Category Archives: Politics

Ebola, its origins, and how it spreads


If you are at all interested in the sudden surge of Ebola outbreaks in Africa, then this 28 August lecture at the University of California’s public health school in Berkeley will fill in a lot of gaps in your knowledge.

The speaker is a pediatrician and epidemiologist who was there at the beginning, investigating the first major outbreak in 1976 in the Sudan, where he learned first-hand about the disease and the devastation it brings.

Especially illuminating is his explanation of the reasons behind both the disaster the disease inflicts on the medical staff who care for them, with infected doctors and nurses themselves sparking a surge in new cases.

Also notable are the impacts of contrasting forms of government and traditional burial practices on outbreak containment,

Donald P. Francis serves as executive director of Global Solutions for Infectious Diseases in San Francisco, a global NGO.

Here’s an excerpt from his bio:

An infectious disease trained pediatrician and epidemiologist, Dr. Francis has over 30 years experience in epidemic control and vaccines. He spent 21 years working for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) focusing on vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles, cholera, smallpox, and hepatitis B. He directed the WHO’s Smallpox Eradication Program in Sudan and U.P. State in Northern India. His hepatitis B vaccine work included Phase III trials among gay men in the United States and among infants born to carrier mothers in China. Dr. Francis was also a member of the WHO team investigating the world’s first outbreak of Ebola virus in 1976. Dr. Francis has worked on HIV/AIDS since its emergence in 1981.

From UC Berkeley Events:

The 2014 Ebola Outbreak: Update on an Unprecedented Public Health Event

Program note:

Dr. Francis, MD, DSc is the Executive Director at Global Solutions for Infectious Diseases (GSID) in South San Francisco.

They had a dream: Americans face a new reality


That reality would be, of course, the neoliberal nightmare in which the relationship between business and labor is severed, and citizens begin to realize that they have little or no say in a political process now totally controlled by corporateers and banksters who fund the whole electoral process [including, increasingly, the disenfranchisement of African Americans and the poor].

In the context, consider this report from RT:

Paradise lost: 60% of US citizens believe American dream is unachievable

Program notes:

Hard work will lead to success — at least that’s part of what’s known in the US as the American Dream. But some 6 out of every 10 citizens there now think the idea that ties the nation together — is under threat and a summit is taking place in Dallas to try and save it. RT’s Marina Portnaya looks at why — for many — the American Dream is now out of reach.

InSecurityWatch: Cops, alarms, hacks, zones


The first of today’s headlines from the realms of state and personal security, militarism, spies, and all the rest begins with an internal security problem in the U.S., the right of citizens of color to treated with dignity by the armed representatives of the state.

From Reuters:

U.N. urges U.S. to stop police brutality after Missouri shooting

The U.N. racism watchdog urged the United States on Friday to halt the excessive use of force by police after the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white policeman touched off riots in Ferguson, Missouri.

Minorities, particularly African Americans, are victims of disparities, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) said after examining the U.S. record.

“Racial and ethnic discrimination remains a serious and persistent problem in all areas of life from de facto school segregation, access to health care and housing,” Noureddine Amir, CERD committee vice chairman, told a news briefing.

Oddly, a Google search turned up only one video on the story, and that from Iran’s PressTV News:

UN watchdog calls on US police to end racism, brutal tactics

Program note:

A United Nations watchdog is calling on the US police to put an end to racism and brutal tactics in the force.

From the American Civil Liberties Union, one step in the right direction, with a caution:

Body-Worn Cameras Should Not Expand Beyond Law Enforcement

The Guardian reported last week that Miami Beach is planning on expanding the use of body cameras beyond the police to include “meter maids,” code enforcement officers, and building and fire inspectors. This use of the technology does not make sense.

We’ve always been concerned about the privacy-invading potential of body cameras. As we wrote in our white paper on the technology,

Body cameras have more of a potential to invade privacy than [other] deployments. Police officers enter people’s homes and encounter bystanders, suspects, and victims in a wide variety of sometimes stressful and extreme situations. . . . Perhaps most troubling is that some recordings will be made inside people’s homes, whenever police enter—including in instances of consensual entry… and such things as domestic violence calls.

Balanced against these privacy dangers, however, is the significant need to increase oversight in light of the long record of abusive and illegal behavior by police officers (and other law enforcement agents like Border Patrol officers). Police in specific circumstances are given the authority to shoot to kill, to use brutal force, and to arrest citizens—and all too often, officers abuse those powers.

Across the Atlantic with an alarm from the Los Angeles Times:

Britain raises security threat from ‘substantial’ to ‘severe’

Responding to recent events in Syria in Iraq, Britain has upgraded its security threat level to “severe,” the government announced Friday, meaning a terrorist attack there is “highly likely.”

The nation’s Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre, an independent body, made the determination based on its latest intelligence, officials said.

This is the first time in three years that the U.K. has been at such a heightened security threat level.

From CBC News, enshrining the national security state:

David Cameron, British PM, plans new laws to tackle terrorism threat

  • U.K. raises terror threat level to severe over Syria, Iraq concerns

British Prime Minister David Cameron says he’ll introduce new laws to combat terror suspects, pledging to seize passports to fight what he described as an extremist threat more dangerous than any previously seen.

Cameron told reporters that while the Taliban facilitated al-Qaeda terrorism, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group is “effectively a state run by terrorists.”

“We could be facing a terrorist state on the shores of the Mediterranean and bordering a NATO member,” he said.

From TechWeekEurope, protest:

Surveillance Protesters Picket GCHQ

  • Britain’s top secret eavesdropping agency, GCHQ, faces a weekend of protests by privacy campaigners

The security cameras surrounding the Government Communications Headquarters, more commonly known as GCHQ, had a busy Friday with a small group of online activists staging a low-key protest outside.

The small number of protesters on Friday were reportedly outnumbered by the police and members of the media, according to the BBC. There was minor disruption at the Cheltenham site on Friday morning, as GCHQ staff were driven by bus into the site itself, instead of the usual practice of being dropped off outside.

GCHQ at Cheltenham, GloucestershireA much larger protest by the ‘We Are Anonymous’ group at the Cheltenham site is expected to take place over the weekend.

The protest is in support of a legal challenge by civil liberty groups, including Privacy International, Liberty, Amnesty International, the American Civil Liberties Union, and others. The groups are mounting a legal challenge against the alleged use of mass surveillance by intelligence services.

The New York Times covers blowback from the Bush era:

As Blackwater Trial Closes, Focus Turns to Moments Before Chaos

When jurors begin deliberating next week in the murder and manslaughter trial of four former Blackwater Worldwide contractors, so much will depend not on the frenzied minutes of heavy gunfire in the busy Nisour Square in Baghdad, but on the moments of relative calm just before the chaos.

Traffic had come to a halt on Sept. 16, 2007, as four American armored trucks blocked the entrance to the square. Traffic police waved their arms, and the cars piled up. Then, two vehicles back, on the main artery running north into the traffic circle, a white Kia abruptly lurched forward.

The machine-gun fire was about to begin. Seventeen Iraqis would soon be dead.

Twelve American jurors will have to decide whether it was a massacre, a firefight or a horrible accident of war. The verdict will close seven years of investigation into a shooting that inflamed anti-American sentiment and was a nadir in the Iraq war. Blackwater, once a major security contractor, came to symbolize American power run amok. The fallout from the shooting unraveled the company, which was sold and renamed Academi.

From TechWeekEurope, cyberwar:

Syrian Malware Team Thought To Be Behind BlackWorm RAT

  • A lesser-known group of pro-government hackers is pushing sophisticated malware

A group calling itself the Syrian Malware Team (SMT) has been spotted carrying out attacks using the sophisticated BlackWorm Remote Access Tool (RAT), with one of the members thought to be responsible for its creation.

According to security vendor FireEye, which identified 11 members of the group, SMT supports the government of Bashir Al-Assad, and even puts the president’s face on its banners.

The group is suspected to have links to the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA), which has been making headlines following a string of successful attacks against e-commerce sites, social networks and media organisations.

And from Bloomberg News, cyberextortion:

‘Your Money or Your Files’ as Threat of Online Stickups Grows

You’re an entrepreneur, managing the business from your PC. You’re a doting mother, with hundreds of photos of your children on your laptop. Now, if someone seized all those files, how much would you pay to get them back?

There’s nothing theoretical about the scenario. Hundreds of thousands of people have had to wrestle with that question as so-called ransomware infections have surged, encrypting billions of documents. Hackers demand hundreds or thousands of dollars to provide the key that unscrambles files so you can view and use them again. One particularly virulent strain, called CryptoWall, has infected about 625,000 systems and encrypted more than 5.25 billion files since mid-March, according to new research from Dell SecureWorks. One desperate U.S. victim paid the hackers $10,000.

Most malware is like a pickpocket, taking your valuables before you’re aware of it. CryptoWall and other ransomware is like a mugger: your money or your files. It’s smart, really, because in most cases, your files are most valuable to you. It’s also easy money for hackers, a lot less work than trying to sell 40 million purloined card numbers on the black market, a la the Target breach. Keith Jarvis, a SecureWorks researcher in Atlanta, found that 1,683 CryptoWall victims forked over a total of $1.1 million to the hackers.

Bloomberg again, this time toting up a tab:

The Cyber-Terror Bailout: They’re Already Talking About It, and You May Be on the Hook

Bankers and U.S. officials have warned that cyber-terrorists will try to wreck the financial system’s computer networks. What they aren’t saying publicly is that taxpayers will probably have to cover much of the damage.

Even if customers don’t lose money from a hacking assault on JPMorgan Chase & Co., the episode is a reminder that banks with the most sophisticated defenses are vulnerable. Treasury Department officials have quietly told bank insurers that in the event of a cataclysmic attack, they would activate a government backstop that doesn’t explicitly cover electronic intrusions, two people briefed on the talks said.

“I can’t foresee a situation where the president wouldn’t do something via executive order,” said Edward DeMarco, general counsel of the Risk Management Association, a professional group of the banking industry. “All we’re talking about is the difference between the destruction of tangible property and intangible property.”

The Register covers a chilling hack:

Ice cream headache as black hat hacks sack Dairy Queen

  • I scream, you scream, we all scream ‘DATA BREACH’!

Ice cream mogul Dairy Queen appears to have been breached with hackers likely stealing credit cards from some of its many US stores.

The chilling news comes from sources within the US banking sector who separately told cyber-crime prober Brian Krebs that fraudulent transactions on credit cards appeared to have stemmed from a breach at the company.

Dairy Queen admitted the US Secret Service had been in touch after initial waffle claiming it had no evidence of a breach.

From the Guardian, the corporation strikes again:

US cable giants call on FCC to block cities’ expansion of high-speed internet

  • USTelecom wants to block expansion of popular networks in Chattanooga, Tennessee and Wilson, North Carolina

The US cable industry called on the Federal Communications Commission on Friday to block two cities’ plans to expand high-speed internet services to their residents.

USTelecom, which represents cable giants Comcast, Time Warner and others, wants the FCC to block expansion of two popular municipally owned high speed internet networks, one in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and the other in Wilson, North Carolina.

“The success of public broadband is a mixed record, with numerous examples of failures,” USTelecom said in a blog post. “With state taxpayers on the financial hook when a municipal broadband network goes under, it is entirely reasonable for state legislatures to be cautious in limiting or even prohibiting that activity.”

On to drones, starting with this from the Guardian:

California to introduce tough new measures to limit police drone use

  • Bill would require state’s police to seek a warrant for unmanned drone use in virtually all situations other than emergencies

California is poised to introduce tough new controls on police deployment of drones for surveillance, as the debate around the acceptable uses of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) gathers pace.

Bill AB1327 has passed all stages in the California legislature and now awaits the signature of governor Jerry Brown. Should Brown give it the green light, as expected, it would send a powerful message across America about the limits of drone surveillance from the technology capital of the country.

Under the bill, police departments throughout the state would be required to seek a warrant from a judge in virtually all situations other than in emergencies, such as an oil spillage, fire or hostage-taking. Where surveillance images have been recorded, they would have to be destroyed within one year.

And from United Press International, calling Ranger Rick!:

Yellowstone endures third drone violation in less than two months

“Even if we can locate it, is it feasible to remove it?” Yellowstone officials ponder of the second of three recently crashed drones.

Park and wildlife officials in Wyoming are experiencing déjà vu after a third individual was cited for flying an unmanned areal surveillance device in less than two months.

The latest offender was cited Aug. 19 for flying his personal drone in the area around the Midway Geyser Basin according to Yellowstone spokesman Al Nash. Unlike past offenders, the latest drone operator managed to avoid harming the national park.

Since National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis banned the use of unmanned areal devices across the park system’s 84 million protected acres in June, three individuals have been cited for flying drones in Yellowstone alone, with a fourth citation in Grand Teton National Park.

From Reuters, summing up:

Ukraine seeks to join NATO; defiant Putin compares Kiev to Nazis

Ukraine called on Friday for full membership in NATO, its strongest plea yet for Western military help, after accusing Russia of sending in armored columns that have driven back its forces on behalf of pro-Moscow rebels.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, defiant as ever, compared Kiev’s drive to regain control of its rebellious eastern cities to the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in World War Two. He announced that rebels had succeeded in halting it, and proposed that they now permit surrounded Ukrainian troops to retreat.

Speaking to young people at a summer camp, Putin told his countrymen they must be “ready to repel any aggression towards Russia.” He described Ukrainians and Russians as “practically one people,” language that Ukrainians say dismisses the very existence of their thousand-year-old nation.

From the Independent, a curious tale:

Oil tanker with $100 million cargo goes missing off Texas coast

An oil tanker loaded with $100 million of disputed Iraqi Kurdish crude has disappeared of the coast of Texas in the latest development in a high stakes game of cat-and-mouse between Baghdad and the Kurds.

The AIS ship tracking system used by the U.S. Coast Guard and Reuters on Thursday showed no known position for the United Kalavrvta, which was carrying 1 million barrels of crude and 95 percent full when it went dark.

Several other tankers carrying disputed crude from Iran or Iraqi Kurdistan have unloaded cargoes after switching off their transponders, which makes their movements hard to track.

After the jump, the latest from the Asian Game of Zones, including ongoing tensions in Pakistan, Abe’s Indian Modhi-vation, Sino-Russian military ties, more Chinese plane posturing and reasons therefor, Chinese courts open, Japan yens for a beefier military, and a curious North Korean defection. . . Continue reading

Joseph Stiglitz: On the corporate looting machine


In conversation with Bill Moyers, the Nobel laureate economist deconstructs the parasitic nature of the postmodern neoliberally reconstructed politically empowered machine that is, shall we say, RoboCorp.

From Moyers & Company:

Joseph E. Stiglitz: Let’s Stop Subsidizing Tax Dodgers

Program notes:

A recent report by Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz for the Roosevelt Institute suggests that paying our fair share of taxes and cracking down on corporate tax dodgers could be a cure for inequality and a faltering economy.

This week on Moyers & Company, Stiglitz tells Bill Moyers that Apple, Google, GE and a host of other Fortune 500 companies are creating what amounts to “an unlimited IRA for corporations.” The result? Vast amounts of lost revenue for our treasury and the exporting of much-needed jobs to other countries.

“I think we can use our tax system to create a better society, to be an expression of our true values,” Stiglitz says. “But if people don’t think that their tax system is fair, they’re not going to want to contribute. It’s going to be difficult to get them to pay. And, unfortunately, right now, our tax system is neither fair nor efficient.”

EnviroWatch: Ebola, kiddie toxins, dams, nukes


Another slow news day, except on the Ebola front, where there’s a potentially huge development.

From the Associated Press:

Experimental Ebola drug heals all monkeys in study

An experimental Ebola drug healed all 18 monkeys infected with the deadly virus in a study, boosting hopes that the treatment might help fight the outbreak raging through West Africa.

Scientists gave the drug, called ZMapp, three to five days after infecting the monkeys in the lab. Most were showing symptoms by then, and all completely recovered.

Three other infected monkeys not given the drug died.

From the Los Angeles Times, the virus crosses another border:

West Africa Ebola outbreak spreads to Senegal

Authorities in Senegal confirmed their first Ebola case on Friday as the worst outbreak on record continued to spread in West Africa.

The patient is a university student from neighboring Guinea, where the outbreak was first detected in March, Health Minister Awa Marie Coll Seck told reporters in the Senegalese capital, Dakar.

Health officials from Guinea informed the country on Wednesday that a young man who had been under surveillance there disappeared three weeks ago and may have traveled to Senegal, she said. The student was located at a hospital in Dakar, where he had presented himself the previous day without disclosing that he had had close contacts with Ebola victims in his home country.

From Science, another side of the tragedy:

Ebola’s heavy toll on study authors

The ongoing Ebola virus disease outbreak is taking an appalling toll on health workers in West Africa. More than 240 have been infected and more than 120 have died.

At Kenema Government Hospital (KGH) in Sierra Leone, where the country’s first case was diagnosed, more than 2 dozen nurses, doctors, and support staff have died of Ebola. KGH is where many of the samples were collected for a paper published online today in Science that analyzes the genetics of the virus responsible for the disease.

Highlighting the danger to those caring for infected people, five of the paper’s co-authors—all experienced members of the hospital’s Lassa fever team—died of Ebola before its publication. (A sixth co-author, uninfected, also recently died as well.)

The Asahi Shimbun issues a call:

Doctor calls for more assistance to battle deadly Ebola epidemic in Africa

A Japanese doctor sent to Liberia to assist medical workers in the fight against the Ebola virus outbreak said that the West African nation is in dire straits and called for more assistance to local hospitals.

“Assistance, such as sending medical teams capable of giving instructions to local medical staff, is required,” Yasuyuki Kato told reporters at the ministry office in Tokyo on Aug. 28.

Kato, of the National Center for Global Health and Medicine, said hospitals in Liberia are not able to work effectively, and medical care workers are confounded by the disease.

Kato assisted medical workers in the Liberian capital of Monrovia between Aug. 3-20. The 44-year-old was in charge of opening a new facility to treat patients with the disease, and instructed more than 500 health-care personnel about Ebola virus prevention measures.

From the New York Times, another significant development:

Quarantine for Ebola Lifted in Liberia Slum

Liberia’s government announced Friday night that it would lift an Ebola quarantine on a large slum here in the capital, 10 days after attempts to cordon off the neighborhood from the rest of the city sparked deadly clashes and fueled doubts about President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s ability to handle the outbreak.

Residents of the neighborhood, West Point, will be free to move in and out starting Saturday at 6 a.m., said Lewis Brown, the minister of information. The army, which had pressed for the quarantine and took the lead in enforcing it in the first two days, will be removed from West Point, leaving only the police, Mr. Brown said.

A nationwide curfew, from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m., will remain in place, he said.

From the Associated Press, fear comes to campus:

Ebola in mind, US colleges screen some students

College students from West Africa may be subject to extra health checks when they arrive to study in the United States as administrators try to insulate campuses from the worst Ebola outbreak in history.

With the virus continuing to kill in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, the expected arrival of thousands of students from those countries has U.S. authorities on alert but cautioning against alarm.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued no specific recommendations for colleges, some state health departments, including in South Carolina and North Dakota, have spelled out for administrators what symptoms to look for and how to react.

Deutsche Welle gets ready:

Frankfurt authorities prepare for Ebola

  • Are we ready for Ebola? It’s a question the German media have been asking for weeks. Frankfurt Airport has come under particular scrutiny due to its size. But could Frankfurt really be an entry point for the disease?

Ebola continues to rage in Africa. So far, the virus has claimed more than 1,500 lives in the West African countries of Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. But the deadly disease has stirred fears on the European continent as well, triggering a string of false alarms.

With several airlines including British Airways and Air France cancelling flights to affected countries, European airports have been on the alert for weeks. As Germany’s biggest airport, Frankfurt has come under particular scrutiny. Over 58 million passengers pass through its sliding glass doors and terminals every year.

From BBC Sport, an ultimatum:

Nations Cup 2015: Ivory Coast risk disqualification

Ivory Coast will be disqualified from the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations if they forfeit their qualifier against Sierra Leone because of fears over Ebola.

The Ivorian government will not allow the match, which is scheduled for 6 September in Abidjan, to go ahead.

Ivory Coast said their options are “to relocate the game or forfeit”. But a Confederation of African Football  spokesman told BBC Sport: “If a country forfeits one qualifier, they will be disqualified from the championship.”

Elsewhere in Africa, other ailments. From Reuters:

No respite for South Sudan: cholera down but malaria, parasitic disease up: MSF

South Sudan’s cholera crisis is waning but humanitarian workers are now battling increased cases of malaria and the parasitic disease kala azar, with children most affected.

Conflict between the government and rebels has displaced 1.7 million people, or one in seven of the population, since December, with famine on the horizon.

At least 10,000 people have been killed since the fighting erupted in late 2013, pitting President Salva Kiir’s government forces against supporters of Riek Machar, his former deputy and longtime political rival.

While a cholera outbreak appears to be under control, other diseases are plaguing South Sudan’s hungry, displaced people.

The Independent covers a carcinogen found in those colorful braided bands so popular with youth:

Loom band charms withdrawn nationwide after testing positive for cancerous chemicals

Toy retailer The Entertainer has been forced to remove loom band charms from its stores, after it was revealed they contained suspected carcinogenic chemicals.

The Entertainer, Britain largest independent toy retailer with 92 stores, has launched a full investigation as it removes the charms from it stores nationwide.

Tests conducted by the BBC Midlands Today programme showed one charm contained 40 per cent of phthalates – EU law states 0.1 per cent in weight is the legal limit.

From the Asahi Shimbun, a warning:

SURVEY: More than 500 agricultural dams at risk in major earthquake

At least 510 dams and irrigation ponds for agricultural use have poor quake resistance strength, according to a nationwide survey by local governments.

The continuing general survey began after a dam in Fukushima Prefecture collapsed during the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, resulting in a number of fatalities.

The number of dams with insufficient quake resistance will likely increase as thousands of other locations have yet to be surveyed.

From BBC News, the first of two volcanic stories:

Iceland’s volcano ash alert lifted

An eruption near Iceland’s Bardarbunga volcano that briefly threatened flights has ended, local officials say.

The fissure eruption at the Holuhraun lava field north of the Vatnajokull glacier stopped at 04:00 GMT on Friday.

Before lifting air travel curbs, the Icelandic Met Office (IMO) lowered its aviation warning from red to orange – the second-highest level.

And the second, also from BBC News:

Volcano erupts in Papua New Guinea

A volcano in eastern Papua New Guinea has erupted, disrupting flights and spewing rocks and ash into the air.

Mount Tavurvur on New Britain island erupted early on Friday, forcing local communities to evacuate.

Officials said there have not been any reports of deaths or injuries so far.

Local residents of the island’s Rabaul district were advised to remain indoors to avoid falling ash. Australia issued travel warnings against visiting the island.

On to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, with the first of two stories from the Japan Times:

Heavy control console falls back into Fukushima fuel pool: Tepco

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said it’s detected no change in radiation levels in the No. 3 reactor building of the Fukushima No. 1 power plant after a 400-kg piece of equipment slipped from a crane and fell back into a pool holding spent uranium fuel rods.

The accident happened at around 12:45 p.m. on Friday as the beleaguered utility was attempting to move what it described as a crane control console, according to a statement on its website.

The console, about a meter wide and 1.6 meters high, was blown into the pool on March 14, 2011, when the No. 3 reactor building exploded following an earthquake and tsunami that wrecked the power plant and caused a station blackout.

And for our final item, also from the Japan Times:

Fukushima governor all but accepts radioactive storage plan

The Fukushima Prefectural Government effectively agreed Friday to the central government’s plan to store radioactive debris accumulating from nuclear decontamination efforts in the prefecture for three decades in return for ¥301 billion in subsidies.

“We’ve screened and confirmed safety and regional promotion measures as offered by the state,” Gov. Yuhei Sato told reporters after meeting with senior officials to discuss the matter.

Sato is formally convey his acceptance to Environment Minister Nobuteru Ishihara and Reconstruction Minister Takumi Nemoto as early as Monday. Arrangements are also under way for him to meet with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo.

Chart of the day: Obama’s non-green thumb


From the Los Angeles Times, the amount of marijuana grown by Uncle Sam for doling out to researchers plunged after the inauguration of Barack Obama, the nation’s first President to ever admit using the stuff [a topic we’ve previously noted:

BLOG Doobie

And to close, from a previous post:

Excerpts from the Washington Post Associate Editor David Maraniss’s book Barack Obama: The Story on our president’s days as a serious Hawaiian pothead and member of the ironically named Choom Gang, via Buzzfeed Politics:

Barry popularized the concept of “roof hits”: when they were chooming in the car all the windows had to be rolled up so no smoke blew out and went to waste; when the pot was gone, they tilted their heads back and sucked in the last bit of smoke from the ceiling.

When you were with Barry and his pals, if you exhaled precious pakalolo (Hawaiian slang for marijuana, meaning “numbing tobacco”) instead of absorbing it fully into your lungs, you were assessed a penalty and your turn was skipped the next time the joint came around. “Wasting good bud smoke was not tolerated,” explained one member of the Choom Gang, Tom Topolinski, the Chinese-looking kid with a Polish name who answered to Topo.

 

InSecurityWatch: Cops, hacks, spies drones, zones


We begin with demilitarization in a California college town from Sacramento’s KOVR-TV:

Davis City Council Tells Police To Have Plan For Getting Rid Of MRAP Military Vehicle In Next 60 Days

The Davis City Council has told the police department it must get rid of a military vehicle it received in the next 60 days.

The controversy over the mine-resistant, ambush protected vehicle attracted a large crowd on Tuesday that was largely against it.

The council adopted the resolution to come up with a plan to get rid of the vehicle. A petition is circulating asking the council to press the police to either get rid of or destroy the vehicle.

From the Washington Post, imitation, flattery, and all that:

Captives held by Islamic State were waterboarded

At least four hostages held in Syria by the Islamic State, including an American journalist who was recently executed by the group, were waterboarded in the early part of their captivity, according to people familiar with the treatment of the kidnapped Westerners.

James Foley was among the four who were waterboarded several times by Islamic State militants who appeared to model the technique on the CIA’s use of waterboarding to interrogate suspected terrorists after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The victims of waterboarding are often strapped down on gurneys or benches while cold water is poured over a cloth covering their faces; they suffer the sensation of feeling they are drowning. “The wet cloth creates a barrier through which it is difficult — or in some cases not possible — to breathe,” according to a May 2005 Justice Department memo on the CIA’s use of the technique.

From Reuters, an intervention to protect the deep political agenda:

Exclusive: U.S. may use secrets act to stop suit against Iran sanctions group

The U.S. government is considering using a powerful national security law to halt a private lawsuit against a non-profit group, United Against A Nuclear Iran, according to a source familiar with the case.

Greek businessman and ship owner Victor Restis last year sued UANI for defamation after the New York-based group, whose advisors include former intelligence officials from the United States, Europe and Israel, accused him of violating sanctions on Iran by exporting oil from the country.

Earlier this year, U.S. government lawyers declared their interest in the lawsuit, warning that information related to UANI could jeopardize law enforcement activities.

Invasive Indian media demands, via the Guardian:

Indian journalists protest at publisher’s social media demands

  • Give us your Facebook and Twitter passwords, says Times of India company

The publisher of the Times of India wants its journalists to convert their personal social media accounts into company ones and, in order to do so, has asked them to reveal their Facebook and Twitter passwords.

Bennett Coleman & Co (BCCL) — India’s largest media conglomerate – was forced to amend its original demands after protests from journalists.

It had told staff they must sign contracts agreeing that management could continue to post updates on their personal accounts even after they had left the company. It also prohibited staff from posting news links on their own accounts.

From The Daily Dot, give the man a job at Comcast:

Iranian Ayatollah condemns high-speed Internet as ‘un-Islamic’

Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi, a senior Iranian cleric, believes that high-speed mobile Internet like 3G networks are “un-Islamic” and that they violate “human and moral norms,” Radio Liberty reports.

Shirazi further asserts that Iran’s Supreme Council of Cyberspace should do more to prevent access to “negative features” of the Web like anti-Islamic movies or pornography.

“Authorities should not merely think about the financial earnings of this program, and consider it as a type of religious intellectualism and academic freedom,” Makarem Shirazi wrote on his website.

From the Independent, medium and message:

Graffiti dying out as people vent spleen on Twitter, says top cop

Graffiti and other forms of public vandalism are dying off as people turn to social media to vent their anger instead, the most senior police officer in Scotland has said.

Sir Stephen House, the Chief Constable of Police Scotland, suggested that disaffected members of the public are increasingly using services such as Twitter and Facebook to make angry or abusive comments instead of spray-painting buildings, leading to a decline in recorded vandalism.

“Social media in some instances has replaced graffiti as a way of making your views heard. We have had to deal with offensive comments made on Twitter. My view is that 10 to 15 years ago, that would have been sprayed on the side of a building,” Sir Stephen told a meeting of the Scottish Police Authority.

He cited figures which show that vandalism, fire-raising, malicious damage and related crimes have been falling dramatically in Scotland in recent years. Between April and June this year 13,453 such offences were committed, down nearly eight per cent on the same period in 2013. The figure has more than halved since 2009/10, when it was 28,146.

From the Toronto Globe and Mail, clever, eh?:

Canadian couple detained in China were spies disguised as ‘ordinary citizens’: state media

A Canadian couple detained by Chinese authorities were spies disguised as “ordinary citizens,” according to new information published by China’s state media.

Kevin and Julia Garratt have been accused of stealing Chinese military and national defence research secrets. They were detained Aug. 4, but not formally arrested, and China has offered little information on what they are accused of doing. The Christian couple ran a coffee shop near the border with North Korea, worked to bring humanitarian aid into that secretive country and worked to train North Korean Christians inside China.

Their detention by China’s State Security Bureau has been seen by Canadian authorities as reprisal for the arrest of Su Bin, a Chinese immigrant to Canada suspected of masterminding the electronic theft of U.S. fighter jet secrets.

British Columbian dronal angst via CBC News:

Peeping drone ‘an invasion of privacy,’ B.C. homeowner says

  • Oak Bay woman says drone was buzzing her home, but police say no laws were broken

A Victoria-area resident says she spotted a drone buzzing around her property, but police say their hands are tied.

Laura Moffett says the man, who was flying the drone in a park across the street, was allegedly trying to peek inside her home in Oak Bay.

“It’s an invasion of privacy. We have a skylight above, and on the weekend I had my nieces and nephews around playing in the pool, and what if he had been doing it then and taking videos?” said Moffet.

But Oak Bay police Sgt. Chris Goudie says the actions weren’t criminal, and police won’t be recommending any charge.

More dronal business from the Atlantic:

Inside Google’s Secret Drone-Delivery Program

After two years of development, the Silicon Valley company reveals to The Atlantic that it has substantial research effort into building flying robots than can deliver products across a city in a minute or two.

A zipping comes across the sky.

A man named Neil Parfitt is standing in a field on a cattle ranch outside Warwick, Australia. A white vehicle appears above the trees, a tiny plane a bit bigger than a seagull. It glides towards Parfitt, pitches upwards to a vertical position, and hovers near him, a couple hundred feet in the air. From its belly, a package comes tumbling downward, connected by a thin line to the vehicle itself. Right before the delivery hits the ground, it slows, hitting the earth with a tap. The delivery slows, almost imperceptibly, just before it hits the ground, hardly kicking up any dust. A small rectangular module on the end of the line detaches the payload, and ascends back up the vehicle, locking into place beneath the nose. As the wing returns to flying posture and zips back to its launch point half a mile away, Parfitt walks over to the package, opens it up, and extracts some treats for his dogs.

The Australian test flight and 30 others like it conducted in mid-August are the culmination of the first phase of Project Wing, a secret drone program that’s been running for two years at Google X, the company’s whoa-inducing, long-range research lab.

From Network World, the feds are on the case:

FBI, Secret Service studying ‘scope’ of reported bank cyberattacks

A U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation spokesman said Wednesday the agency is working with the Secret Service to determine the “scope” of reported cyberattacks against several financial institutions.

Bloomberg reported on Wednesday that Russian hackers struck JPMorgan Chase and another bank earlier this month. A subsequent report in the New York Times said the attacks hit JPMorgan Chase and four other U.S. financial institutions. The Times reported that “gigabytes” of information were stolen, including customer account information.

A JPMorgan Chase spokeswoman did not confirm the attacks, saying that “companies of our size unfortunately experience cyberattacks nearly every day. We have multiple layers of defense to counteract any threats and constantly monitor fraud levels.”

From Al Jazeera English, cybercrime in Africa:

Cracking down on cybercrime in Ivory Coast

  • Ivory Coast tackles internet fraud scourge, but analysts say criminals continue to outsmart authorities.

The story is the same at almost every internet café in the main Ivorian city of six million inhabitants, with thousands of small and large computer halls for public use, which locals say have been seized by cybercriminals, who spend seven days a week in front of computer screens seeking fast cash.

“You can’t find any cybercafé in Abidjan without these rogues,” says Armand Zadi, founder of Internet pour l’Avenir, or Internet for the Future, an NGO that campaigns against abusive use of the internet in the West African country.

“They have abandoned schooling and believe they can succeed in life through internet scams because they see other young men in town who make money from it and later branch out into legitimate businesses. Our fear is growing that they could become role models for other youths,” he says.

From the Guardian, a secret in peril:

Zuma’s position weakens as he loses battle to keep ‘spy tapes’ under wraps

  • Secret recordings were key to dropping of corruption and fraud allegations against the South African president

Jacob Zuma, president of South Africa, suffered a court defeat on Thursday that could open the way for more than 700 corruption charges against him to be reinstated.

The decision, after a five-year legal battle, is a setback for Zuma, who is already besieged by criticism over taxpayer-funded upgrades of his private residence and concerns over his health.

South Africa’s supreme court of appeal dismissed Zuma’s bid to block the release of the so-called “spy tapes” containing conversations that were used as grounds to drop fraud and corruption allegations against him shortly before he became president in 2009. The tapes were said to reveal a political conspiracy against Zuma before a crucial African National Congress conference in 2007, where he defeated sitting president Thabo Mbeki in a bitter leadership struggle. They are said to show evidence of collusion between the former heads of an elite police unit and the national prosecuting authority to manipulate the prosecutorial process – though some are sceptical of the claim.

After the jump, the latest from Asia and the Game of Zones, including Aussie insecurity, an Aussie leak, border troubles and hints of an internal crackdown in Pakistan, hints of an Indo/Japanese nuclear deal, a Chinese beatdown and more Sino/American semantic volleys, Japan postures and gets a Chinese lecture, Chinese TV gets tough on Japanese history, a Japanese crackdown on dissent and an insular buildup, a consequences of a leak on Taiwan. . . Continue reading