international airports in the affected regions, the virus’s incubation period (which averages eight days in the current outbreak but can be up to 21 days) means that someone with no symptoms from a recent infection could make the trip to India without triggering alarms.

The Los Angeles Times has the domestic scare de jour:

Child is being tested for Ebola in New York; mother in quarantine

A child who had recently been in the Ebola-affected nation of Guinea took ill in New York City on Sunday night and is being isolated at a hospital, health officials said Monday.

The child was being tested for Ebola, and results were expected by the afternoon, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said in a statement.

The patient was taken to Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan and did not have a fever when first examined there but developed one around 7 a.m., the department said.

The child’s mother is being quarantined at Bellevue and has “no symptoms whatsoever,” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a Monday news conference.

The McClatchy Washington Bureau covers the denouement:

New York 5-year-old tested negative for Ebola

An unidentified minor who recently arrived in the United States from West Africa and was placed in isolation over concerns that he might have contracted Ebola tested negative for the virus Monday, New York City health officials said.

“Out of an abundance of caution, further negative Ebola tests are required on subsequent days to ensure that the patient is cleared,” according to a statement from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. “The patient will also be tested for common respiratory viruses. The patient will remain in isolation until all test results have returned.”

Once positive, now negative, via the Los Angeles Times:

Nurse quarantined in New Jersey tests negative for Ebola, can go home

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced Monday that a nurse who was quarantined in Newark after returning from treating Ebola-afflicted people in West Africa would be released and allowed to go home after she tested negative.

Christie’s move followed a barrage of criticism from civil rights groups, aid agencies and White House officials, who said the quarantine measures announced Friday would discourage much-needed medical personnel from going to fight the Ebola outbreak in Africa.

Nurse Kaci Hickox complained that she was put in an unheated tent on the grounds of Newark University Hospital after returning from Sierra Leone on Friday. She tested negative for Ebola, which has a 21-day incubation period.

In a statement Monday from New Jersey’s department of health, officials said Hickox “has thankfully been symptom free for the past 24 hours.”

Reuters coveys a plea:

Don’t let quarantine hysteria deter Ebola health workers: U.N.

Governments must not deter health workers from coming to West Africa to fight Ebola and quarantine decisions should not be based on hysteria, the head of the U.N. mission battling the virus said on Monday.

The U.S. states of New York, New Jersey and Illinois have issued new quarantine rules for people returning from West Africa in response to fears that U.S. federal guidelines do not go far enough to contain an outbreak centred in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone that has infected 10,000 people.

Some groups have challenged the rules as too extreme and a nurse who was quarantined after returning from Sierra Leone criticised her isolation on Sunday saying she posed no health threat.

“Anything that will dissuade foreign trained personnel from coming here to West Africa and joining us on the frontline to fight the fight would be very, very unfortunate,” Anthony Banbury, head of the U.N. Ebola Emergency Response Mission (UNMEER), told Reuters.

More from The Hill:

CDC wants tight restrictions on only high-risk Ebola workers

The Obama administration is pushing back against several states’ quarantine policies for Ebola health workers, unveiling new restrictions Monday that apply only to “high-risk” individuals returning from West Africa.

The guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stop far short of 21-day quarantines imposed by several states that have been heavily criticized by public health experts and the Obama administration.

Only individuals known to have direct exposure to the disease, such as a family member who cared for an Ebola patient without protective gear, are told to remain home under the new recommendations.

Surveillance from Reuters:

Virginia to boost Ebola monitoring, state health official says

Virginia will boost Ebola monitoring for travelers arriving from the countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, state Health Commissioner Dr. Marissa Levine said on Monday.

All travelers will be assessed for Ebola and for their health status, Levine said on a conference call. They will be required to sign an agreement to follow health care steps such as taking temperatures, she said

From Reuters, a story about one prominent political figure willing to abide by any quarantines in effect on her return to the U.S. from the hot zone:

Samantha Power will “abide” by quarantine requirements – State Dept.

Program notes:

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power is not expected to visit any Ebola treatment centers during her trip to West Africa but will abide by any relevant quarantine requirements, the State Department says

Another quarantine development from Reuters:

U.S. isolates soldiers after Ebola response mission in West Africa

The U.S. Army has started isolating soldiers returning from an Ebola response mission in West Africa, even though they showed no symptoms of infection and were not believed to have been exposed to the deadly virus, officials said on Monday.

The decision goes well beyond previously established military protocols and came just as President Barack Obama’s administration sought to discourage precautionary quarantines being imposed by some U.S. states on healthcare workers returning from countries battling Ebola.

The Army has already isolated about a dozen soldiers upon their return this weekend to their home base in Vicenza, Italy. That includes Major General Darryl Williams, the commander of U.S. Army Africa, who oversaw the military’s initial response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

Another front-line contingent from the New York Times:

For New York Crew, Fighting Ebola With Brush and Cleanser

Around the time New Yorkers started fretting over the city’s first diagnosis of Ebola last Thursday, Sal Pain began drawing up plans for four decontamination chambers, customized for a cramped Harlem hallway.

The narrow dimensions of the hallway — it was only four feet wide — outside the fifth-floor apartment Dr. Craig Spencer, the Ebola patient, shares with his fiancée was among the more difficult situations confronted by hazardous-materials workers in their efforts to contain the Ebola virus. The standard decontamination station, a bulging, inflatable unit, would not do.

So Mr. Pain, the chief safety officer for Bio-Recovery Corporation, which has cleaned Dr. Spencer’s apartment and the Gutter, a bowling alley Dr. Spencer had visited in Brooklyn, improvised. He lined the hallway walls with 6 millimeters of plastic on Friday morning, and then made a frame out of PVC pipe. About 12 hours later, after sterilizing everything from four bicycles to a cuticle cutter, the 10-member crew stood in the hallway and washed themselves with chemical and water showers.

Scapegoating from the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

Anguished and afraid, West Africans in U.S. stay clear of new arrivals

Charlotte, N.C., merchant Tonieh Ross says her heart cries for the orphaned children back home in Liberia who aren’t getting the hugs they so need, for fear of the deadly Ebola virus.

Ross, the owner of the Virtuous D Boutique, also frets about her younger sister in Monrovia, Eugenia, whose paycheck disappeared when her employer shuttered his business and left the disease-ravaged country. Now Eugenia is among some 20 desperate Liberians, mostly children, phoning Ross “over and over and over until something happens” – that is, until she or her friends send money or food, she said.

“I have given everything just to be available and help my country,” Ross said.

While Ross and other West Africans living in cities across America are traumatized by images of suddenly orphaned kids or children lying ill in the streets in their native lands, they also live in fear themselves.

They know they may be among U.S. residents facing the greatest risk of exposure to the deadly disease. Visitors and immigrants from Ebola-stricken Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea are likely to first visit or live among their friends and relatives, just as Thomas Eric Duncan planned to do when he flew to Dallas before taking ill with Ebola, infecting two nurses. He died Oct 8.

More from BuzzFeed:

Two Senegalese Boys Got Beat Up And Called “Ebola” In New York City

Local lawmakers called the attack a “hate crime” and warned of a “bullying crisis” stemming from misinformation about the Ebola virus. Members of New York City’s West African community complained that people are avoiding their businesses for fear of contracting the disease.

Two Senegalese-American middle school students were taken to the hospital on Friday after suffering a beating at the hands of their classmates, in an attack apparently motivated by fear of the Ebola virus that local lawmakers called a “hate crime.”

The attack took place at Intermediate School 318 in the Bronx, where the students — brothers Abdou and Amedou Drame — are enrolled in the eighth and sixth grades. The students recently arrived to the United States from Senegal. Both of the boys suffered minor injuries and were released from the hospital later on Friday.

Speaking at a Monday press conference at the Harlem headquarters of the Association of Senegalese in America, Rep. José Serrano and State Sen. Bill Perkins called the attack a “hate crime” and warned of rising discrimination and xenophobia against West Africans in the wake of the Ebola epidemic.

From the Associated Press, a very important question:

Could more have been done for Thomas Eric Duncan?

Dr. Thomas Geisbert, an Ebola expert at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, said he had trouble understanding why four days elapsed between Duncan’s confirmed test results on Sept. 30 and his first treatment. And he was surprised by the choice of experimental drug given to Duncan.

“The guys who do what I do, working in this field, find it puzzling,” said Geisbert, a professor of microbiology and immunology who has been studying Ebola since the early 1990s and was consulted on two of the U.S. cases. “It kind of came out of left field. I think the jury is still out on why this would have any activity against Ebola.”

Although treatments have varied, ZMapp and TKM-Ebola are the only drugs proven to protect nonhuman primates from Ebola, Geisbert said.

While the manufacturer of ZMapp ran out of the drug before Duncan’s diagnosis, limited doses of TKM-Ebola were available, according to Julie Rezler, a spokeswoman for the drugmaker, Tekmira.

The latter was given to Dr. Rick Sacra, an American physician who was infected with Ebola in Liberia. He was treated at a Nebraska hospital and released healthy on Sept. 25, five days before blood tests confirmed Duncan’s diagnosis.

Other survivors include American medical missionaries Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, who received doses of ZMapp in Liberia before they were flown to the United States.

Quarantine at the Aussie border from BBC News:

Australia suspends visas for people travelling from Ebola-hit countries

Australia temporarily stops issuing visas to people from countries affected by Ebola, in a bid to stop the virus from entering the country.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison told parliament that Australia would suspend its immigration programme for such travellers.

The restriction comes after an 18-year-old who arrived from West Africa earlier this month was admitted to hospital with a fever. She later tested negative for Ebola.

Mr Morrison said on Monday that those who have received non-permanent or temporary visas and who have not yet left for Australia will have their visas cancelled. Those with permanent visas can enter the country, but have to be quarantined for 21 days prior to arriving.

While the Guardian covers more Australian concerns:

Australia seeks hospital back-up for volunteers in Ebola-hit countries

  • As Coalition signals change in policy on relief workers, minister wants to ensure that Australians can call on western-run medical treatment

The Abbott government is considering whether western-run field hospitals in west Africa would have the capacity to cater for any Australian health volunteers who contract Ebola, and what quarantine rules should apply to workers when they return home.

Australia has previously resisted calls to send medical experts to the region on the basis that it has been unable to secure iron-clad guarantees from other countries to help transfer volunteers in the event they contracted the virus.

The health minister, Peter Dutton, signalled on Monday that the government would “have further comments to make in relation to these matters” and was considering whether health workers would have access to “appropriate medical assistance on the ground”.

And the Italians act on theirs, via TheLocal.it:

US troops isolated in Italy over Ebola fears

US troops returning from West Africa are being placed under isolation at a base in Italy as a precaution to prevent the potential spread of the Ebola virus, the Pentagon said on Monday.

“Out of an abundance of caution, the army directed a small number of personnel, about a dozen, that recently returned to Italy, to be monitored in a separate location at their home station of Vicenza,” spokesman Colonel Steven Warren told reporters.

But he added: “None of these individuals have shown any symptoms of exposure.”

Major General Darryl Williams, who stepped down Saturday as head of the military mission in Liberia helping to fight the Ebola outbreak, and 11 members of his staff, were assigned to a separate location at the base in Italy and were being monitored by a medical team, Warren said.

From El País, a quarantine ends:

Ebola victim’s husband released from hospital after 21 days in isolation

  • Javier Limón will speak to the media on Monday afternoon to discuss plans for legal action

The husband of Teresa Romero, the Spanish nursing assistant who became the first known Ebola transmission case outside of Africa, has been discharged from hospital.

Javier Limón left Carlos III Hospital in Madrid after spending 21 days in isolation because of his close contact with the infected patient. He did not develop any Ebola symptoms, health officials said.

Limón, who has been acting as a buffer between his wife and the outside world, where media interest in the couple remains huge, left in the company of his lawyer at 9.45am. He used a different entrance from the one where journalists and camera crews were waiting for him, around 400 meters away.

And fury ensues. Via TheLocal.es:

They treated us as scum: husband of Ebola nurse

The husband of Spanish nursing assistant Teresa Romero who beat the Ebola virus has slammed the handling of the country’s Ebola crisis as a “complete disaster”, saying he now plans to take Madrid’s health boss to court over comments made about him and his wife.

“They laughed at us, they treated us like scum,” said Romero’s huband Javier Limón in an interview with Spain’s El Mundo newspaper.

“They destroyed our life, they killed our dog, and they nearly killed my wife,” said an angry Limón who left Madrid’s Carlos III hospital on Monday morning after three weeks in isolation.

“On top of all that, this guy comes out and says that my wife — who volunteered (to treat two Ebola-infected Spanish missionaries who were repatriated to Spain) — is a liar, that she lied about her fever,” said Limón, referring to controversial comments by Madrid’s regional health chief, Javier Rodríguez.

A Tokyo tempest from the Japan Times:

Man arriving at Tokyo’s Haneda airport tested for Ebola

A man in his 40s who arrived at Tokyo’s Haneda airport Monday after spending two months in Liberia was found to have a fever, and officials decided to check him for Ebola, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said.

The result of the blood test at a Tokyo research facility will be known early Tuesday, the officials said.

The man, reportedly a 45-year-old journalist whose name was not released, was transported to the National Center for Global Health and Medicine in Shinjuku Ward. The blood test was conducted at the National Institute of Infectious Diseases in Tokyo.

And the result, from Nikkei Asian Review:

Tests find no Ebola for suspected case in Japan

A viral summit from the Japan Times:

Cabinet preparing to hold Ebola prevention meeting

A select group of Cabinet ministers will meet soon to discuss countermeasures for the deadly Ebola virus, Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Yasuhisa Shiozaki said Monday.

Shiozaki told reporters about the plan after meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe earlier in the day. Abe instructed him to hold the ministerial meeting as soon as possible, according to Shiozaki.

He also told Shiozaki to formulate thorough measures against Ebola and strengthen cooperation among the ministries and agencies, with relevant developments to be reported to the National Security Council.

After the jump, insurance companies play the Ebola policy game, a Big Pharma wager, belated approval of crucial equipment on to Africa and a regional assessment, a plea for help from afflicted nations and a European call for thousands of helpers for African work, the depleted ranks on the ground, on to Sierra Leone and new anti-Ebola measures that inflict their own hardships and high praise for burial measures, then on to Liberia and cremations aplenty spelling bad news for coffin-makers, pairing survivors with orphans, another sad impact on a devastated healthcare system, an American mission underway, movie night in an Ebola ward, aid from China and Norwegian girls, an American pledge to Guinea and Guinean survivors head back to the hot zone to help, don’t stigmatize our people pleads the Nigerian president, and preparedness in Zimbabwe. . . Continue reading

Hungarians rebel against tax on net useage


While Americans have protested against Federal Communications Commission policy changes ending net neutrality, Hungarians are confronted with an even more chilling measure by their own government, an internet user tax, based on volume of traffic, that would apply to everyone going online.

Their response? Let’s just say that a lot of old electronics found their way into the offices of a certain ministry. . .

From RT:

Free Internet! Thousands light up Budapest at rally against web tax

Program notes:

Furious with the government plan to impose tax on Internet data traffic, thousands of Hungarians rallied in front of the Economy Ministry in Budapest on Sunday evening to protect the freedom of the internet from the ‘anti-democratic’ measure.

Their protest didn’t succeed in tanking the tax, but they did force a scaling back, as the Wall Street Journal reported this afternoon:

Hungary Waters Down Planned Tax on Internet Use

  • Government Amends Proposed Tax After Tens of Thousands Protest Across Country

Hungary’s government said Monday it will soften its stance on a proposed tax on Internet access after tens of thousands protested the plan that initially saw a steep levy on every gigabyte of online traffic.

After protests in Budapest and other cities in Hungary over the weekend, the administration of Prime Minister Viktor Orban said it filed a new version of its tax proposal, capping the tax at 700 forints ($2.87) a month for each individual subscriber and 5,000 forints for businesses. Internet service providers rather than subscribers are to pay the tax, according to the bill.

The original bill sent to parliament would slap a 150 forint tax for every gigabyte of Internet traffic.

InSecurityWatch: ISIS, spooks, cops, Hong Kong


And the latest from the search for those missing Mexican college students.

We begin with amped volume from The Hill:

Feinstein warns police, military personnel to guard against lone wolf attacks

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein warned on Sunday that police and military personnel should be “on guard” for lone wolf attacks inspired by Islamic jihad.

“The police and the military have to be on guard,” Feinstein said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We need to think in some new ways.”

Last week, a lone wolf attacker killed a Canadian soldier, and a man who had recently converted to Islam attacked four police officers with a hatchet in New York.

Feinstein said Internet propaganda and specific individuals are “really firing up this lone wolf phenomenon.”

Disputation from the Jakarta Globe:

Kurds Reject Erdogan Report of Deal With Syrian Rebels to Aid Besieged Kobani

A senior Syrian Kurdish official on Friday rejected a report from Turkey’s president that Syrian Kurds had agreed to let Free Syrian Army fighters enter the border town of Kobani to help them push back besieging Islamic State insurgents.

The Free Syrian Army is a term used to describe dozens of armed groups fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad but with little or no central command. They have been widely outgunned by Islamist insurgents such as Islamic State.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is a leading opponent of Assad and has allowed his more secular, Western-backed opponents such as FSA fighters to use Turkey as a base and sanctuary.

Erdogan said on Friday said 1,300 FSA fighters would enter Kobani after the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) agreed on their passage, but his comments were swiftly denied by Saleh Moslem, co-chair of the PYD.

And linkage denied, via BBC News:

Ottawa shootings: No Islamic State link found

There is no evidence so far that a gunman who attacked Canada’s parliament had links to Middle Eastern Islamist extremists, the government has said.

Foreign Minister John Baird told the BBC gunman Michael Zehaf-Bibeau was “certainly radicalised”, but was not on a list of high-risk individuals.

Zehaf-Bibeau killed a soldier at Ottawa’s war memorial before being shot dead in the nearby parliament building. Police have released video showing how the gunman stormed parliament.

It has also emerged that Prime Minister Stephen Harper hid in a cupboard in parliament for about 15 minutes during Wednesday’s attack as MPs sharpened flagpoles to use as spears against the gunman.

Fuel thrown on flames, via the Jakarta Globe:

India ‘Love Jihad’ Claims Fuel Hindu-Muslim Tensions

When a Hindu woman tearfully claimed to national media recently she had been kidnapped, raped and forcibly converted to Islam, India’s religious hardliners seized the chance to hike their “love jihad” fears.

Hardline Hindu activists, encouraged by the media attention, claimed scores of Muslim boys were attempting to abduct, seduce and elope with Hindu girls across the country for the sole purpose of conversion.

On websites and leaflets, right-wing groups warned India’s Hindu majority of the “dangers”, and a senior government minister called for talks between religious leaders “to find a solution to the issue”.

Last week, the woman, from northern Uttar Pradesh state, sensationally retracted her claims, saying she had in fact been pressured by her family to concoct the story.

But hardliners remain adamant that Muslims, numbering about 150 million in India, have a secret strategy to turn the secular country of 1.25 billion into their own.

From Channel NewsAsia Singapore, and they’ve done it before:

British forces hand over control of last base in Afghanistan

The handover was hailed by British Prime Minister David Cameron, but the southern Helmand province that foreign troops are leaving behind still confronts a resilient Taliban insurgency

British forces on Sunday (Oct 27) handed over formal control of their last base in Afghanistan to Afghan troops, ending combat operations in the country after 13 years which cost hundreds of lives.

The handover was hailed by British Prime Minister David Cameron but the southern Helmand province that foreign troops are leaving behind still confronts a resilient Taliban insurgency and remains a hub for opium production. The Union Jack was lowered at Camp Bastion while the Stars and Stripes came down at the adjacent Camp Leatherneck – the last US Marine base in the country.

All NATO combat troops will depart Afghanistan by December, leaving Afghan troops and police to battle Taliban insurgents on their own.

The Independent covers a curious conversion:

Councillor from French far-right party Front National converts to Islam – and urges others to follow

A local councillor representing Marine Le Pen’s far-right party, the Front National, has announced he has converted to Islam – and has urged fellow party members to do the same.

Maxence Buttey, 22, has been suspended from a regional Front National committee after he went public with his decision and sent out a “proselytising video” to the party in which he praised the “visionary virtues of the Koran and urged them to convert, the Telegraph reported.

Mr Buttey, who is a councillor in the eastern Paris suburb, Noisy-le-grand, said the Front National and Islam had a lot in common.

He told French newspaper, Le Parisien: “Like Islam, the FN defends the weakest. The party denounces exorbitant interest rates charged on the debt of our country, and Islam is against the practice of usury.”

From InfoWorld, notable:

Clueless FBI sabotages its own anti-encryption campaign

  • FBI Director Comey says smartphone encryption puts law enforcement in peril. Too bad he doesn’t seem to understand technology

FBI Director James Comey continues to bang the drum about the evils of smartphone encryption and the harm it will do to U.S. law enforcement efforts. Fortunately, few people are persuaded, possibly because Comey himself seems of two minds — and baffled by technology to boot.

Comey has been on a media tear denouncing the default smartphone encryption provided by Apple, with its recently released iOS 8, and Google, with its next-generation Lollipop Android OS. No one without the passcode — not even Apple or Google — can break the encryption, which leaves law enforcement “struggling to keep up” with criminals, Comey said in a speech to the Brookings Institution.

Comey called on Congress to update CALEA to require tech companies to build into their systems “lawful intercept capabilities” (don’t call them backdoors), saying mistrust of government in response to the NSA leaks by Edward Snowden “has gone too far.”

But in an interview with “60 Minutes” this month, Comey led off by saying, “I believe that Americans should be deeply skeptical of government power. You cannot trust people in power.” He then illustrated this by sidestepping the question of whether the FBI gathers electronic surveillance and passes it to the NSA, and insisting (incorrectly) that the FBI can never read your email without a court order.

Tech companies have good reasons for adding extra data protection to their products. And the FBI’s own website recommends using encryption on mobile devices “to protect the user’s personal data in the case of loss or theft.”

Drones over the Ukraine, from TheLocal.at:

Austrian drones fly high, over Ukraine and beyond

In the middle of the Austrian countryside, a few sleek, high-tech drones sit in a bright production hall, ready for missions over Ukraine, the Mediterranean or the Middle East.

Schiebel, a small company originally specialised in landmine detection, has been manufacturing Camcopters — a 3.5-metre (11.5-foot) long mini-helicopter equipped with cameras, radars and other sensors — for close to 10 years.

But it has gained prominence with a new mission in Ukraine, where the Camcopter will assist observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to monitor a ceasefire with pro-Russian rebels.

The latest from Mexico, via the Latin American Herald Tribune:

Relatives Say They Won’t Let Mexican Government Incriminate Missing Students

Relatives of the 43 trainee teachers who went missing nearly a month ago in the southern Mexican city of Iguala after being attacked by municipal police warned the federal government not to try to lower social tensions by leveling false accusations against the students.

“The federal government should know that we’re not at peace, much less so now that they’re trying to distract attention from this (crime),” Felipe de Jesus, a relative of one of the missing youths, told Efe Friday, insisting that the families will not rest until they are found.

Relatives and classmates of the students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Normal School, a nearby teacher-training facility in Guerrero state, said their attorneys have learned that the federal Attorney General’s Office is pursuing a line of investigation that seeks to link the missing youths to the Los Rojos cartel.

And from Agence France-Presse, a report on the troubled Mexican state where the tragedy has been unfolding:

Gangsters paradise: Mexico’s Guerrero state

Program note:

For years drug cartels have been waging bloody turf wars in Mexico’s southern Guerrero state.

After the jump, China throws a bank into the Game of Zones, government and businesses direct warnings at protesting Hong Kong Students and a shift in their plans, Washington and Tokyo plan for joint military actions in time of crisis, and growing discontent with Japan’s new official secrets law. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Health, climate, carbon, water


And Fukushimapocalypse Now!

First, from New Zimbabwe, health infrastructural weakness consequences:

Shortage of eye doctors hampers cataracts fight

A CRITICAL shortage of eye doctors is hampering efforts by the Ministry of Health to deal effectively with the problem of eye cataracts in Zimbabwe, according to statistics released last week.

At least 60 000 people have eye cataracts across the country.

Statistics released in the National Eye Health Strategy (NEHS) survey by the Ministry of Health shows that a lot of people are remaining untreated due to the non-availability of eye specialists in hospitals near them.

From Reuters, another country, another weakness:

Amid Afghanistan’s escalating war, a battle to beat polio

Tens of thousands of volunteers fanned out across Afghanistan this week, braving deteriorating security and distrusting parents to administer two chilled drops of the oral polio vaccine each to millions of children.

Keeping the highly infectious polio disease in check in any country is a daunting task. But in a nation where Taliban militants are fast gaining ground against government forces, it’s also a dangerous one.

Afghanistan is one of only three nations where the polio virus is still endemic, along with Pakistan and Nigeria. For a nation at war, its anti-polio campaign has had remarkable success, bringing the number of cases down from 63 in 1999 to just 14 in 2013. Only eight new cases have been confirmed so far this year, compared to 108 in Pakistan.

But as fighting between Afghan forces and militants intensifies ahead of the withdrawal of most foreign troops this year, health workers risk losing precious access to the places – and children – they need to keep tabs on.

From the Contributor, frack-tious politics:

Santa Barbara: Beautiful Enough to Frack, Says Big Oil Companies Spending Millions on Ballot Measure

There are few in the mainstream media who challenge the political establishment’s false claim that California is a “green” leader, yet here is more indisputable financial data showing how Big Oil in fact is the largest corporate lobby in the state and owns both the Democratic and Republican parties.

The battle over Yes on Measure P, the initiative to ban fracking and other extreme oil extraction techniques in Santa Barbara County, is a David vs. Goliath battle that parallels the No on Proposition 1 campaign. Big oil companies are dumping millions into the coastal county to defeat the measure, just like corporate agribusiness, billionaires and oil companies are spending millions to pass Governor Jerry Brown’s water bond.

The Yes on Measure P campaign had a war chest of about $284,000 as of October 16, 2014, largely from hundreds of individuals and county resident, according to the Santa Barbara Independent. This amount notably comes to only a small fraction of the anti-Measure P funds.

The same article reported that Measure P opponents have raised $7.6 million. “Californians for Energy Independence” has funneled over $5 million of its $7.6 million war chest to the ‘No’ side.

“The two single-biggest donors to the committee have been Chevron ($2.5 million) and Aera Energy ($2.1 million), the latter of which is rumored to be contemplating applying for 300 cyclic steam injection wells here,” according to the Independent. “Other Santa Barbara County interests that have contributed to that state group include Santa Maria Energy and Pacific Coast Energy Company, both of whose future plans could be thwarted if the initiative passes. The regional fundraising team for ‘No’ has seen additional donations from Santa Maria Energy ($88,134) and Pacific Coast Energy Company ($157,035), as well as Venoco ($80,000) and ERG Operating Company ($90,893), which recently applied for 233 cyclic steam injection wells.”

From the Los Angeles Times, business as usual:

Despite California climate law, carbon emissions may be a shell game

California’s pioneering climate-change law has a long reach, but that doesn’t mean all its mandates will help stave off global warming.

To meet the requirement that it cut carbon emissions, for example, Southern California Edison recently sold its stake in one of the West’s largest coal-fired power plants, located hundreds of miles out of state.

But the Four Corners Generating Station in New Mexico still burns coal — only the power that Edison once delivered to California now goes to a different utility’s customers in Arizona.

Similar swaps are taking place at coal plants throughout the West, and they underscore the limitations California faces as it tries to confront climate change in the absence of a coherent federal plan.

More carbon cash from the Japan Times:

U.N. climate chief urges Japan to slash emissions, and to shell out $1 billion

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, has urged Japan to set an ambitious goal of emission cuts from 2020 and contribute over $1 billion to a new fund for combating global warming.

“My expectation of Japanese contributions is the same as my expectation from every other country,” Figueres said in an interview on Saturday.

Parties to the convention are required to announce their reduction targets by the end of March. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government on Friday began discussions on the matter.

Figueres also urged Japan to play an active role in the Green Climate Fund, which will be one of the major topics at the 20th session of the Conference of the Parties to the U.N. framework convention (COP20), to be held in December in Peru. The fund is designed to facilitate the fight against global warming in developing countries.

From the Guardian, the complexities of nature:

Global warming has doubled risk of harsh winters in Eurasia, research finds

  • Severe winters are more likely over the next few decades due to climate change melting Arctic ice and sending freezing air south, according to new research

The risk of severe winters in Europe and northern Asia has been doubled by global warming, according to new research. The counter-intuitive finding is the result of climate change melting the Arctic ice cap and causing new wind patterns that push freezing air and snow southwards.

Severe winters over the last decade have been associated with those years in which the melting of Arctic sea ice was greatest. But the new work is the most comprehensive computer modelling study to date and indicates the frozen winters are being caused by climate change, not simply by natural variations in weather.

“The origin of frequent Eurasian severe winters is global warming,” said Prof Masato Mori, at the University of Tokyo, who led the new research. Climate change is heating the Arctic much faster than lower latitudes and the discovery that the chances of severe winters has already doubled shows that the impacts of global warming are not only a future threat. Melting Arctic ice has also been implicated in recent wet summers in the UK.

Power over nature [in both senses] via Al Jazeera America:

Dam-building boom could be electricity boon, environmental blight

  • Hydropower supply slated to double in next 10 years, helping developing world but posing risks to watersheds, climate

A dam-building boom across the developing world will bring electricity to growing, power-hungry cities across Asia, Africa and Latin America. But it can also put the world’s climate and people at risk, according to a new study by researchers aiming to reduce the host of environmental problems that can come with dam construction.

Researchers at Tübingen University in Germany have have compiled a database of the 3,700 different dam projects planned or underway worldwide. They predict that global hydropower capacity will double in the next 10 years — an increase set to reduce by 20 percent the number of free-flowing rivers left on Earth.

The building boom also poses a hazard to the rich biodiversity of major river watersheds, including those of the Mekong, Amazon and Congo, on which millions depend.

And from Agence France-Presse, water woes in a troubled nation:

Pakistan’s water supply facing an uncertain future

Program notes:

In northern Pakistan melting glaciers are raising concern that water reserves are under threat like never before with scientists warning that the country’s future food security is at stake.

Water watcher woes from the Observer:

After 42 years of charting the health of our seas, scientist’s studies now face the axe

  • Guillemot survey has provided wealth of data on climate – but funding could be cut

Tim Birkhead has been monitoring guillemots for 42 years – with intriguing results. His surveys, carried out on Skomer island in Wales, have provided key information about the wellbeing of the sea birds’ population around the British Isles and has also produced important insights into the health of our seas.

However, the zoologist’s four-decade-long project is now threatened with closure. The newly formed quango Natural Resources Wales has said it will not continue to fund the £12,000-a-year survey, as part of a cost-cutting exercise. Unless cash can be raised as a matter of urgency, this year’s survey will be the last.

The news has dismayed the 64-year-old professor of zoology at Sheffield University. “This is an incredibly short-sighted decision,” Birkhead said. “We have built an extremely important database of guillemot population parameters and breeding rates, which tells a great deal about variations in numbers of these birds, about the health of their populations and about the health of our seas in general. But that entire database is now under threat merely to save a modest amount of money.”

A lethal alien invader from the Independent:

Conservationists call for ban on ‘Tree of hell’ that threatens to damage native plants

Dubbed the “tree of heaven” for its eagerness to reach up to the sky, Ailanthus altissima has become a favourite in many UK parks and gardens.

But conservationists are now calling for the “tree of hell” – as some have renamed this import from China – to be banned because of the threat it poses to native plants.

For, despite the angelic common name, it has a distinctly sinister side. The tree emits a poison to stop other species growing nearby, has a smell like rancid cashew nuts and sends out a mass of suckers that smother other plants.

However, despite such traits, the call for the tree to be added to the Government’s official list of banned, invasive species is likely to be fought vigorously by the garden-centre industry.

A GM ploy from the Observer:

‘Silent revolution’ in biotech farming is overtaking GM, says Greenpeace

  • Pressure group accused of hypocrisy by geneticists who say the same science is behind genetic modification and Greenpeace-approved Marker Assisted Selection

The row over genetically modified crops should be a thing of the past because they have failed to live up to their promise, according to Greenpeace, which will publish a report this week highlighting the successes of biotechnology projects it claims are outstripping GM in improving food production around the world.

The environmental campaign group – which has long been against GM foods – claims that a “silent revolution” in agriculture is showing a stronger track record than the GM process, which it labels as having shown disappointing results.

“Whilst the debate between GM and non-GM has used up most of the political oxygen, this report shows it is not the only – or indeed, the best – show in town. There is a growing range of non-GM biotechnologies which show how a growing world population can be fed at a time when natural environments are increasingly stressed,” said Greenpeace chief scientist Dr Doug Parr.

And on to Fukushimapoicalypse Now!, first with yet another radiation spike from NHK WORLD:

High levels of radiation found at Fukushima plant

The operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant says it has found high levels of radioactive cesium in groundwater in the compound.

Officials of Tokyo Electric Power Company say water taken on Wednesday from a monitoring well contained 460,000 becquerels of cesium per liter. Water from another well contained 424,000 becquerels.

The wells are several meters west of the No. 2 reactor building. There are about 40 around the reactor buildings.

Officials say the levels are 800 to 900 times the previous peak level of 500 becquerels per liter.

And our final item, and certain to inspire your confidence in Abe’s nuclear dreams, via NHK WORLD:

Panel likely to drop plan to check nuclear workers

A panel to Japan’s nuclear regulator will likely shelve proposals for a system of criminal record checks and other screenings of workers at nuclear facilities designed to prevent terrorism. Facility operators will likely run background checks instead.

The panel of the Nuclear Regulation Authority has been studying the logistics of checking the personal information of workers, including criminal records held by the government and financial debt.
Similar systems are in use in other countries. A system was proposed for Japan as a way of preventing terrorists and collaborators from entering nuclear facilities.

Panel members agreed that the operators of facilities, such as utilities, should run background checks on workers based on worker statements.
Some members pointed out the limitations of a system based on voluntary declarations.

EbolaWatch: Angst, profiteering, and Africa


Always Africa, first with a report from CCTV Africa:

Guinea Village Believed to be ‘source’ of Ebola outbreak

Program notes:

Guinea’s Melliandou village is believed to be the place where the current Ebola outbreak started. Researchers from The New England Journal of Medicine have traced the origin of the virus to a family in which a two-year-old boy from the village was the first victim to have died of Ebola in December 2013. CCTV’s Carol Oyola reports

And from StarAfrica, fears of spread to yet another country:

Ebola fears in Sudan’s oilfields spread

Fears have spread in the oil-rich Sudanese state of West Kordofan after four suspected cases of Ebola were alleged among oil workers in the area, medical sources disclosed on Saturday. The sources confirmed that two civilians died from an infection in El Muglad city , and two other infected remain in the hospital of El Fula, West Kordofan.

They claimed that the cases were all showed symptoms of Ebola may qualify for the deadly virus.

Medical source from El Fula hospital said that the hospital treated the two patients the same as patients with hemorrhagic fever.

“The two cases are now isolated and receiving treatment as hemorrhagic fever till further blood investigation diagnosis about the type of the hemorrhagic fever,” he added.

On to the U.S., first with a case of Ebola politics from BuzzFeed:

Democratic Senator Slams NRA, Republicans Over Ebola Response

  • Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown blamed the NRA for a lack of a U.S. surgeon general, and Congressional Republicans for cuts to public services

A Democratic senator puts the blame for the Centers for Disease Control’s slow response to Ebola directly on the National Rifle Association and Senate and House Republicans.

Speaking in a local radio interview on Thursday, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown blamed the NRA for a lack of a U.S. surgeon general, and Congressional Republicans for cuts to public services.

“We don’t have a surgeon general to, to run this, to oversee this, because of the opposition to him brought on by opposition from the National Rifle Association,” Brown said.

“So we’re not – we have cut spending on public health in this country, um, because some members of Congress, unfortunately a majority in the House, would prefer to do tax cuts for the wealthiest people and cut public services like CDC, like National Institutes of Health, like early childhood education – this wasn’t foreseen but some of it could have been prevented if we had people in Washington that really looked out more for the public interest than for their special interests.”

Quarantine affirmations from the New York Times:

Governors of New York and New Jersey Defend Ebola Quarantine Amid Concerns

Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey stood by his decision to require medical workers who had contact with Ebola patients in West Africa into quarantine, even as the first health worker to be isolated under the new policy spoke publicly for the first time Sunday, calling her treatment “inhumane” and accusing Mr. Christie of making misleading statements about her health.

Kaci Hickox, who was ordered into quarantine after landing at Newark Liberty International Airport on Friday even though she had no symptoms associated with Ebola, said during an interview with CNN that officials still have not told her what they plan to do next or why they are isolating her since she poses not public health risk as long as she remains asymptomatic.

In that interview, she also blasted Mr. Christie for saying that she was sick, when it was clear that she was not running a fever and had tested negative for Ebola.

“The first thing I would say to Governor Christie is that I wish he would be more careful about his statements about my medical condition,” she told CNN. “If he knew anything about Ebola he would know that asymptomatic people are not infectious.”

While another state joins the list, via the Associated Press:

Florida orders 21-day monitoring for Ebola

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is ordering twice daily monitoring for anyone returning from places the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention designates as affected by Ebola.

Scott signed the order Saturday, giving the Florida Health Department authority to monitor individuals for 21 days. Scott said in a press release that his administration had asked the CDC to identify risk levels of returning individuals from specific parts of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, requesting information specifically about the risk level for four people who had already returned. His office said that the CDC had identified the four individuals who faced some risk but had not provided the levels of risk.

“Therefore, we are moving quickly to require the four individuals who have returned to Florida already – and anyone in the future who will return to Florida from an Ebola area – to take part in twice daily 21-day health evaluations with DOH personnel,” he said.

Florida joins New Jersey, New York and Illinois in ordering the 21-day monitoring program.

And the counterargument, via the Associated Press:

US disease expert argues against Ebola quarantine

The gulf between politicians and scientists over Ebola widened on Sunday as the nation’s top infectious-disease expert warned that the mandatory, 21-day quarantining of medical workers returning from West Africa is unnecessary and could discourage volunteers from traveling to the danger zone.

“The best way to protect us is to stop the epidemic in Africa, and we need those health care workers, so we do not want to put them in a position where it makes it very, very uncomfortable for them to even volunteer to go,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Meanwhile, Kaci Hickox, the first nurse forcibly quarantined in New Jersey under the state’s new policy, said in a telephone interview with CNN that her isolation at a hospital was “inhumane,” adding: “We have to be very careful about letting politicians make health decisions.”

Golden State preparations from the Los Angeles Times:

UCLA, 4 other UC hospitals ready to treat California Ebola patients

Officials announced Friday that all five University of California medical centers are positioned to provide care for Californians with confirmed Ebola — should any such cases arise.

As of the announcement, there were no confirmed or suspected patients with Ebola in the state, the University of California Office of the President and the California Department of Public Health emphasized, in a press release announcing the hospitals’ readiness. But the UC facilities — in Davis, Irvine, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco — all said they would be ready to leap into action if that changed.

“We appreciate [the UC Medical Centers’] leadership role in willingness to treat Ebola patients,” said state health department director Dr. Ron Chapman, in the statement.

“In the past weeks we have been actively readying ourselves for any health eventuality related to Ebola,” added Dr. John Stobo, UC senior vice president for health sciences and services.

From the Independent, the anti-testimonial:

Ebola nurse Kaci Hickox says she was ‘made to feel like a criminal’ after return home to US

A nurse has criticised the process for treating aid workers when they return home saying she was met with a “frenzy of fear” when she landed in America.

Kaci Hickox said that when she arrived back in the US on Friday after working with Doctors without Borders in Sierra Leone she was met with “a frenzy of disorganisation, fear and most frightening, quarantine”.

The nurse, who tested negative for Ebola, wrote in the Dallas Morning News: “This is a situation that I would not wish on anyone. I am scared for those who will follow me” and suggested that other health workers could be put off doing aid work.

Ms Hickox said that after she arrived at Newark Liberty International Airport following a two-day journey from West Africa, she was taken to a quarantine office and questioned.

“One man who must have been an immigration officer because he was wearing a weapon belt that I could see protruding from his white coveralls barked questions at me as if I was a criminal,” she said.

And with litigation to come, via the London Telegraph:

US nurse sues after being forced into quarantine as she returned from treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone

  • Kaci Hickox accused New York and New Jersey officials of criminalising those risking their lives to fight virus in Africa

A US nurse who says she was treated like a “criminal” after returning from caring for Ebola victims in West Africa has hired a top human rights lawyer to challenge her enforced quarantine.

Kaci Hickox, the first person to be placed under a new mandatory quarantine for health workers who arrive back in the US via airports in New York, New Jersey and Chicago, was ordered into a 21 day period of isolation despite testing negative for the disease.

She has now hired Norman Siegel, a high profile civil rights attorney, to challenge the order.

And she finds an ally, via the Los Angeles Times:

New York mayor criticizes New Jersey’s ‘disrespect’ of Ebola nurse

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio condemned the treatment of a symptom-free nurse quarantined in New Jersey after she returned from caring for Ebola patients in West Africa, saying, “What happened to her was inappropriate.”

De Blasio’s remarks came during a  news conference at New York City’s Bellevue Hospital, where a doctor infected with the deadly virus remained in serious but stable condition Sunday, showing slight improvement. Dr. Craig Spencer had recently returned from a stint with Doctors Without Borders in West Africa, where he treated Ebola patients. Spencer tested positive for Ebola on Thursday.

The mayor spoke during a time of heightened anxiety both in the nation’s largest city and in the governor’s offices of New York, New Jersey and Illinois, with the states ordering medical personnel returning from West Africa to be preemptively quarantined for 21 days — the longest incubation period known for Ebola.

More politics, via The Hill:

Issa: Ebola quarantines stem from lack of trust in federal government

House Government Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said Sunday that a lack of trust in the federal government is forcing governors to mandate quarantines for those returning from West Africans nations battling Ebola.

“Governors of both parties are reacting to an absence of leadership,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Issa said if it is true that people who have become infected with Ebola are not contagious until they are showing symptoms, “immediate isolation of people for 21 days is not the answer.”

Issa said he supported continuous monitoring, but added that there was no trust in the federal government to ensure it is done correctly.

And a pullback from Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

New York state backtracks on Ebola rules after White House weighs in

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said there would no longer be a blanket quarantine procedure for all people entering the state from affected countries in West Africa.

New York state on Sunday (Oct 26) eased its rules for how those arriving from Ebola-stricken West Africa must be treated, ending a mandatory isolation period for people who had no contact with an infected patient.

New York, New Jersey and Illinois have drafted in measures that see health care workers returning from West Africa – epicentre of the most deadly Ebola outbreak on record – quarantined for three weeks, while a fourth US state, Florida, has ordered twice-daily monitoring during that period.

But under pressure from the White House, where officials believe these rules could deter health workers from helping fight the epidemic in West Africa, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo rushed to ease his state’s Ebola-clearance procedures.

And a broadside in Africa from BBC News:

Ebola: Visiting envoy Samantha Power condemns response

The US ambassador to the UN has begun a visit to the three nations worst hit by the Ebola outbreak, criticising the level of international support so far. Samantha Power has landed in Guinea and will visit Sierra Leone and Liberia.

She told NBC some nations who offered backing “haven’t taken responsibility yet” in supplying aid and doctors.

Ms Power told NBC as she boarded her plane: “The international response to Ebola needs to be taken to a wholly different scale than it is right now.”

She said: “You have countries at the UN where I work every day who are signing on to resolutions and praising the good work that the US and the UK and others are doing, but they themselves haven’t taken the responsibility yet to send docs, to send beds, to send the reasonable amount of money.”

After the jump, a Korean border closure, questions as the American military deploys in the hot zone, Big Pharma’s profit dreams, fast-tracking a test, an Ebola scare Down Under and a much-anticipated test, African infrastructure woes, Chinese capabilities questioned, Nigeria dispatches medics to the hot zone but neglect lessons learned at home, on to Sierra Leone and a presidential plea against isolation, a video report on stark conditions in Freetown, and economic side effect, plus so me catastrophe profiteering in the good ol’ U.S.A. . . . Continue reading