Category Archives: Politics

InSecurityWatch: War, terror, hacks, cops, more


The latest boots hitting Iraqi ground from TheLocal.it:

Isis: Italy to send 280 soldiers to Iraq

Italy will send 280 soldiers to Iraq to train Kurdish forces in their fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (Isis) jihadist group, Italy’s defence minister Roberta Pinotti said.

The country will also dispatch a KC-767 aircraft for in-flight refueling and two Predator drones for regional surveillance, Ansa reported.

In September, Italy said it would send arms and aid to Iraq as part of its involvement in a US-lead coalition fight against the militant group, but that it would not take part in air strikes.

Canadian boots on the ground from the Toronto Globe and Mail:

Mission could involve a year of training Iraqi forces, Canadian general says

Countries intervening in the Iraq conflict will be called upon to conduct large-scale training of Iraqi forces for as long as a year after a U.S.-led coalition succeeds in blunting the attack power of Islamic State jihadists there, top Canadian military commanders say.

This suggests Canada’s military involvement to the Iraq conflict could stretch far beyond the six-month commitment made by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government.

General Tom Lawson, chief of the defence staff, said a meeting of coalition countries in Washington earlier this week devoted a lot of time to how to train the Iraqi army. Bagdhad’s existing forces, which benefitted from years of training assistance by the United States, nevertheless fell apart when faced with advancing Islamic State forces earlier this year.

He said Canada right now is part of the emergency response to this jihadist force that has wreaked havoc across parts of Iraq and Syria.

Look, up in the sky! From the Guardian:

Islamic State training pilots to fly MiG fighter planes, says monitoring group

  • Militants reportedly have three captured jets and witnesses cited as saying they have seen planes flying low over Aleppo

Islamic State (Isis) is takings its first steps towards building an air force by training pilots to fly captured fighter planes, according to a group monitoring the conflict in Syria.

Isis is using lots of tanks, armoured personnel carriers, artillery and Jeeps taken from the Syrian and Iraqi armies but this is the first report that it has planes in the air.

Isis, which took the US by surprise this year with its rapid territorial expansion in Syria and Iraq, has three Russian-built MiG jets, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), which appears to have a good network of observers on the ground and has often proved reliable in the past.

And else in MENA, via the Washington Post:

Libyan general’s forces make major push to oust Islamist militants from Benghazi

A rogue Libyan general waging a months-long campaign against Libya’s Islamists launched a full-blown assault on Benghazi this week, touching off clashes with the militants dominating the city.

More than a dozen people have been killed in the violence, which started Wednesday, raising fears that the battles will evolve into an all-out civil war.

Khalifa Hifter announced in a televised address Tuesday that he intends to “liberate” Benghazi — the epicenter of the 2011 uprising against strongman Moammar Gaddafi — from the Islamist militias that stalk its streets.

A day later, the 71-year-old Hifter launched his effort. His forces — a mixture of former Gaddafi officers, pro-Hifter militias and army troops — stormed Benghazi to oust the militants.

And the corporate silver lining to clouds of war from MintPress News:

ISIS: Military Contractors’ “Gravy Train” To Profits

“Wall Street’s looking ahead and saying, ‘War’s good for business and companies are going to cash in,’” the director of a think tank aimed at addressing war and corruption, among other issues, tells MintPress News

Since the beginning of the year, the defense stocks of America’s top five arms producers — Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman — have risen substantially. Last month, Bloomberg reported that “the biggest U.S. defense companies are trading at record prices as shareholders reap rewards from escalating military conflicts around the world.”

These conflicts include the Afghanistan War, NATO’s arms buildup to monitor Russia in Ukraine, military intervention against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and armaments for governments wishing to suppress internal dissent.

Arms contractors are “trying to exploit the crisis,” said William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, a Washington-based think tank aimed at addressing war, corruption, inequality and climate change. It appears they’re succeeding this regard, as investors are greedily buying up stocks of weapons manufacturers. For example, Lockheed Martin’s share prices have risen from $146 a share at the beginning of the year to $174 today.

“Wall Street’s betting that this war’s going to go on for awhile, and that the Pentagon is going to get rid of budget cuts,” Hartung said of the conflict with ISIS. “It’s going to be a gravy train. Companies are sort of saying, ‘I don’t know how much we’re going to make,’ but Wall Street’s looking ahead and saying, ‘War’s good for business and companies are going to cash in.’”

But then there’s that whole question of just whose boots will be meeting Syrian and Iraqi ground. From RT America:

Generals contradict Obama’s “no boots on the ground” ISIS strategy

Program notes:

Mixed messages out of Washington are leaving many wondering who is in control of the US-led war against the Islamic State group. While President Barack Obama reassures the public no American soldiers will be fighting on the ground, repeated comments by top military leaders seemingly contradict, or at least muddy, the commander in chief’s message. RT’s Ben Swann speaks with former high-ranking CIA officer Ray McGovern to get his take.

BBC News covers more blowback:

Terror plot suspects planned to kill police, court hears

Five men have appeared in court charged in connection with a terror plot “to shoot, to kill, police officers or soldiers on the streets of London”.

Tarik Hassane, Suhaib Majeed, Nyall Hamlett, and Momen Motasim, all from London, have been charged with intending to commit acts of terrorism. A fifth man, Nathan Cuffy, 25, from London, faces firearms offences.

All five were remanded in custody until 27 October after the hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court.

From the McClatchy Washington Bureau, and they’re rethinking that whole blame-Hitler-for-the-Holocaust thing too:

Senate’s inquiry into CIA torture sidesteps blaming Bush, aides

A soon-to-be released Senate report on the CIA doesn’t assess the responsibility of former President George W. Bush or his top aides for any of the abuses of the agency’s detention and interrogation program, avoiding a full public accounting of one of the darkest chapters of the war on terror.

“This report is not about the White House. It’s not about the president. It’s not about criminal liability. It’s about the CIA’s actions or inactions,” said a person familiar with the document, who asked not to be further identified because the executive summary – the only part to that will be made public – still is in the final stages of declassification.

The Senate Intelligence Committee report also didn’t examine the responsibility of top Bush administration lawyers in crafting the legal framework that permitted the CIA to use simulated drowning called waterboarding and other interrogation methods widely described as torture, McClatchy has learned.

On a related note, consider this from the Intercept:

Blowing the Whistle on CIA Torture from Beyond the Grave

In the fall of 2006, Nathaniel Raymond, a researcher with the advocacy group Physicians for Human Rights, got a call from a man professing to be a CIA contractor. Scott Gerwehr was a behavioral science researcher who specialized in “deception detection,” or figuring out when someone was lying.  Gerwehr told Raymond “practically in the first five minutes” that he had been at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo in the summer of 2006, but had left after his suggestion to install video-recording equipment in detainee interrogation rooms was rejected. “He said, ‘I wouldn’t operate at a facility that didn’t tape. It protects the interrogators and it protects the detainees,’” Raymond recalls.

Gerwehr also told Raymond that that he had read the CIA inspector general’s report on detainee abuse, which at the time had not been made public. But “he didn’t behave like a traditional white knight,” Raymond told The Intercept. Though he had reached out to Raymond and perhaps others, he didn’t seem like a prototypical whistleblower. He didn’t say what he was trying to do or ask for help; he just dropped the information. Raymond put him in touch with a handful of reporters, and their contact ended in 2007.

In 2008, at the age of 40, Gerwehr died in a motorcycle accident on Sunset Boulevard. Years after Gerwehr died, New York Times reporter James Risen obtained a cache of Gerwehr’s files, including emails that identify him as part of a group of psychologists and researchers with close ties to the national security establishment. Risen’s new book, Pay Any Price, uses Gerwehr’s emails to show close collaboration between staffers at the American Psychological Association (APA) and government officials, collaboration that offered a fig leaf of health-professional legitimacy to the CIA and military’s brutal interrogations of terror suspects.

Reuters covers spooky funny business:

Exclusive: NSA reviewing deal between official, ex-spy agency head

The U.S. National Security Agency has launched an internal review of a senior official’s part-time work for a private venture started by former NSA director Keith Alexander that raises questions over the blurring of lines between government and business.

Under the arrangement, which was confirmed by Alexander and current intelligence officials, NSA’s Chief Technical Officer, Patrick Dowd, is allowed to work up to 20 hours a week at IronNet Cybersecurity Inc, the private firm led by Alexander, a retired Army general and his former boss.

The arrangement was approved by top NSA managers, current and former officials said. It does not appear to break any laws and it could not be determined whether Dowd has actually begun working for Alexander, who retired from the NSA in March.

Hitting that old brick wall, with the Associated Press:

Lawmakers probing NSA face German secrecy hurdles

German lawmakers probing the U.S. National Security Agency following Edward Snowden’s revelations have hit a hurdle: their own government.

Officials have refused to let a parliamentary inquiry see dozens of German intelligence documents detailing the extent to which the country’s spy agencies cooperated with their U.S. counterparts.

A government spokeswoman said Friday that Germany is bound by secrecy accords that give the U.S. the right to review and comment on any documents that affect its interests.

But spokeswoman Christiane Wirtz denied this amounted to a U.S. veto.

A replacement named, via Reuters:

China names new envoy to Iceland after Japan spying report

Chinese President Xi Jinping has appointed China’s new ambassador to Iceland, a month after overseas Chinese media reported that the previous envoy had been arrested for passing secrets to Japan.

The announcement by China’s Foreign Ministry on Thursday was the first official confirmation that Beijing had replaced its previous envoy to Iceland, Ma Jisheng. New York-based Chinese language portal Mingjing News reported in September that Ma and his wife had been taken away by Chinese state security earlier this year.

Zhang Weidong, 57, replaces Ma, who was suspected of having become a Japanese spy while working in the Chinese embassy in Tokyo between 2004 and 2008, according to Mingjing News.

A sub-marine mystery from the Associated Press:

‘Foreign underwater activity’ reported in Sweden

Sweden’s military says it has sent naval vessels, aircraft and home guard forces to investigate reports of “foreign underwater activity” in the Stockholm archipelago.

The Armed Forces say they launched an intelligence operation Friday in the archipelago after receiving information “from a credible source.” Armed Forces spokesman Jesper Tengroth wouldn’t say whether a submarine had been sighted or give any other details.

The announcement was reminiscent of the Cold War, when Sweden’s armed forces routinely hunted for Soviet submarines in its waters.

And from TheLocal.de, drones delayed:

Bundeswehr drones can’t handle Ukraine winter

‘Luna’ drones promised by Germany to monitor the Russian-Ukrainian border may not be sent after all – they can’t handle the bitter cold expected in the Ukrainian winter.

“It’s a technical problem of the Luna system that it can’t be controlled reliably at temperatures below minus 19 degrees [Centigrade, minus two Fahrenheit],” German MP Gernot Erler told public broadcaster Deutsche Rundfunk.

Winter temperatures in the region would often plunge far lower at the drones’ operational heights of 3,000 metres and above, Bild reported, citing a military source.

While MIT Technology Review ponders commercial drones:

Air Traffic Control for Drones

  • If large numbers of commercial drones are to take to the skies, they’ll need an air traffic control system

How do you keep small drone aircraft safe in the world’s busiest national airspace? One idea is to have them use cellphone networks to feed data back to an air traffic control system made just for drones.

A startup called Airware is working with NASA on a project exploring how to manage the swarms of commercial drones expected to start appearing in U.S. skies. The four-year program will create a series of prototype air traffic management systems and could shape how widely commercial drones can be used. Airware’s main business is selling control software and hardware to drone manufacturers and operators.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has yet to propose rules to govern the use of commercial robotic aircraft in U.S. skies. But it predicts that 7,500 unmanned craft weighing 55 pounds (25 kilograms) or less will be operating in the U.S. by 2018.

Whilst droning on, consider this from Deutsche Welle:

Dancing Drones

Program notes:

Scientists at the Technical University of Zurich have been working with Cirque du Soleil to choreograph ten lampshades fitted with small drones in an aerial dance. The result: a hit video on Youtube.

Back to the serious side with another scoop from the Assange set, via the Guardian:

WikiLeaks’ free trade documents reveal ‘drastic’ Australian concessions

  • Secret negotiations over the Trans Pacific Partnership have been apparently revealed, and experts are concerned about what they show

Secret negotiations over the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement have apparently been breached by another leak of material which shows Australian consumers could pay more for cancer medicines and face criminal penalties for non-commercial copyright breaches.

The publication on WikiLeaks of the intellectual property (IP) chapter comes on the eve of the latest round of negotiations in Australia between the 12 member countries, Australia, the US, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Canada, Mexico, Vietnam, Peru, Chile, Brunei and New Zealand.

The agreement has the capacity to affect Australian domestic law in many areas, but the secrecy of negotiations means citizens of member countries do not have full access to the Australian government’s preferred outcomes.

Two of the more contentious areas in the IP area relate to copyright and pharmaceuticals.

After the jump, the latest hacking innovation, Microsoft snares ten million spams a minutes, from tracking terrorists to cops and robbers, an L.A.P.D. meltdown, and a pot-robbin’ federal marshal, allegations of massive police corruption in Old Blighty, the latest on those missing Mexican college students disappeared after a police massacre, the missing mayor implicated in the crime sacked, a mysterious banner names names, the latest student protest, and the dirty war waged on the same ground decades earlier, off to India and a terrorism crackdown coming as an olive branch extends to China, a  Sino/Vietnamese rapprochement, on to Hong Kong and a crackdown intensified, a Chinese cartoonist seeks Japanese refuge,  a strong hint that Socialist Realism is heading for a mainland comeback, and a protest from China aimed at Tokyo, plus a Washington denial of Tokyo’s claims of an early withdrawal from an Okinawa base, and a truly terrifying security threat in France. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Ills, seas, animals, & nukes


First up the latest on an ongoing tragedy from CCTV America:

Number of polio cases in Pakistan highest in 14 years

Program notes:

This month Pakistan broke a 14-year record for the highest number of polio cases in a year. Militants continue to block vaccination efforts. CCTV America’s Danial Khan reports.

And an Asia outbreak continues to grow, via Want China Times:

Record-high number of dengue fever cases expected in Taiwan this year

Over the next few days, the accumulated number of dengue fever cases reported in Taiwan could surpass the previous high of 5,336 such cases recorded in 2002, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said Thursday.

With a rate of 900 new cases per week since the beginning of October, it is only a matter of time before Taiwan sees the worst dengue fever outbreak in its history, CDC Deputy Director Chou Jih-haw said.

According to the CDC, there have been 4,750 indigenous dengue fever cases as of Oct. 13, 47 of which were the more severe hemorrhagic dengue fever, Chou said.

From BBC News, a South Seas climate protest:

South Pacific climate activists blockade Australia port

Hundreds of climate change protestors have attempted to disrupt shipments of coal from a port north of Sydney using their canoes, kayaks and surfboards to form a blockade.

The group included people from countries in the South Pacific who said they wanted to highlight the effects of climate change on their nations. They said the burning of coal mined in Australia was causing sea levels to rise which will impact low-lying Pacific islands.

About 30 Pacific Climate Warriors, as they call themselves, took to the water in traditional canoes. They had come from countries including Fiji, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Tokelau.

From the Guardian, they’re doing it on porpoise:

UK is breaking EU’s conservation laws on porpoises

  • European commission could take Britain to court within two months for failure to protect harbour porpoises

Britain is facing a referral to the European Court of Justice within two months unless it designates more protection sites for harbour porpoises, a threatened species in the North Sea.

Harbour porpoises are the most common, and smallest, cetacean species found in UK waters. Similar in appearance to bottlenose dolphins, they are very social animals, rotund in shape with a small dorsal fin that shows above the waves.

Although they are still relatively abundant, their numbers are thought to be falling fast under pressure from human activities such as fisheries bycatch, starvation, underwater noise and injuries from boats.

Salon casts doubt on a serial killer:

EPA: Bee-killing pesticides used on soy crops don’t even do what they’re supposed to

  • A federal study finds “negligible benefits” to the widespread use of neonicotinoid seed coatings

The EPA has yet to do much about neonicotinoids, the class of pesticides implicated in the United States’ mass bee die-offs, but it has started looking into them. And the results of an extensive review into one such pesticides, commonly applied to soybean seeds, presents another compelling reason to ban them: using them, the agency found, isn’t any better than using no pesticides at all.

“These seed treatments provide negligible overall benefits to soybean production in most situations,” the report concludes; at most, they up revenue by $6, or less than 2 percent, per acre, but the more likely estimate is $0. Part of the problem is that the insecticides are only effective within the first few weeks of planting, while the insects they’re intended to combat aren’t typically active during that time. And if attacks do occur, the study the study identified a whole assortment of other, non-bee-killing alternatives that are both effective and comparable in cost.

Colony collapse disorder, on the other hand, has cost the U.S. an estimated $2 billion in lost hives and, as a result, some $30 billion in crops.

From the Guardian, good on ‘em:

China tests outright logging ban in state forests

  • China has halted commercial logging by state firms in forests in Heilongjiang, a move experts see as a significant step to curb over-exploitation of timber, reports chinadialogue

China has launched a trial ban on commercial logging in state-owned forests in the vast north-eastern province of Heilongjiang bordering Russia, home to much of the country’s timber industry. Forestry experts have hailed the ban as a major step forward, predicting it will enable timber supplies to recover and shift the industry’s focus towards improved forestry management.

To make the ban stick, the central government has allocated 2.35bn yuan a year to cover forestry workers’ living costs between 2014 and 2020, chinadialogue has learned from the State Forestry Administration (SFA). If the trial ban is successful, the policy may be extended throughout north east China and Inner Mongolia.

Sheng Weitong, a forestry expert and former advisor to China’s cabinet-level state council, told chinadialogue that some laid-off loggers “will become forest rangers and learn how to manage forests because the vast numbers of young and semi-mature trees in these districts need management. Workers here neglected forest management in the past.”

And off to Fuksuhimapocalypse Now!, first with NHK WORLD:

Survey: More Fukushima evacuees give up returning

A survey shows more evacuees from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident have given up returning home. The Reconstruction Agency and local municipalities released on Friday the results of the annual survey conducted in August.

Almost half of respondents from 2 towns designated as an evacuation zone said they decided they will not go back. The percentage of people who gave this answer is up 11 points from last year in the town of Namie and up 3 points in Tomioka town.

Officials say some of the people who were undecided in last year’s survey have made up their mind.

A delay from the Asahi Shimbun:

ANALYSIS: TEPCO behind schedule to eliminate contaminated water despite extra measures

Thanks to the newly set up ALPS units and the improved model to be introduced, it is estimated that the radioactive water processing ability of the plant will rise from the current maximum of 750 tons per day to 1,960 tons, according to TEPCO.

But many problems have been reported with ALPS since it first became operational, repeatedly forcing the plant operator to halt its operations. The utilization rate for the system between January and August was just 35 to 61 percent.

Although TEPCO replaced some components of ALPS with improved parts, problems occurred with some replaced components in late September, forcing the utility to suspend operations of some units of the system.

Whereas TEPCO has set a goal of completing the purification of all highly radioactive water stored on site, it would still be difficult to achieve that goal even if TEPCO could operate all the processing systems day and night.

A state broadcaster rebels, via Public Radio International’s The World:

Japan’s timid coverage of Fukushima led this news anchor to revolt — and he’s not alone

It’s been three-and-a-half years since 83-year-old Kamematsu left his home, with its rice patties, vegetable fields and 10 cows, fleeing the disaster at the nearby Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor. He still can’t go back.

When will it be ready for people again? No one seems to know — or be interested in telling him. “I can’t take my land with me,” he says, “so I don’t know what to do. I can’t see ahead.”

Kamematsu is one of about 80,000 people in Japan still officially displaced by the nuclear crisis. Questions remain about radiation levels, the clean-up process and when residents can return home. Yasuhiko Tajima, a professor of media studies at Tokyo’s Sophia University, says many Japanese are frustrated by what they see as a lack of information.

Japanese journalists did what Tajima calls “announcement journalism” in reporting on the crisis. He says they were reporting the press releases of big companies and the people in power. And he’s not the only one who thinks so.

“I am a newscaster, but I couldn’t tell the true story on my news program,” says Jun Hori, a former anchor for NHK, the Japanese state broadcaster.

Hori says the network restricted what he and other journalists could say about Fukushima and moved more slowly than foreign media to report on the disaster and how far radiation was spreading. The attitude in the newsroom was not to question official information

Another reactor stress from the Japan Times:

Utilities pressed to make quick decision on scrapping aged reactors

The government called on Friday for utilities to swiftly decide whether to scrap aging reactors that would be particularly vulnerable in the event of a natural disaster.

The pro-nuclear government, which is seeking to reactivate the nation’s idled reactors as soon as possible despite a glut of solar and other renewable energy that is being boycotted by the utilities, is pushing the them to decide quickly in the hope that shutting old facilities will help mitigate public concern so restarts can proceed.

Under new, tighter safety standards adopted because of the 2011 core meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, utilities are not allowed to operate reactors for longer than 40 years, in principle.

And here’s one to give you nightmares, from JapanToday:

Expert says 2 Sendai reactors in danger from active volcano

A prominent volcanologist disputed Japanese regulators’ conclusion that two nuclear reactors were safe from a volcanic eruption in the next few decades, saying Friday that such a prediction was impossible.

A cauldron eruption at one of several volcanos surrounding the Sendai nuclear power plant in southern Japan could not only hit the reactors but could cause a nationwide disaster, said Toshitsugu Fujii, University of Tokyo professor emeritus who heads a government-commissioned panel on volcanic eruption prediction.

Nuclear regulators last month said two Sendai reactors fulfilled tougher safety requirements set after the 2011 Fukushima disaster. The regulators ruled out a major eruption over the next 30 years until the reactors’ reach the end of their usable lifespan.

More from Reuters:

Japan’s volcanoes made more jittery by 2011 quake, expert says

Japan’s massive 2011 earthquake may trigger more, and larger, volcanic eruptions over the next few decades, perhaps even that of Mount Fuji – but predicting them remains close to impossible, a volcano expert said on Friday.

The nation last month suffered its worst volcanic disaster in nearly 90 years when Mount Ontake, its second tallest active volcano at 3,067 meters (10,062 feet), suddenly erupted, raining down ash and stone on hikers crowding the summit.

The eruption killed 56 people, exceeding the deaths in the 1980 eruption of Mount St Helens in the United States. Seven victims remain missing, and recovery efforts have been suspended until the spring.

Japan may well be moving into a period of increased volcanic activity touched off by the 9.0 magnitude earthquake of March 11, 2011, said Toshitsugu Fujii, a volcanologist and professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo.

“The 2011 quake convulsed all of underground Japan quite sharply, and due to that influence Japan’s volcanoes may also become much more active,” Fujii told reporters.

And we close with another nightmare from NHK WORLD:

Shimomura criticizes Monju operator

Science minister Hakubun Shimomura has criticized the operator of the Monju fast-breeder prototype reactor for its failure to properly maintain equipment. It recently came to light that a number of monitoring cameras at the reactor are not working.

Shimomura told reporters on Friday that it is very regrettable that the operator, the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, lacks a sense of responsibility. More than 50 cameras, or about one-third of those monitoring coolant pipes, were found to be broken when Monju was inspected in September.

Shimomura said reassuring the public about Monju’s safety is the minimum requirement for restarting the experimental reactor. He said the prototype reactor may be stopped forever if the operator’s poor management continues.

EbolaWatch: Fear, czar, alarms, meds, Africa


And a whole lot more, given the pace at which the outbreak is moving.

We begin with this from JapanToday:

World fears mount that Ebola battle being lost

The World Bank warned Friday the fight to stop Ebola was being lost, as the U.N. pleaded for more money to combat the escalating epidemic and global travel fears mounted.

As the death toll from the world’s worst-ever outbreak of the virus shot past 4,500, a glimmer of hope came from Senegal, which was declared Ebola-free by the World Health Organization.

The United States, meanwhile, named an “Ebola czar” to coordinate its response, after criticism of how a Texas hospital handled a Liberian victim, with two nurses who treated him now infected.

And a researcher at British pharmaceuticals giant GlaxoSmithKline said a vaccine may not be ready for commercial use until late 2016.

“We are losing the battle,” World Bank chief Jim Yong Kim warned, blaming a lack of international solidarity in efforts to stem the epidemic. “Certain countries are only worried about their own borders,” he told reporters in Paris.

And a continuing alarm from BBC News:

Ebola crisis: No impact from pledges of help, MSF says

International pledges of deployments and aid for Africa’s Ebola-hit regions have not yet had any impact on the epidemic, a major medical charity says.

Christopher Stokes of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said the disease was still out of control. He said it was “ridiculous” that volunteers working for his charity were bearing the brunt of care in the worst-affected countries.

The disease has killed about 4,500 people so far, mostly in West Africa.

MSF runs about 700 out of the 1,000 beds available in treatment facilities Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. The BBC’s Mark Doyle, at the UN Ebola logistics base in Ghana, says it is generally agreed that at least three times that number are needed.

Shanghai Daily covers a concession:

WHO admits it botched response to Ebola outbreak in West Africa

THE World Health Organization has admitted that it botched attempts to stop the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, blaming factors including incompetent staff and a lack of information.

“Nearly everyone involved in the outbreak response failed to see some fairly plain writing on the wall,” WHO said in a draft internal document, noting that experts should have realized traditional containment methods wouldn’t work in a region with porous borders and broken health systems.

The UN health agency acknowledged that, at times, even its own bureaucracy was a problem. It noted that the heads of WHO country offices in Africa are “politically motivated appointments” made by the WHO regional director for Africa, Dr Luis Sambo, who does not answer to the agency’s chief in Geneva, Dr Margaret Chan.

Dr Peter Piot, co-discoverer of the Ebola virus, said WHO acted far too slowly, largely because of its Africa office. “It’s the regional office in Africa that’s the frontline,” he said. “And they didn’t do anything. That office is really not competent.”

Piot also questioned why it took WHO five months and 1,000 deaths before the agency declared Ebola an international health emergency in August.

And Kyodo News covers a summit:

Asian, European leaders pledge at Milan summit to stop Ebola

Asian and European leaders wrapped up a two-day summit Friday, highlighting in the chair’s statement their determination to stop the Ebola virus from spreading.

“The spread of the Ebola virus constitutes a serious threat to global health and security,” the leaders of 51 countries attending the Asia-Europe Meeting, or ASEM, said in the statement released after the 10th biennial summit in Milan, Italy.

“They acknowledged the efforts by ASEM partners in providing aid to affected areas and called for further urgent action and greater national, regional and international collaboration to end the Ebola outbreak in a comprehensive and coordinated manner including an exchange of best practices,” the statement said.

From Britain comes another alarm, this one from the Tory-in-chief, via the London Telegraph:

Ebola is the ‘biggest health threat to our world in a generation’ – David Cameron

  • Prime Minister tells other world leaders to ‘look to their responsibilities’” in fighting ebola as Royal Navy sets sail for West Africa

Ebola is the “biggest health problem facing our world in a generation”, David Cameron has said, as he urged foreign leaders to “step forward” with more resources to fight the crisis.

The Prime Minister urged other leaders to “look to their responsibilities” to help tackle the Ebola epidemic ravaging parts of West Africa.

Britain, he said, was “leading the way” in providing assistance to the region as he backed a call by United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon for other countries to deliver more funding.

Speaking as he arrived at the Asia Europe summit in Milan, Italy, he said: “This is the biggest health problem facing our world in a generation. It is very likely to affect a number of the countries here today.”

The New York Times crowns a czar:

Ron Klain, Chief of Staff to 2 Vice Presidents, Is Named Ebola Czar

President Obama on Friday named Ron Klain, a seasoned Democratic crisis-response operative and White House veteran, to manage the government’s response to the deadly virus as public anxiety grows over its possible spread.

Mr. Klain, a former chief of staff for Vice Presidents Al Gore and Joseph R. Biden Jr., is known for his ability to handle high-stakes and fast-moving political challenges. He was the lead Democratic lawyer for Mr. Gore during the 2000 election recount, and was later played by Kevin Spacey in the HBO drama “Recount” about the disputed contest.

“Obviously right now, the news is dominated by Ebola, and we’ve got an all-hands-on-deck approach across government to make sure that we’re keeping the American people safe,” Mr. Obama said on Friday at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, where he was announcing new antifraud measures for government-issued debit cards.

The McClatchy Washington Bureau backgrounds:

Obama’s Ebola czar is a government insider with no medical background

“He is a brilliant strategist and is known for his ability to manage large, complex operations,” said Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs.

But Klain’s lack of medical expertise also drew complaints.

“I think it’s a pretty pathetic gesture to appoint a non-medical person to be in charge of this response, which has already been dangerously futile,” said Richard Amerling, president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons and associate clinical professor at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.

“This guy knows nothing about Ebola,” said Robert Murphy, director of the Center for Global Health and a professor of medical and biomedical engineering at Northwestern University. “He’s probably a smart insider political guy. He has no credibility in the field of public health and he has no credibility in Africa, where the Ebola crisis began. . . . I really think that this is a very inappropriate choice.”

From the Guardian, presidential backtracking:

Obama not ruling out travel bans as experts watch for more cases

  • President considers further interventions and appointing crisis leader, while concern grows over infected woman’s air travel

Barack Obama has hinted at possible policy shifts in US efforts to contain Ebola, revealing he is considering fresh leadership to co-ordinate the federal response and is open to implementing travel bans if expert advice on its merits were to shift.

Speaking to reporters at the White House after his second two-hour meeting with advisers in as many days, the president also said extra disease control specialists were being sent to Ohio amid fears that a second nurse infected with the disease may have been contagious for longer than originally suspected.

“It is very important that we are monitoring and tracking anyone who was in close proximity to this second nurse,” said Obama, who earlier spoke with the Ohio governor about sending more experts from the Centers for Disease Control to the Cleveland area.

Others disagree, via the New York Times:

Experts Oppose Ebola Travel Ban, Saying It Would Cut Off Worst-Hit Countries

Fear of Ebola is spreading faster than the disease itself, and the growing paranoia in the United States is fueling calls to impose a travel ban on people coming from the three West African nations struggling with the outbreak.

In a politically tense climate, with the Nov. 4 elections just weeks away, the issue is being supercharged by partisan considerations with prominent Republicans calling for a ban, including John Boehner, the House speaker.

But public health officials say a travel ban would be ineffective and difficult to carry out and would not entirely prevent people in Ebola-hit countries from entering the United States.

Ultimately, health specialists said, a ban would do more harm than good because it would isolate impoverished nations that are barely able to cope with the outbreak, and possibly cut them off from the international aid workers who provide critical help to contain the disease.

Bans legislation tabled from The Hill:

Texas lawmakers to introduce Ebola travel ban legislation

Two Texas Republican lawmakers plan to introduce legislation banning travel between the U.S. and Ebola-stricken countries in West Africa.

The Friday announcement from Reps. Kenny Marchant and Sam Johnson was made the same day the White House disclosed President Obama would appoint Democratic operative Ron Klain to oversee the interagency response to Ebola.

Marchant said the U.S. is “behind the curve” for combatting the spread of the deadly virus and called the pair’s bill, dubbed the Stop Ebola Act, a “proactive approach” to preventing more cases of Ebola in the U.S.

From Science, another surprise Obama move:

U.S. halts funding for new risky virus studies, calls for voluntary moratorium

The White House today stepped into an ongoing debate about controversial virus experiments with a startling announcement: It is halting all federal funding for so-called gain-of-function (GOF) studies that alter a pathogen to make it more transmissible or deadly so that experts can work out a U.S. government-wide policy for weighing the risks. Federal officials are also asking the handful of researchers doing ongoing work in this area to agree to a voluntary moratorium.

The “pause on funding,” a White House blog states, applies to “any new studies … that may be reasonably anticipated to confer attributes to influenza, MERS, or SARS viruses such that the virus would have enhanced pathogenicity and/or transmissibility in mammals via the respiratory route.” The government also “encourages those currently conducting this type of work—whether federally funded or not—to voluntarily pause their research while risks and benefits are being reassessed.” Research and testing of naturally occurring forms of these pathogens will continue.

An accompanying document describes plans for a two-stage “deliberative process” to determine the risks and benefits of GOF experiments and to develop a U.S. policy for approving new studies. It will begin next week when the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB), an advisory group that has not meet for 2 years, convenes on 22 October to begin designing a study to assess the risks and benefits of GOF research. The National Academies’ National Research Council (NRC) and Institute of Medicine (IOM) will also hold a symposium to discuss the scientific issues, then later review the NSABB’s recommendations, which are due within 6 months.

And from the New York Times, the fury:

Amid Assurances on Ebola, Obama Is Said to Seethe

Beneath the calming reassurance that President Obama has repeatedly offered during the Ebola crisis, there is a deepening frustration, even anger, with how the government has handled key elements of the response.

Those frustrations spilled over when Mr. Obama convened his top aides in the Cabinet room after canceling his schedule on Wednesday. Medical officials were providing information that later turned out to be wrong. Guidance to local health teams was not adequate. It was unclear which Ebola patients belonged in which threat categories.

“It’s not tight,” a visibly angry Mr. Obama said of the response, according to people briefed on the meeting. He told aides they needed to get ahead of events and demanded a more hands-on approach, particularly from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “He was not satisfied with the response,” a senior official said.

From The Hill, a false alarm in Washington on sensitive ground:

Woman rushed to hospital from Pentagon does not have Ebola

A woman who was rushed to the hospital Friday after vomiting in a Pentagon parking lot has been cleared for Ebola, Arlington Country official Mary Curtius confirmed Friday.

The hospitalization of the woman, whom officials believe had recently traveled to Africa, set off a chain reaction of preventive measures by Pentagon and Arlington County officials.

Pentagon officials confirmed reports that the woman, a civilian, had briefly boarded a bus with Marines on their way to a change-of-command ceremony for the Marine Corps commandant, where Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was expected to be in attendance.

From ABC News 2 in Baltimore, a condition report on America’s first homegrown Ebola patient:

Condition of nurse treated in Maryland for Ebola updated to ‘fair but stable’

The Ebola patient recovering here in Maryland was downgraded to fair condition today.

Nina Pham is a nurse from Dallas. Overnight, she was flown to Frederick Airport and driven to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda.

When Pham left Texas, she was listed in good condition. Now, she’s in fair but stable condition.

And from USA Today, more allegations about the hospital where she contracted the disease:

Dallas nurse blasts her hospital’s Ebola response

Program notes:

A Dallas nurse is coming forward to describe the “extreme chaos” following the death of her hospital’s first Ebola patient. She’s now monitoring herself for Ebola symptoms and worried for her colleagues.

A denial from the Washington Post:

Mexico fails to grant access to cruise ship carrying Texas health worker

The cruise ship carrying a Texas health-care worker who “may have” handled lab specimens from Dallas Ebola victim Thomas Eric Duncan is headed back to the United States after Mexican authorities failed to grant permission for the ship to dock off the coast of Cozumel, according to a Carnival spokeswoman.

The Carnival Magic had been waiting off the Mexican coast since Friday morning for its scheduled port visit. Mexican authorities still hadn’t given clearance by noon, so the ship continued to its home port of Galveston, Tex., where it was due back on Sunday, according to Carnival.

The health worker, a lab supervisor who has not been named, has shown no symptoms of the disease but remains on board and in voluntary isolation, according to Carnival. “We greatly regret that this situation, which was completely beyond our control, precluded the ship from making its scheduled visit to Cozumel and the resulting disappointment it has caused our guests,” read a statement from Carnival.

From the Los Angeles Times, the American Ebola watch list:

Ebola in the U.S.: 1,000 people under some level of watch

Whether by land, sea or air, the fear of Ebola has been spreading at a pace far faster than the growth in the number of people diagnosed with the disease.

In recent days, the number of people who have been asked to monitor themselves for symptoms has been steadily growing, especially among healthcare workers who were involved in the original treatment of Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian who died from Ebola on Oct. 8 at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas.

As of Friday, a pool of about 1,000 people are being watched for symptoms, have been asked to monitor themselves or have been urged to check with a counselor at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The group includes a handful of people who have been ordered into quarantine, a larger group that is being closely watched with temperatures taken at least daily and a much larger group of travelers who may haven flown on a Frontier Airlines jetliner used at some point by an Ebola patient traveling with a low-grade fever.

The Guardian covers a condolence call:

Ebola: Liberian president phones Dallas mayor about infected nurses

Exclusive: Mike Rawlings said President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf had said she felt accountable for the situation in the Texan city

The president of Liberia telephoned the mayor of Dallas and apologised for the fact that the Ebola virus had transferred from her country to his city and infected Americans, the mayor said during a conference call with religious leaders in Texas on Friday.

The mayor, Mike Rawlings, said President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf had said she felt accountable for the situation in the Texan city, where a man who had recently returned from Liberia infected two nurses who treated him before he died, according to two people on the conference call.

“The mayor said that there was a call to him personally, and that the Liberian president had mentioned apologies, and, in his words, a little bit of responsibility that this was even happening,” Rex Howe, a pastor at Scofield Memorial church, told the Guardian.

And right here on San Francisco Bay, via the Oakland Tribune, the nurses who cared for esnl are marching over perceived lack of training and equipment at the same hospital where we lost bladder and prostate to cancer:

Nurses march in Oakland to demand greater safety for treating Ebola

Kaiser Permanente nurses marched Thursday morning in downtown Oakland to call for increased resources and training to treat Ebola patients.

Zenei Cortez, co-president of the California Nurses Association, said nurses are asking for the same kind of safety and training provided to hazardous materials workers who treat Ebola infected homes.

Following recent reports of nurses who became infected with ebola after treating a patient, nurses are asking for hands-on interactive training in how to handle possible Ebola cases, rather than the classroom training Kaiser is currently offering, Cortez said. They want to learn how to safely put on and take off gear, and the protocol to properly dispose of contaminated gear.

And if a hospital gets a patient, nurses want enough staff to be present to monitor the nurses to keep them safe, Cortez said.

The Washington Post covers a surprising case of Ebolaphobia:

Syracuse University disinvites Washington Post photographer because he was in Liberia 3 weeks ago

Washington Post photojournalist Michel du Cille, who returned from covering the Ebola epidemic in Liberia 21 days ago, has been disinvited by Syracuse University from participation in a journalism workshop this weekend.

Du Cille and his wife, Nikki Kahn, both Pulitzer prize-winning Post photojournalists, were scheduled to take part in portfolio reviews and critique sessions at the university’s Newhouse School of Public Communications. The school’s dean, Lorraine Branham, said a student who was researching du Cille prior to the workshop found out he had recently returned from Liberia and expressed concern. Provost Eric Spina spoke with health officials and made the call.

“It’s a disappointment to me,” du Cille said. “I’m pissed off and embarrassed and completely weirded out that a journalism institution that should be seeking out facts and details is basically pandering to hysteria.”

CBC News covers another one:

Ebola outbreak: diagnosis delayed after Air Canada refuses to transport blood sample

  • Lab tests were not completed for more than 24 hours after being collected in Edmonton

Air Canada refused to fly a blood specimen from a patient suspected of Ebola from Edmonton to Winnipeg last weekend, CBC News has learned.

Officials are blaming poor communication and unclear protocols for the delay of more than 24 hours between when the sample was collected in Edmonton and when it finally arrived in Winnipeg’s National Microbiology Lab.

Sources tell CBC News the patient in question came in to the emergency room of an Edmonton-area hospital midday last Saturday.

A British extension from BBC News:

Ebola screening extended to Manchester and Birmingham airports

Passenger screening for Ebola is to be extended to Manchester and Birmingham airports, Public Health England says.

Staff at the two airports will begin checking passengers from at-risk countries after it is introduced at Gatwick and Eurostar next week.

Screening of arrivals from West Africa, where 4,500 have died in the outbreak, started at Heathrow on Tuesday.

And the Russian screens are nearly up, via RT:

Russian govt orders extra airport facilities to prevent Ebola

Airports in Russia will be equipped with extra facilities to prevent the Ebola virus from spreading, the government’s press service reported on Friday. Over a thousand African students are already under special medical control.

Cabinet discussed the Ebola outbreak with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Friday. As the result of the meeting, Russian airports will soon receive special equipment to be installed, to prevent any possible spread of the deadly virus in the country.

According to press service, Russia’s top officials also discussed the vaccine development and medicine for extreme preventive care. Head of Russia’s Rospotrebnadzor health watchdog reported on the work of its special team in Guinea.

After jump, a Canadian vaccine heads for trials, a production push [assisted by Bill Gates] for another drug, a stark prognosis for India, false alarms in Costa Rica and Spain, on to Africa and a celebrity video campaign, a grim food warning for the hot zone, a Rwandan medical assist, East Africa promises medics and money, more Latin American assistance promised, medical staff recruitment problems remain, hot zone religious succor sought, South Sudan takes precautions, WHO outlines plans for African countries thus far spared, the plight of hot zone children, athletes stigmatized, on to Liberia and a stricken family, American/Liberian military bonding as the opening all promised treatment centers is delayed, numbers for one treatment unit, and heightened political divisions. . . Continue reading

Sugar not only fattens you, it makes you older


In the upcoming election, both Berkeley and San Francisco voters will decide ballot measures to impose a tax on sugared drinks designed as a public health measure to combat obesity and all its attendant ills.

Big Ag is resolutely opposing both measures, and supersizing the fight with millions of dollars earned by fattening us up.

Now a new study from the University of California, San Francisco, adds weight [as it were] to their arguments, exposing yet another medical threat posed by sugar [or high fructose corn syrup, in the case of most commercial soft drinks].

From Newswise:

Sugared Soda Consumption, Cell Aging Associated in New Study

  • UCSF Scientists Find Shorter Telomeres in Immune Cells of Soda Drinkers

Sugar-sweetened soda consumption might promote disease independently from its role in obesity, according to UC San Francisco researchers who found in a new study that drinking sugary drinks was associated with cell aging.

The study revealed that telomeres — the protective units of DNA that cap the ends of chromosomes in cells — were shorter in the white blood cells of survey participants who reported drinking more soda. The findings were reported online October 16, 2014 in the American Journal of Public Health.

The length of telomeres within white blood cells — where it can most easily be measured — has previously been associated with human lifespan. Short telomeres also have been associated with the development of chronic diseases of aging, including heart disease, diabetes, and some types of cancer.

“Regular consumption of sugar-sweetened sodas might influence disease development, not only by straining the body’s metabolic control of sugars, but also through accelerated cellular aging of tissues,” said Elissa Epel, PhD, professor of psychiatry at UCSF and senior author of the study.

“This is the first demonstration that soda is associated with telomere shortness,” Epel said. “This finding held regardless of age, race, income and education level. Telomere shortening starts long before disease onset. Further, although we only studied adults here, it is possible that soda consumption is associated with telomere shortening in children, as well.”

Chart of the day: America’s growing wealth divide


From the Urban Institute via the Washington Post:

BLOG Racial divide

InSecurityWatch: Threats, war, hacks, spies


And more. . .

We begin with a very real security threat from Salon:

Americans see economic inequality as a bigger threat than nuclear weapons

  • Asked to name top threat to the world, a plurality of Americans say it’s the gap between rich and poor

Pew polled people in 44 countries for the survey. In the U.S., 27 percent of respondents named income inequality as the biggest danger to the world, followed by religious and ethnic hatred (24 percent), nuclear weapons (23 percent), pollution and the environment (15 percent), and AIDS and other diseas (7 percent). Europe, which was also hard hit by the Great Recession and whose leaders have since embarked on an agenda of economic austerity, joined the U.S. in seeing economic inequality as the top global threat.

The findings are part of Pew’s spring 2014 Global Attitudes poll. Earlier this month, Pew unveiled data from the survey showing that a plurality of Americans support raising taxes as a means of combating economic inequality.

The percentage of Americans naming inequality as the top global threat has increased sharply since the Great Recession. In 2007, just 17 percent of Americans told Pew that they considered inequality the biggest threat.

And on to the highest profile conflict of the moment from BBC News:

Islamic State ‘being driven out of Syria’s Kobane’

The Islamic State (IS) militant group has been driven out of most of the northern Syrian town of Kobane, a Kurdish commander has told the BBC.

Baharin Kandal said IS fighters had retreated from all areas, except for two pockets of resistance in the east. US-led air strikes have helped push back the militants, with another 14 conducted over the past 24 hours.

Meanwhile, the new UN human rights commissioner has called IS a “potentially genocidal” movement. Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein described the group as the antithesis of human rights.

From TheLocal.dk, the latest player in the bombing war:

Danish F-16s carry out first mission against Isis

For the first time since parliament approved Denmark’s military involvement in northern Iraq, Danish jets took to the air to support an American-led mission.

Danish F-16 fighter jets participated in their first mission over northern Iraq on Thursday, the Defence Ministry announced.

“The jets took part in an operation over Iraq in close cooperation with our coalition partners. Our people have made dedicated and highly professional efforts to be ready and I am very pleased that the Danish F-16s are now actively contributing to the international coalition’s fight against the Islamic State,” Defence Minister Nicolai Wammen said in a statement.

Another high-flyer from the Guardian:

UK to send armed drones to assist campaign against Isis

  • Foreign secretary says drones will carry out surveillance over Iraq, and defence secretary says they will add to strike capability

Britain is to send heavily armed Reaper drones to the Middle East to help in the fight against forces from the Islamic State in Iraq.

Philip Hammond, the foreign secretary, told MPs that the Reaper drones would add to Britain’s surveillance operations over Iraq. Michael Fallon, the defence secretary, said the drones would add to Britain’s “strike capability”.

Hammond told the Commons: “We are in the process of redeploying some of our Reaper remotely piloted aircraft from Afghanistan to the Middle East to add to our surveillance capabilities.”

Blowback from the Guardian:

Threat of extremist attack in UK is escalating, say police

  • About 50 people a week referred to deradicalisation programmes, with 218 terror-related arrests so far this year

Britain’s most senior counter-terrorism officer has said that several plots this year to murder people on Britain’s streets “directed by or inspired by terrorism overseas” have already been disrupted, with police activity to prevent extremist attacks at its highest level for years.

Scotland Yard assistant commissioner Mark Rowley said Britain’s counter-terrorism network was battling increasing radicalisation via the internet, with fears that young British people are being brainwashed by material including depictions of beheadings, suicides, murder and torture. About 50 people a week are being referred to deradicalisation programmes, he said.

Activity to stop an attack was said by one source to be the highest since the aftermath of the 7 July 2005 attack on London’s transport system, with the threat level escalating as the year has worn on.

From BBC News, gee, we’re shocked:

US ‘hid Iraq chemical weapons incidents’

US troops and Iraqi police were wounded by exposure to abandoned chemical weapons in 2004-11 in a series of incidents largely kept quiet by the Pentagon, a US newspaper has reported.

The New York Times said the weapons were built by Saddam Hussein’s regime during the 1980s Iran-Iraq war.

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/10/14/world/middleeast/us-casualties-of-iraq-chemical-weapons.html

Soldiers and police uncovered about 5,000 warheads, shells or bombs.

The Times based its report on dozens of pages of classified documents, and interviews with soldiers and officials.

And from the Intercept, an ominous development:

New Zealand Cops Raided Home of Reporter Working on Snowden Documents

Agents from New Zealand’s national police force ransacked the home of a prominent independent journalist earlier this month who was collaborating with The Intercept on stories from the NSA archive furnished by Edward Snowden. The stated purpose of the 10-hour police raid was to identify the source for allegations that the reporter, Nicky Hager, recently published in a book that caused a major political firestorm and led to the resignation of a top government minister.

But in seizing all the paper files and electronic devices in Hager’s home, the authorities may have also taken source material concerning other unrelated stories that Hager was pursuing. Recognizing the severity of the threat posed to press freedoms from this raid, the Freedom of the Press Foundation today announced a global campaign to raise funds for Hager’s legal defense.

In August, one month before New Zealand’s national election, Hager published Dirty Politics, which showed that key figures in Prime Minister John Key’s National Party were feeding derogatory information about their opponents to a virulent right-wing blogger named Cameron Slater. Hager published evidence in the form of incriminating emails, provided by a hacker, demonstrating coordination between National Party officials and Slater. The ensuing scandal forced the resignation of a top Key ally, Justice Minister Judith Collins, and implicated numerous other National Party officials and supporters. Despite the scandal, the National Party won a resounding victory in the election, sending Key to a third term as prime minister.

From Al Jazeera America, The Most Transparent Administration in American History™ is a sore loser:

US may appeal release of Guantanamo tape

Federal judge asked to halt plans for releasing video showing Guantanamo Bay hunger striker being force-fed his meals.

The United States government has asked a federal judge to halt plans for releasing videotapes showing a Guantanamo Bay hunger striker being force-fed his meals.

In court papers filed on Wednesday night, the Justice Department told US District Judge Gladys Kessler that the government may appeal an order by the judge that would, for the first time, lead to disclosure of classified information in a proceeding involving a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay.

The Justice Department told Kessler that she was substituting the court’s judgment for that of executive branch officials, contrary to established precedent.

intelNews covers old school spookery:

Senior Polish defense official detained for ‘spying for Russia’

A high-ranking official in Poland’s Ministry of National Defense has reportedly been arrested on suspicion of spying for Russia.

Poland’s Dziennik Gazeta Prawna said early on Wednesday that a man had been detained by Polish security personnel because it was thought he had been acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign country. Another source, Poland’s commercial news Radio Zet, reported that two men had been arrested, a colonel in the Polish Army and a lawyer with dual Polish-Russian citizenship.

Later in the day, an official statement from the office of the Senior Military Prosecutor said simply that Poland’s “Ministry of National Defense detained a Polish Army officer on suspicion of being a member of a foreign intelligence service.”

And RT covers Cold War 2.0, the latest complication:

US tanks arrive in Latvia to ward off ‘perceived’ Russian threat

US tanks have arrived in Latvia as NATO flexes its muscles in an apparent show of strength towards Moscow. The machines are being deployed across the Baltic States and Poland over the next two weeks and will be used for training exercises.

The 1st Cavalry Division, based at Fort Hood in Texas, was deployed in Adazi, not far from the Latvian capital of Riga. 150 soldiers used five M1A2 Abrams tanks, as well as 11 Bradley Fighting Vehicles in a training demonstration.

The commander of the 1st Brigade of the 1st Cavalry Division, John Di Giambattista said, “This is more than just a training mission. This is more than just a trip across the Atlantic; this is more than a multinational training exercise. This is how we demonstrate our nations’ commitment to reassure our NATO allies,” Reuters reports.

After the jump, neo-Nazi legislators to stand trial in Greece, Another FBI blast at citizen encryption coupled with a shot at China, hackers game the latest online ad tech, cybercam spookery, another corporation found selling our their “secure” devices, an NSA exec’s curious enterprises, an intriguing story about what Greenwald and company haven’t published, “smart meter” hacking, the latest Cold War 2.0 move, more mass grave found as search for Mexican students intensifies and anger rises, an Aussie/Japanese Channel sub deal draws closer, Korean military talks stall, another Korean nuclear threat [from the U.S.], on to Hong Kong as the crackdown intensifies, America responds, and pointless talks are proposed, Taiwan frets over Chinese maritime moves and Japan looks to America for critical help, Japanese lawmakers pay a provocative visit [Abe does it with an offering], and an even more provocative moved aimed at banishing any admission of World War II war guilt. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Drought, critters, crime, nukes


We being with the latest California drought development from the Los Angeles Times:

Amid drought, Mayor Garcetti directs L.A. to cut water use 20% by 2017

Mayor Eric Garcetti on Tuesday challenged Los Angeles residents, businesses and city agencies to cut water use by 20% over the next 21/2 years and warned of new water restrictions if conservation targets aren’t met.

In announcing the plan, Garcetti said the city’s already significant reductions in water use were inadequate given the seriousness of the drought.

“The ongoing drought has created a water crisis second to none. We need bold action,” the mayor said.

From the Guardian, a deadly nexus:

Fossil fuel industry supported by a ‘toxic triangle’ that puts 400 million at risk

  • Political inertia, financial short-termism and vested fossil fuel interests threaten to push up global temperatures, says Oxfam

Political inertia, financial short-termism and vested fossil fuel interests have formed a “toxic triangle” that threatens to push up global temperatures, putting 400 million people at risk of hunger and drought by 2060, Oxfam said on Friday, a week before a European Union summit to finalise a new climate and energy policy framework.

In its Food, Fossil Fuels and Filthy Finance report, Oxfam warned that EU leaders must resist pressure from the fossil fuel industry, which spends at least €44 million (£35m) a year on lobbying the European bloc, and commit to cuts of at least 55% in carbon dioxide emissions, energy savings of at least 40% and an increase in the use of sustainable renewable energy to at least 45% of the energy mix.

EU leaders meet in Brussels on October 23-24 to agree on targets for emissions cuts by 2030, deployment of renewable energy and improving energy efficiency. The meeting comes ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris next year. The leaders are expected to agree an emissions cut target of 40% over 1990 levels, but Oxfam said this would not be enough if Europe was to make a fair contribution to tackling climate change. The European Union emits about 10% of global carbon dioxide.

Another deadly entity from Science:

Deadly virus striking European amphibians

A virus that has slipped into several European countries is alarming herpetologists, as it ravages amphibians. A type of ranavirus (RV) is being blamed for gruesome deaths and declining populations of a wide range of species in the Picos de Europa National Park in northern Spain, according to research published today in Current Biology. “This is the best example to date of RV being a serious threat to amphibian populations,” says Karen Lips of the University of Maryland, College Park, who was not involved in the research.

The virus adds to the woes of the world’s amphibians, which have been declining at a worrying rate. A major culprit, the chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis has afflicted a wide range of species since it was discovered in 1998. In particular, it has apparently driven many species of frogs extinct in the tropics. The new RV, in contrast, seems to be a problem for temperate species.

Unusual amphibian deaths in the Spanish park were first noticed in 2005. With help from Jaime Bosch of the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid, park biologists have kept close tabs on six common species of amphibians that live there. They’ve been seeing sick animals with necrotic tissue, open sores, and internal hemorrhages. Some vomit blood. “It’s not a pretty sight,” says Stephen Price, a molecular biologist at University College London.

Bearing arms against bears from the Guardian:

Romanian politician calls for the army to help control bear population

Csaba Borboly has called for military assistance and for culling quotas to be lifted following a spate of cases involving brown bears damaging property in Romania

In the depths of Transylvania, Romania, a war against one of Europe’s largest brown bear populations is looming.

Following a string of cases involving damage to private property from bears in recent months, Csaba Borboly, a senior politician from the Transylvanian region, has called for the army to be brought in. “The [bear] problem needs the involvement of specialised state institutions such as the police, the paramilitary and even the army.”

Borboly’s remarks follow on the heels of a decision made in late September by the Romanian government to raise the bear hunting quota by the largest margin in recent history. The new quota allows for 550 bears to be killed over the next 12 months, up two-thirds from the 2012 quota.

Some good news for a magnificent endangered critter from Punch Nigeria:

Interpol issues arrest warrant for Kenya’s ivory kingpin

International Police Organisation (Interpol) on Thursday issued a warrant to arrest Mombasa businessman Feisal Ali Mohammed, suspected dealer in poaching syndicate in East Africa region.

Interpol has sent out a Red Alert to member countries to assist in the arrest of Feisal, who is wanted for alleged engaging in wildlife trophies trade in Kenya.

Police say Feisal is wanted in connection to last year’s seizure of three tonnes of ivory found in a yard in Tudor in Mombasa. Interpol is expected to send the Red Alert to member countries, notifying officials it is a priority to pass along any information on his whereabouts.

A source within the police indicated that Interpol will increase information exchange, support intelligence analysis and assist national and regional investigations, to apprehend kingpins in wildlife poaching.

Questions about another critter under deep threat from KCST in Seattle:

Is Alaska Safe For Sea Stars?

Program notes:

A deadly disease has been wiping out West Coast starfish for more than a year. One place that has held off the disease the longest is Alaska. Researchers recently traveled there to search for new clues.

“Almost everywhere we’ve looked in the last year, we’ve seen catastrophic losses of sea stars,” says Pete Raimondi, a biology professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who has been studying an alarming epidemic that’s been killing starfish by the millions.

Raimondi’s team has been tracking the spread of the disease. They noticed signs of the disease in Sitka in the summer of 2013, but there hasn’t been a mass die-off until now. Scientists believe that warming water or an infectious pathogen, like a bacteria or virus, may be to blame, but no one knows for certain.

On to Fukushimapocalypse Now! with the Asahi Shimbun:

Plans to remove cover over damaged Fukushima reactor draws concern

Amid local concerns of the further spread of radioactive materials, Tokyo Electric Power Co. announced plans to start dismantling the canopy installed over the destroyed Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant’s No. 1 reactor building.

The operation, announced by TEPCO on Oct. 15, will remove the cover that was erected in October 2011 over the building to prevent radioactive materials from entering the atmosphere.

The structure’s walls and roof were destroyed in a hydrogen explosion that occurred after the plant was struck by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami

The Japan Times covers political resistance:

More answers about Fukushima disaster needed before reactor restarts, Niigata governor says

Niigata Gov. Hirohiko Izumida said Japan should not restart any nuclear plants until the cause of the Fukushima meltdowns is fully understood and nearby communities have emergency plans that can effectively respond to another major disaster.

Izumida, whose prefecture is home to Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s seven-reactor Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, said on Wednesday that regulators look at equipment but don’t evaluate local evacuation plans.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pushing to restart two reactors in Kagoshima Prefecture that last month were the first to be approved under stricter safety requirements introduced after the Fukushima disaster started. Nuclear Regulation Authority Chairman Shunichi Tanaka has called the new standard one of the world’s highest.

And from the London Telegraph, Britain’s just-approved nuclear power complex hits a stumbling block:

Hinkley Point nuclear energy deal under investigation by National Audit Office

  • Spending watchdog quietly began probe a year ago, it emerges

The National Audit Office has been quietly investigating the subsidy deal for the proposed Hinkley Point nuclear plant for the past year, it emerged on Thursday.

In recent days both the Labour Party and the Commons Environmental Audit Committee have urged the spending watchdog to examine the deal, which commits consumers to pay up to £17bn in subsidies to developer EDF over a 35-year period.

But the NAO confirmed on Thursday night that an investigation was in fact already well underway. It announced the move in a little-noticed statement on its website on October 21st last year, the day the headline terms of a subsidy contract with the Government were unveiled.

The statement said the watchdog would investigate the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC)’s “commercial approach to securing this deal and the proposed terms of the contract” and would “report to Parliament on value for money and the resulting risks which the Department must manage”.

More nuclear questions raised, via Al Jazeera America:

Former workers, whistleblowers shed light on nuclear site safety setbacks

  • Former employees at Hanford, the country’s most contaminated nuclear waste site, discuss its disturbing safety culture

On the banks of the Columbia River, miles of open land sit undeveloped behind barbed wire fences. A handful of mysterious structures dot the landscape, remnants from the early days of the Cold War. Passing by the old Hanford nuclear production complex can feel like a journey into the past.

Known simply as Hanford, workers here produced plutonium for the world’s first atomic bomb and for many of the nation’s current nuclear warheads. The site was first developed in 1943 as part of the Manhattan Project and ceased plutonium production nearly 50 years later, leaving behind 53 million gallons of highly radioactive waste. Spanning 586 square miles, it is now ground zero for the largest cleanup project in America.

For 27 years, Mike Geffre was part of that effort, working in an area known as the tank farms: 177 massive underground storage tanks, which hold up to 1 million gallons each of the country’s most toxic nuclear waste.

Fracking foe intimidation from the Guardian:

Anti-fracking activist faces fines and jail time in ongoing feud with gas firm

  • Company claims the Pennsylvania woman showed ‘blatant disregard’ for injunction banning her from being near well sites

An oil and gas company is seeking fines and jail time for a peaceful anti-fracking activist in Pennsylvania, according to court documents.

In a motion filed this week, lawyers for Cabot Oil and Gas Corporation, one of the biggest operators in Pennsylvania, asked the Susquehanna County court to find longtime activist Vera Scroggins in contempt of an injunction barring her from areas near its well sites.

The row between Cabot and Scroggins became notorious in environmental and human rights circles after the company sought last year to ban the activist from an area of about 310 sq miles (803 sq km) – or about half the entire county. The scope of that ban was later reduced

Finally, from Science cold [shouldered] fusion:

U.S. fusion plan draws blistering critique

Many U.S. fusion scientists are blasting a report that seeks to map out a 10-year strategic plan for their field, calling it “flawed,” “unsatisfactory,” and the product of a rushed process rife with potential conflicts of interest. One result: Last week, most members of a 23-person government advisory panel had to recuse themselves from voting on the report as a result of potential conflicts.

“The whole process was unsatisfactory,” says Martin Greenwald of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT’s) Plasma Science and Fusion Center in Cambridge.

Achieving fusion—nuclear reactions that have the potential to produce copious, clean energy—requires heating hydrogen fuel to more than 100 million degrees Celsius, causing it to become an ionized gas or plasma. Huge and expensive reactors are needed to contain the superhot plasma long enough for reactions to start. The largest current fusion effort is the ITER tokamak, a machine under construction in France with support from the United States and international partners. But no fusion reactor has yet produced more energy than it consumes.