Category Archives: Science

EnviroWatch: Ebola, toxics, nukes, solar kill


Once again, we open with Ebola news, first with a perhaps needless tragedy via CBC News:

Dying Sierra Leone Dr. Sheik Umar Khan never told Ebola drug was available

  • Just days later, same experimental drug given to U.S. doctor, missionary

The story of Sierra Leone’s “hero doctor” does not have a happy ending.

Even though Dr. Sheik Umar Khan was an experienced virus warrior, and hemorrhagic fevers were his specialty, he tested positive for Ebola on July 22 and died in seven terrible days.

His friends and colleagues from around the world are sick with grief, and a haunting question hangs in the air. Did doctors make the right decision in refusing to treat him with an experimental drug?

From Reuters, border-crossing carriers:

Guinea reopens Ebola clinic as sick spill over border

Guinea said on Saturday it will reopen an Ebola clinic in its remote southeast as sick nationals living in Liberia and Sierra Leone spill over the borders in search of better treatment.

West Africa’s Guinea, the first country in the region to be affected by the deadly virus which has killed more than 1,100 people, says it has brought the outbreak under control. But it is worried that a poor response to the epidemic from its neighbors will reverse its progress.

“We are concerned about the length of the border with Sierra Leone and Liberia, specifically in Macenta and Pamelap,” said Sakoba Keita from Guinea’s Health Ministry, referring to border towns.

The Associated Press covers another aspect:

Ebola health workers battle death, heat, rumors

Doctors and nurses fighting Ebola in West Africa are working 14-hour days, seven days a week, wearing head-to-toe gear in the heat of muddy clinics. Agonizing death is the norm. The hellish conditions aren’t the only problem: Health workers struggle to convince patients they’re trying to help them, not hurt them.

Rumors are rife that Western aid workers are importing Ebola, stealing bodies or even deliberately infecting patients. Winning trust is made harder by a full suit of hood, goggles, mask and gown that hides their faces.

“You want to say so much … because they’re in so much pain,” said nurse Monia Sayah, of Doctors Without Borders. “They suffer so much, but they can only see your eyes.”

The outbreak has hit three of the world’s poorest countries, where health systems there were already woefully understaffed and ill-equipped. In Liberia, there is only one doctor for every 100,000 people, while in Sierra Leone there are two, according to the World Health Organization; there were no statistics available for Guinea. The figure is 245 for the United States.

The Associated Press covers a call:

UN urges exit screening for Ebola at some airports

Ebola-affected countries should immediately begin exit screening all passengers leaving international airports, sea ports and major ground crossings, the U.N. health agency said on Monday.

The agency didn’t spell out which countries should start screening passengers, but noted that the Ebola outbreak involves transmission in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leona and a “small number of people in Nigeria.”

All countries, even those unaffected by the outbreak in West Africa, need to strengthen their ability to detect and immediately contain new cases without doing anything that unnecessarily interferes with international travel or trade, the agency said. But countries don’t need to impose travel restrictions and active screening of passengers if they do not share borders with Ebola-affected countries, it said.

More from Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

WHO sets up Ebola task force with global airline and travel sector

The World Health Organisation said on Monday (Aug 18) that it had set up a task force with the global airline and tourism industry in an effort to contain the spread of Ebola.

The UN agency said it was working hand in hand with the International Civil Aviation Organisation, the World Tourism Organization, Airports Council International (ACI), the International Air Transport Association and the World Travel and Tourism Council.

The goal, it said in a statement, was to “support the global efforts to contain the spread of the disease and provide a coordinated international response for the travel and tourism sector”. It added that the task force would “monitor the situation and provide timely information to the travel and tourism sector as well as to travellers”.

Still more, via Businessweek:

Airlines Urged to Keep Flying in West Africa Amid Ebola Outbreak

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has reached crisis proportions but poses no particular risk to air travelers, according to health officials and airlines—and air service should continue to serve affected areas to help combat the disease. That’s the message the International Air Transport Association, a trade group for global airlines, is pressing, bolstered by the World Health Organization, which says there’s no need for travel bans over the virus.

“Ebola is a terrible disease, but it is not easy to contract,” IATA’s vice president for Africa, Raphael Kuuchi, said today at an aviation conference in Johannesburg. “It can only be caught through contact with bodily fluids. It is almost impossible to be infected by someone on a flight.”

Researchers believe the virus cannot be transmitted through the air. “Because the risk of Ebola transmission on airplanes is so low, WHO does not consider air transport hubs at high risk for further spread of Ebola,” Dr. Isabelle Nuttall, director of WHO Global Capacity Alert and Response, said in an Aug. 14 news release.

On to climate change and future woes for the Napa Vally via Want China Times:

Climate change may mean China could be top wine producer by 2050

Warmer temperatures caused by climate change may mean that the south of France will no longer be able to produce high-quality wine in the future, which may present new wine-producing opportunities for northern Europe and China in the future, reports Shanghai-based China Business News.

A report published in 2005 by Professor Gregory Jones and his coworkers compared the temperatures at 27 wine-producing regions during grape-growing seasons over 50 years and concluded that the south of France will likely be unsuitable for producing wine by 2050. Li Yangang, one of ten Chinese nationals who has received a Level 4 certificate from the world renowned wine education institute WSET, said the region may still be able to produce wine but it would be of a lower quality

The future of major wine producers in Spain, Italy, the United States and Australia has been threatened by climate change. Jones’ research team predicted that between 2000 and 2049, the average temperature during grape’s growing system will increase 2.04°C, which would be devastating for wine producers who will have a hard time finding enough water for their vineyards.

Sky News covers ecocrisis:

Trains Carrying Toxic Chemicals Crash Head-On

Hundreds of people are evacuated after the trains smashed into each other and exploded into flames in northeast Arkansas.

Two freight trains carrying toxic chemicals have crashed head-on in the US, killing two people and injuring two others. Firefighters spent seven hours extinguishing the fire as diesel and chemicals on board burst into flames.

Around 500 people were evacuated from the crash scene in Hoxie, a small town in northeast Arkansas.

From Shanghai Daily, we’ll have the unleaded, please:

Lead found in baby cereal from Heinz

Heinz baby products are at the center of a health scare after food safety authorities in east China’s Zhejiang Province sealed 614 boxes of cereal made by the US food giant.

Excessive levels of lead were found in 400-gram boxes of “AD Calcium Hi-Protein Cereal” with batch number 20140413 during a regular food inspection, the Zhejiang Provincial Food and Drug Administration said yesterday.

Food safety staff launched a special inspection of 303 food vendors in the province. The sealed products were 483 boxes from two trade companies in Hangzhou, the provincial capital, and 131 from retailers.

On to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, starting with a homecoming invitation from the Asahi Shimbun:

Second group of Fukushima residents given OK to return home in evacuation zone

Some residents of this village who lived within the 20-kilometer restricted zone surrounding the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant were told on Aug. 17 that they can soon return home, only the second time the right of return has been granted.

The lifting of the evacuation order will allow the return of 275 residents living in 139 households in the eastern area of the village of Kawauchi.

The government made the announcement during a meeting with residents of the village on Aug. 17.

The Mainichi adds a critical element:

Gov’t decides to lift evacuation order on Fukushima village despite residents’ protests

An evacuation order for the eastern part of this village that has been in place since the Fukushima nuclear disaster will be lifted on Oct. 1, government officials agreed on Aug. 17, despite residents protesting that it is too early to lift the order.

The order covers an area with 139 households where 275 people live within 20 kilometers from the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant. Also on Oct. 1, a stricter evacuation order covering 18 households where 54 people live will be lowered in severity to allow more access.

The agreement was reached by Senior Vice Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Kazuyoshi Akaba and Kawauchi Mayor Yuko Endo. Akaba is also head of the national government’s local nuclear disaster-response headquarters.

And from the Asahi Shimbun, a nuclear payoff proposal:

TEPCO, Tohoku Electric to ‘donate’ 200 million yen more to village hosting nuclear reprocessing complex

Embattled Tokyo Electric Power Co. and Tohoku Electric Power Co. will make a final combined 200 million yen ($1.95 million) “donation” to a village hosting the nuclear fuel reprocessing plant, despite industry ministry criticism, The Asahi Shimbun has found.

The payment, which the two utilities have made annually since fiscal 2010, will go to assist the local fisheries industry in the village of Rokkasho in Aomori Prefecture.

An Asahi Shimbun investigation into the village’s financial data and interviews with local officials showed that the Rokkasho government sent a document requesting financial assistance to TEPCO and Tohoku Electric on July 14.

And the cold shoulder, from NHK WORLD:

Town rejects plans to build radioactive waste site

The mayor of Shioya, in Tochigi Prefecture north of Tokyo, has demanded that the government retract its plan to build a permanent radioactive waste storage site in his town.

The Environment Ministry is seeking to construct facilities in 5 prefectures within the Tokyo metropolitan area and northern Japan. The facilities will permanently hold sewage sludge, incinerated ash, and other debris contaminated with more than 8,000 becquerels per kilogram of radioactive materials. The highly radioactive waste was incurred by the nuclear accident in Fukushima in March 2011.

Last month, the ministry decided to use state-owned land in Shioya to build one of the facilities. The ministry wants the town’s cooperation in field surveys in the area. But the town is opposed to the construction. Town Mayor Kazuhisa Mikata and the speaker of the local assembly visited the ministry on Monday.

Kyodo News exports:

Japan resumes exporting Fukushima rice after 2011 nuclear crisis

Exporting of rice grown in Fukushima Prefecture has resumed after it was halted in the wake of the nuclear crisis in 2011 and concerns about radiation contamination, a national agricultural cooperative said Monday.

Three hundred kilograms of the Koshihikari brand of rice produced in Sukagawa City, Fukushima, has arrived in Singapore, and will be sold at a supermarket from Friday after clearing customs, according to the National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations.

Fukushima Prefecture, a major producer of rice, had exported some 100 tons of rice in the year to March 2011 to such regions as Hong Kong, before the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that triggered the nuclear accident in the prefecture.

Meanwhile, another troublesome fuel gets a legal thumbs up, via the McClatchy Washington Bureau:

Court rejects challenge to big tar sands oil pipeline

A federal judge on Monday rejected environmentalists’ challenge to a nearly 600-mile pipeline designed to carry tar sands crude oil between Illinois and Oklahoma.

In a 48-page decision, U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson concluded the Flanagan South Pipeline could proceed without further federal study.

“This much is clear,” Jackson wrote. “A private company is constructing the FS Pipeline project largely on privately-owned land; the federal agencies that have been consulted about aspects of the pipeline project have control over only a small portion of the land and waterways that the pipeline traverses; and no statute authorizes the federal government to regulate or oversee the construction of a domestic oil pipeline.”

And for our final item, via the Associated Press, green maybe, but also medium rare:

BrightSource solar plant sets birds on fire as they fly overhead

  • Death estimates range from 1,000 to 28,000 per year

Workers at a state-of-the-art solar plant in the Mojave Desert have a name for birds that fly through the concentrated beams of solar energy focused upward by the plant’s 300,000 mirrors — “streamers,” for the smoke plume that comes from birds that ignite in midair.

Federal wildlife investigators who visited BrightSource Energy’s Ivanpah plant last year and watched as birds burned and fell, reporting an average of one “streamer” every two minutes, are urging California officials to halt the operator’s application to build a still-bigger version.

The investigators want the halt until the full extent of the deaths can be assessed. Estimates per year now range from a low of about a thousand by BrightSource to 28,000 by an expert for the Center for Biological Diversity environmental group.

Another Berkeley shaker: Clocks in at 2.6


The temblor hit at 7;41 p.m., with an epicenter southeast of UC Berkeley’s Clark Kerr campus, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

More information here.

EnviroWatch: Ebola, water, toxic sperm, nukes


We open today’s compendium of environmental news with the latest on the Ebola front, and conclude with a case of Down Under idiocy.

First up, a declaration via Reuters:

Guinea declares public health emergency over Ebola

Guinea has declared a public health emergency over an Ebola epidemic that has killed more than 1,000 people in three West African states and is sending health workers to all affected border points, a government official said.

An estimated 377 people have died in Guinea since the world’s worst outbreak of Ebola began in March in remote parts of a border region next to Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Guinea says its outbreak is under control with the numbers of new cases falling, but that the new measures are needed to prevent further infection from the other countries at the center of the epidemic.

Global Times covers a clean bill of health:

No confirmed Ebola cases in S. Africa: health authorities

There have been no laboratory- confirmed cases of Ebola virus disease (EVD) in South Africa associated with the current outbreak in West Africa, health authorities said on Thursday.

Given the frequency of travel between southern and western African countries, there is a risk of EVD cases being imported into South Africa, but overall this risk is low, the South African National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) said in its latest update on the spread of EVD.

The Associated Press mulls a quandary:

Liberia gets Ebola drug; ponders who should get it

Liberian officials faced a difficult choice Thursday: deciding which handful of Ebola patients will receive an experimental drug that could prove life-saving, ineffective or even harmful.

ZMapp, the untested Ebola drug, arrived in the West African country late Wednesday. Assistant Health Minister Tolbert Nyenswah said three or four people would begin getting it Thursday, although another health official said there was only enough for three people.

The government had previously said two doctors would receive the treatment, but it was unclear who else would.

A related story from the Yomiuri Shimbun:

Doctors: Ebola drug poses dilemma

Doctors treating a Sierra Leone physician with Ebola defended their decision not to give him an experimental drug, saying Wednesday they feared it was too risky.

Calling it “an impossible dilemma,” Doctors Without Borders explained in detail last month’s decision in response to a New York Times story on the case. It would have been the first time the experimental drug was tried in humans.

The explanation came the same day that another top doctor from Sierra Leone died of the disease, further fueling a debate about how to apportion a limited supply of untested drugs and vaccines and whether they are even effective.

Xinhua ads context:

Ebola crisis could continue for months: health official

A U.S. health official warned Thursday it would take at least three to six months to end the Ebola outbreak, which has killed nearly 1,000 in West Africa, and which has prompted a state of emergency in Liberia and Nigeria.

“It will be a long and hard fight,” Director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Tom Frieden told a congressional hearing.

The director on Wednesday activated the level of the agency’s response to the outbreak to its highest alert status.

The Wire covers a patient cured:

Ebola-Stricken Doctor Could Be Released From Atlanta Hospital Soon

According to the charity Samaritan’s Purse, Dr. Kent Brantly is recovering nicely from Ebola and is expected to be released from the hospital shortly. From the group’s statement:

“Dr. Kent Brantly is doing very well and hopes to be released sometime in the near future. The staff at Emory Healthcare are taking extremely great care of him. Kent and his wife continue to express appreciation for everyone’s prayers.”

A simple enough sentiment although one not accompanied by a timetable. Reports on Brantly’s condition have been increasingly positive since he arrived in Atlanta two weeks ago.

From Channel NewsAsia Singapore, another false alarm:

Nigerian woman sent to Singapore hospital did not have Ebola: MOH

  • The patient, who is in her 50s, was reportedly suffering from a high fever. She has since been discharged.

Fears of the first case of Ebola surfacing in Singapore on Thursday (Aug 14) proved unfounded.

In a statement, the Health Ministry clarified that there is no suspect case of Ebola in Singapore at present. “The case in question was indeed referred to Tan Tock Seng Hospital, but she does not fit the case definition,” it said. “MOH will continue to closely monitor the situation, and continually assess and calibrate its measures.”

The scare began when a Nigerian woman was transferred from Gleneagles Hospital to Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH)’s Communicable Diseases Centre on Thursday. She was suffering from a high fever.

Reuters covers an exodus:

U.S. Embassy dependents to leave Sierra Leone due to Ebola

The United States said on Thursday it had ordered family members at the U.S. Embassy in Freetown, Sierra Leone to depart because of limitations on regular medical care as a result of the Ebola outbreak.

“The Embassy recommended this step out of an abundance of caution, following the determination by the Department’s Medical Office that there is a lack of options for routine health care services at major medical facilities due to the Ebola outbreak,” the State Department said in a statement.

From Global Times, a prohibition:

Filipino seafarers prohibited from disembarking in Ebola-stricken countries

The Philippine government on Monday prohibited Filipino seafarers from disembarking in Ebola-hit countries in West Africa.

The order is contained in the guidelines issued by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) to protect overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and prevent the spread of the Ebola virus disease.

“There will be no shore leave for seafarers and no crew change in the ports of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in the meantime,” POEA chief Hans Leo Cacdac said in a statement.

From Reuters, a suspension:

Korean Air suspends flights to Kenya over Ebola worries

Korean Air Lines Co Ltd said on Thursday it will suspend flights to and from Nairobi from August 20 to prevent the spread of the deadly Ebola virus.

Korean Air said it had been operating three return flights from Incheon, South Korea, to the capital of Kenya a week.

The company said it would determine whether to resume the flights based on a change in conditions. It did not elaborate.

From the Yomiuri Shimbun, another ounce of prevention:

Airport steps up measures against Ebola

Narita Airport Quarantine is strengthening measures to prevent the Ebola virus from entering Japan, in light of the deadly outbreak in parts of West Africa.

There are no direct flights from West African countries to Narita Airport, but there are fears that residents and travelers from such countries as Guinea, where there have been reports of an Ebola outbreak, may transfer planes at Narita Airport. To address such concerns, airport quarantine has been stepping up efforts to screen out infected individuals with fever by conducting thermographic inspections.

Furthermore, in response to the World Health Organization’s declaration of an international emergency on Aug. 8, quarantine is urging those who have stayed in West Africa to voluntarily declare their visit when entering Japan through public announcements in Japanese and English in addition to information boards and video displays in eight languages.

Anxiety-inducing historic precedent from the Associated Press:

25 Years Ago, a Different Ebola Outbreak in Va.

It had all the makings of a public-health horror story: an outbreak of a wildly deadly virus on the doorstep of the nation’s capital, with dozens of lab monkeys dead, multiple people testing positive, and no precedent in this country on how to contain it.

Americans’ introduction to the Ebola virus came 25 years ago in an office park near Washington Dulles International Airport, a covert crisis that captivated the public only years later when it formed the basis of a bestselling book.

Initially thought to be the same hyper-deadly strain as the current Ebola outbreak that has killed hundreds in Africa, the previously unknown Reston variant turned out to be nonlethal to humans. But the story of what might have been illustrates how far U.S. scientists have come in their understanding of a virus whose very name strikes fear, even in a country where no one has fatally contracted it.

Global Times reassures:

Outbreak of Ebola in China unlikely: expert

A Chinese expert said Wednesday that the possibility of an Ebola outbreak in China is extremely low, although the virus may enter the country.

Dong Xiaoping, research fellow with the Institute of Virus of Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (China CDC), said the possibility of Ebola entering China through fruit bats, its natural vector, and other animals is very low. However, it may enter China through humans in individual cases. Risks of this kind can be controlled with strengthened checks at customs.

Dong said the spread of Ebola in China is unlikely even if Ebola cases are found, as China is capable of disease control and prevention.

Next, opportunity for the corporate sector, first from USA Today:

NewLink Genetics: Ready to test Ebola vaccine

An Iowa drug developer is preparing to test a possible Ebola vaccine in humans, as scientists race to develop ways to prevent or fight a virus that has killed more than 1,000 people in a West African outbreak.

NewLink Genetics is planning an initial phase of testing involving up to 100 healthy volunteers and is talking with regulators about the study, said Brian Wiley, the company’s vice president for business development. He declined to say whether the drug developer has submitted an application for the research to the Food and Drug Administration.

Chief Financial Officer Gordon Link said Thursday the timing of the testing, which would involve up to 100 healthy volunteers, is uncertain.

MintPress News adds a dimension:

On Use Of Experimental Ebola Drugs, U.S. Under Increased Pressure

  • Officials wrestle with whether it is ethical to withhold potential treatment from some groups, but also if it is acceptable to offer either false hope or true risk to vulnerable populations

The World Health Organization has taken the unprecedented step of declaring that the use of experimental drugs — the efficacy and safety of which have yet to be proven — would be “ethical” to combat the current outbreak of Ebola in West Africa.

The multilateral agency’s unusual backing, announced Tuesday, will further complicate an issue that has suddenly become a major quandary for global health officials, the U.S. government and the very small number of private companies that have been working on Ebola research. Even as issues of access and equity have come to the fore, others are expressing concern that the discussion around experimental treatments could be a distraction.

The backing of the WHO followed a two-day emergency meeting of medical workers, ethicists and others.

“There was unanimous agreement among the experts that [due to] the special circumstances of this Ebola outbreak it is ethical to offer unregistered interventions as potential treatments or prevention,” Marie-Paule Kieny, an assistant director-general at the WHO, told journalists Tuesday, while also releasing an institutional statement on the discussions.

A Chinese company’s venture from Shanghai Daily:

Biotech firm develops kit for diagnosing Ebola

A LOCAL biotech company says it has developed a diagnostic kit for Ebola that has been used in Nigeria with good effects.

Shanghai ZJ Bio-Tech Co said it started to develop the kit for Ebola virus in 2010 at the request of African clients.

Since the recent outbreak in west Africa, some 50 health facilities and laboratories home and abroad have ordered it.

Our final business item from El País, bringing in a corporate ’bot:

Bleach and a robot used to disinfect ebola victim’s Madrid hospital room

  • New tests confirm late Spanish priest Miguel Pajares’ colleague Juliana Bonoha is not infected

The Madrid hospital room in which Spanish priest Miguel Pajares spent the last five days of his life battling the ebola virus began to be disinfected on Wednesday. The task was first undertaken by a team from the Carlos III public hospital using bleach and then by a robot belonging to the same US company that cleaned the Washington, D. C. central post office after the 2001 anthrax attacks and also helped prevent the spread of infection in the aftermath of the Hurricane Katrina tragedy in New Orleans in 2005. The hospital has not disclosed the cost of the procedure.

Staff at the center used bleach and disinfectant gas to clean the installations and burnt materials used by both Pajares, who died from the disease on Tuesday, and sister Juliana Bonoha Bohé, who was  repatriated to Spain from Liberia alongside him last week. New tests on Thursday confirmed that the 65-year-old Spanish nun has not been infected by the ebola virus, though she will remain in hospital until the 21-day incubation period has passed.

The firm Steris Iberia is in charge of completing the decontamination process in the room that Pajares occupied. Its technicians sealed the room, leaving in it a robot “similar to a large shopping cart” that is controlled by a computer from outside, explained the company’s head of business, Miguel Ángel Valdeolivas.

Our final Ebola item, a bigger picture from MintPress News:

Ebola And Climate Change: How Are They Connected?

  • In light of the recent outbreak, some researchers are connecting deforestation in countries such as Liberia to the disease, noting that the change in landscape is bringing wildlife in closer contact with humans

In 2006, a study published in the journal Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene revealed that Ebola, a “violent hemorrhagic fever that leads to internal and external bleeding,” would be more frequent with global warming due to its intermittent connection to wildlife and climate. In 2008, another study reiterated the same fears, noting that Ebola outbreaks would be among a cluster of other viral diseases gaining momentum, such as bird flu, cholera, plague and tuberculosis.

“We are calling for increased attention and action in developing global monitoring networks to look at a wide variety of infectious diseases in a wide variety of wildlife since they are such sensitive indicators of the health of the systems in which they live,” said veterinarian William Karesh, Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) vice president of global health programs, back in 2008.

In light of the recent outbreak, some researchers are connecting deforestation in countries such as Liberia to the disease, noting that the change in landscape is bringing wildlife in closer contact with humans. According to researchers, the virus is typically found in wildlife, and transmission from animals to humans occurs through contact with infected bodily fluids, causing a “spillover” in species. The virus can also be contracted from another human being when a person is in direct contact with infected blood, vomit or feces during contagious periods, putting health workers in West Africa primarily at risk.

From the Guardian, our first water woe:

Tibet’s glaciers at their warmest in 2,000 years, report says

  • Glacier retreat could disrupt water supply to Asia’s main rivers including Yellow, Yangtze, Brahmaputra, Mekong and Salween

The Tibetan plateau, whose glaciers supply water to hundreds of millions of people in Asia, were warmer over the past 50 years than at any stage in the past two millennia, a Chinese newspaper said, citing an academic report.

Temperatures and humidity are likely to continue to rise throughout this century, causing glaciers to retreat and desertification to spread, according to the report published by the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research.

“Over the past 50 years, the rate of temperature rise has been double the average global level,” it said, according to the report on the website of Science and Technology Daily, a state-run newspaper.

Glacier retreat could disrupt water supply to several of Asia’s main rivers that originate from the plateau, including China’s Yellow and Yangtze, India’s Brahmaputra, and the Mekong and Salween in southeast Asia.

In May, Chinese scientists said Tibetan glaciers had shrunk 15% – around 3,100 sq miles (8,000 sq km) – over the past 30 years.

A food perspective from Global Times:

Concerns over grain supply as North China suffers worst drought in 63 years

The worst drought in 63 years in North China has badly hit three major grain producing regions, sparking concerns over nationwide grain supply.

Liaoning, Jilin and Henan provinces have seen the lowest levels of precipitation in the last six decades. Another nine regions, including Shandong, Shanxi and Shaanxi provinces as well as Inner Mongolia, are also bearing the brunt of the severe drought, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

The prolonged drought has affected 4.39 million hectares of cropland and 2.35 million people across the country, people.com.cn reported Wednesday.

Another water woe, via Homeland Security News Wire:

Ingredients in “fracking” fluids raise concerns

As the oil and gas drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) proliferates, a new study on the contents of the fluids involved in the process raises concerns about several ingredients. The researchers say that out of nearly 200 commonly used compounds, there is very little known about the potential health risks of about one-third, and eight are toxic to mammals.

As the oil and gas drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) proliferates, a new study on the contents of the fluids involved in the process raises concerns about several ingredients. The scientists presenting the work yesterday at the 248th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) said that out of nearly 200 commonly used compounds, there is very little known about the potential health risks of about one-third, and eight are toxic to mammals.

An ACS release reports that William Stringfellow, Ph.D., says he conducted the review of fracking contents to help resolve the public debate over the controversial drilling practice. Fracking involves injecting water with a mix of chemical additives into rock formations deep underground to promote the release of oil and gas. It has led to a natural gas boom in the United States, but it has also stimulated major opposition and troubling reports of contaminated well water, as well as increased air pollution near drill sites.

And from The Real News Network, another potentially alarming water worry, this time in the form of privatization:

Is Baltimore City’s Water Supply Up For Privatization?

  • City Hall denies the charge, but workers and advocates say an upcoming water contract could be a foot in the door for privatization

BBC News covers iDetox:

Apple bans two hazardous chemicals from assembly lines

Apple has banned two potentially hazardous chemicals from being used in the final assembly process at 22 of its iPhone and iPad production plants.

Benzene, which is a carcinogen, and n-Hexane, which can cause nerve damage, will no longer be used in cleaning agents or degreasers at the facilities, the firm said.

The move follows a campaign urging the tech giant to scrap the substances.

China Daily bans dosed up American pig meat:

US pork halted, additives feared

China stopped importing pork from six processing and six cold storage facilities in the United States on Wednesday to enforce its ban on the use of a feed additive that promotes lean muscle growth, the US Department of Agriculture said on Tuesday.

To ensure food safety, China had in March said that third-party verification was necessary to ensure that US pork shipped to the country is free of the additive ractopamine, which is sold for hog farm use as feed additive.

Ding Lixin, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing, said such quality control measures are commonplace in the domestic market, especially the checks to trace the presence of ractopamine in pork. The new move indicates that the government is implementing quality checks on imported pork products also.

From Spain, poisoned sperm via TheLocal.es:

Judge demands study on ‘Spain’s worst semen’

A judge in the Catalan city of Tarragona has ordered an investigation into the possible health impact of the area’s chemical industry after discovering that only six per cent of local men have fully mobile sperm.

The enquiry was launched yesterday after a judge studied a complaint made in 2010 by the environmental group L’Escurçó.

The group cited a 2002 study showing that the semen of 53 per cent of Tarragona’s men had semen which did not measure up to World Health Organization parameters.

The judge has now asked the Civil Guard to identify chemical industry companies in Tarragona which emit substances capable of reducing male fertility.

On to today’s episode of Fukushimapocalypose Now! with alarming news from the American Genetic Association:

Fukushima’s legacy

  • Biological effects of Fukushima radiation on plants, insects, and animals

Following the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant meltdown, biological samples were obtained only after extensive delays, limiting the information that could be gained about the impacts of that historic disaster. Determined not to repeat the shortcomings of the Chernobyl studies, scientists began gathering biological information only a few months after the disastrous meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Japan in 2011. Results of these studies are now beginning to reveal serious biological effects of the Fukushima radiation on non-human organisms ranging from plants to butterflies to birds.

A series of articles summarizing these studies has now been published in the Journal of Heredity. These describe widespread impacts, ranging from population declines to genetic damage to responses by the repair mechanisms that help organisms cope with radiation exposure.

“A growing body of empirical results from studies of birds, monkeys, butterflies, and other insects suggests that some species have been significantly impacted by the radioactive releases related to the Fukushima disaster,” stated Dr. Timothy Mousseau of the University of South Carolina, lead author of one of the studies.

From the Guardian, hot times to come in the Outback?:

Aboriginal people can still apply to use land for nuclear waste, says minister

  • Ian MacFarlane tells traditional owners in Tennant Creek that the process would remain open until November

Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory can still apply to offer their land as a nuclear waste dump despite the collapse of government attempts to nominate Muckaty Station, the industry minister has said.

Ian MacFarlane met traditional owners, members of the Muckaty Aboriginal Land Trust and community members in Tennant Creek on Thursday, where he announced that the option to volunteer their land for a radioactive waste management facility would remain open until 30 November this year.

Muckaty had spent almost 10 years mired in bitter negotiations and legal battles, since the NLC lobbied for Aboriginal people to volunteer a site after former prime minister John Howard legislated for the first nuclear waste disposal facility in 2005.

And for our final item, the Guardian covers Aussie idiocy:

Tony Abbott adviser warns of threat of ‘global cooling’

  • Opponents label comments ‘terrifying’ after Maurice Newman writes opinion piece in the Australian newspaper

The Abbott government’s chief business adviser, Maurice Newman, has warned that Australia is ill prepared for global cooling owing to widespread “warming propaganda” in his latest critique of mainstream climate science.

Newman, who chairs the prime minister’s Business Advisory Council, said there is evidence that the world is set for a period of cooling, rather than warming, leading to significant geopolitical problems because of a lack of preparedness.

Adam Bandt, deputy leader of the Greens, said Newman’s comments were an “embarrassment to the government”.

EnviroWatch: Ebola, weather, water, FukuFolly


Plus ad woes and household toxics. And as with today’s InSecurityWatch, a long post cuz we wuz under the weather.

We open with the first Ebola story, via the Los Angeles Times:

Spanish priest becomes first European to die in Ebola outbreak

A 75-year-old Spanish priest suffering from the Ebola virus died Tuesday in an isolation ward in Madrid — the first European death from the outbreak that has killed more than 1,000 people in West Africa and the first known death on European soil.

Miguel Pajares died around 9:30 a.m. Tuesday at Madrid’s Carlos III Hospital, Spanish officials announced.

A Roman Catholic missionary, Pajares was airlifted Aug. 7 from Liberia, where he is believed to have contracted the deadly virus at a hospital where he worked. Thousands of Spaniards had joined a social media campaign urging their government to rescue and repatriate him. He was the first Ebola patient evacuated to Europe amid the current, fast-spreading outbreak in Africa, which is already the worst in history.

BBC News closes the borders:

Ivory Coast bans flight from three states

Ivory Coast has banned all passenger flights from three countries hit by Ebola in an attempt to prevent the spread of the deadly virus.

It is the only country, after Saudi Arabia, to impose such a ban, amid mounting concern about the outbreak which has killed nearly 1,000 people.

The ban covers Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, which are worst affected by Ebola, Ivorian officials said.

From the Guardian, another case:

Ebola: Nigeria confirms new case in Lagos

  • Health minister says nurse who came into contact with American Patrick Sawyer is 10th confirmed Nigeria case

Nigeria has confirmed a new case of Ebola in the financial capital, Lagos, bringing the total number in the country to 10.

The health minister, Onyebuchi Chukwu, said the latest confirmed case was a female nurse who came into contact with a Liberian-American man, Patrick Sawyer, who died of Ebola in a Lagos hospital on 25 July.

Another nurse who had contact with him died last week, while seven other people have been confirmed to have the virus in the city, he added. “The 10th case actually was one of the nurses who also had primary contact with the index case. When he [Sawyer] got ill, we then brought her into isolation,” the minister told a news conference in Abuja. “We just tested her over the weekend. So, that’s what made it 10. So, between Friday and today we had one additional case. That brings it to 10 and the 10 includes the index case.”

SINA English covers a Chinese angle:

Eight Chinese quarantined in Ebola-hit Sierra Leone

Eight Chinese medical workers have been placed in quarantine in Sierra Leone, as health experts grappled on Monday with ethical questions over the use of experimental drugs to combat the killer Ebola virus.

Gripped by panic, west African nations battling the tropical disease ramped up drastic containment measures that have caused transport chaos, price hikes and food shortages.

Chinese ambassador to Sierra Leone Zhao Yanbo told journalists seven doctors and one nurse who treated Ebola patients had been placed under quarantine, but would not be drawn on whether they were displaying symptoms of the disease.

The Guardian covers a U.S. quarantine:

Husband of American Ebola patient arrives for quarantine in Georgia

  • Three missionaries arrive in US from west Africa for three-week quarantine but do not show signs or symptoms of Ebola

The husband of a woman being treated for Ebola in a Georgia hospital is among three quarantined missionaries who arrived in the US on Sunday night after departing west Africa, where they worked with patients infected with the deadly virus.

David Writebol and the other aid workers do not show signs or symptoms of Ebola, but they will be quarantined for at least three weeks as a safety precaution.

The missionaries are with SIM USA, a Christian mission organization that sends volunteers abroad to provide humanitarian aid and “evangelize the unreached”.

Channel NewsAsia Singapore gives the go-ahead:

WHO approves experimental Ebola drugs

The World Health Organisation authorised on Tuesday (Aug 12) the use of experimental drugs to fight Ebola as the death toll topped 1,000 and a Spanish priest became the first European to succumb to the latest outbreak.

The declaration by the UN’s health agency came after a US company that makes an experimental serum called ZMapp said it had sent all its available supplies to hard-hit west Africa.

“In the special circumstances of this Ebola outbreak it is ethical to offer unregistered interventions as potential treatments or prevention,” WHO assistant director general Marie-Paule Kieny told reporters in Geneva, following a meeting of medical experts on the issue.

But The Hill notes that victory was largely symbolic:

More Ebola drugs may be months away

It will take months to produce even a small batch of a promising new drug to counter Ebola, according to U.S. health officials.

Mapp Biopharmaceutical’s drug ZMapp has shown some promise. The drug has been used to treat two Americans who have contracted Ebola.

But the company said Tuesday it has run out of supplies.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases says it will take months to make more of the drug. Even in that timeframe, the company will only be able to produce less than a hundred treatment courses.

More from Deutsche Welle:

Liberia to receive experimental Ebola drug from the US

The US government has confirmed that it will send doses of an experimental Ebola drug to treat doctors in Liberia. The treatment has been so far used on just three people, however, there is no vaccine for the virus.

US President Barack Obama and the Food and Drug Administration approved the request Monday to send the experimental drugs to Liberia, the West African nation’s government said in a statement.

Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc, which makes the drug ZMapp, released a statement on their website that said, “In responding to the request received this weekend from a West African nation, the available supply of ZMapp is exhausted.”

“Any decision to use ZMapp must be made by the patients’ medical team,” it said, adding that the drug was “provided at no cost in all cases.”

TheLocal.de covers a negative:

German student tests negative for Ebola

Rwandan authorities said on Tuesday that a German man put in isolation with fever had tested negative for the deadly tropical disease Ebola.

“We would like to inform you that the suspected case of Ebola tested negative,” the Ministry of Health said in a statement.

“There’s no Ebola in Rwanda.”

United Press International has a tech angle:

Geo-spatial technology to help combat Ebola outbreaks

  • A U.S. company reports it is supplying portable geo-spatial mapping devices to Liberia to aid fight against Ebola outbreak

A U.S. geo-spatial technology company is providing Liberia with portable mapping devices to help in the effort to contain and defeat an outbreak of Ebola.

The virus outbreak in Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria has killed more than 900 people and appears to be spreading.

Addressing Homes LLC said it is supplying its portable AimObserver devices to Liberia without charge as emergency assistance. The AimObserver uses “Mobile Mapper” technology to produce an instant latitude/longitude location for any dwelling, structure or pathway at any point in the world.

TheLocal.no covers a fright:

Ebola scare forces flight to land in Norway

An airplane travelling over Norway was forced to land in Trondheim after an African passenger having a coughing fit triggered an Ebola fear on Monday.

Around 100 passengers were kept back on a KLM flight from Amsterdam to Værnes for more than two hours – but with little good reason for the fear.
The dreaded Ebola disease is ravaging throughout several countries in West Africa and countries, like Norway, are on guard to prevent the disease spreading further.

Chief physician in the Stjørdal municipality, Leif Vonen, said to NRK: “There was suspicion of an infectious disease and thoughts went quickly to Ebola. But it became clear from the health situation that this was not the case. The person had just an innocent respiratory infection.”

And South China Morning Post bolsters the defense:

Hong Kong officials to discuss improved Ebola security measures

Health and hygiene officials will meet today to discuss how to improve precautions against the spread of infectious diseases in the wake of the city’s first suspected case of the Ebola virus.

Announcing the meeting, Centre for Health Protection Controller Dr Leung Ting-hung defended the handling of the case on Sunday. The Nigerian man at the centre of the brief scare was found not to have the deadly, incurable disease.

A security guard called the ambulance after the 32-year-old, who was staying at Chungking Mansions in Tsim Sha Tsui, suffered vomiting and diarrhoea, early symptoms of the disease that is spreading through three West African countries.

News On Japan bugs out:

Japan aid agency pulls staff from Ebola-hit nations

Japan’s foreign aid agency said Tuesday it was evacuating two dozen staff from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, as the death toll from the Ebola virus continued to mount.

The move came as eight Chinese medical workers who treated patients suffering from the virus were placed in quarantine in Sierra Leone.

Sierra Leone, as well as Guinea and Liberia, has been at the centre of the outbreak.

And TheLocal.es reassures:

Ebola risk in Spain is ‘almost zero’: WHO

A spokesperson for the World Health Organization said on Monday that the risk of contagion from the Ebola virus in Spain was “almost zero” and described the repatriation of an infected Spanish priest as “correct”.

Speaking to Spanish TV channel Cuatro, WHO spokesperson Gregory Hartl said that “many” Spanish health workers were well-trained to deal with any possible Ebola cases.

He reassured Spaniards that the WHO and Spain’s Ministry of Health, Social Security and Equality were following international protocols to remain in “constant contact”.

On to the weather, first with the Guardian:

Extreme weather becoming more common, study says

  • Rise in blocking-patterns – hot or wet weather remaining stuck over regions for weeks – causing frequent heatwaves or floods

Extreme weather like the drought currently scorching the western US and the devastating floods in Pakistan in 2010 is becoming much more common, according to new scientific research.

The work shows so-called “blocking patterns”, where hot or wet weather remains stuck over a region for weeks causing heatwaves or floods, have more than doubled in summers over the last decade. The new study may also demonstrate a link between the UK’s recent flood-drenched winter and climate change.

Climate scientists in Germany noticed that since 2000 there have been an “exceptional number of summer weather extremes, some causing massive damage to society”. So they examined the huge meanders in the high-level jet stream winds that dominate the weather at mid-latitudes, by analysing 35 years of wind data amassed from satellites, ships, weather stations and meteorological balloons. They found that blocking patterns, which occur when these meanders slow down, have happened far more frequently.

The Los Angeles Times cites an example close to home:

California’s 1st seven months of 2014 have been its warmest on record

The first seven months of this year have been the warmest on record for California, according to the National Weather Service.

Forecasters averaged high and low temperatures from January to July for the entire state this year and recorded an average temperature of 60.2 degrees, said Paul Iniguez, National Weather Service Hanford’s science and operation officer. “It’s quite a bit warmer than the previous record,” he said.

The temperature beats the record temperature of 59.3 degrees set in 1934 by nearly a full a degree, he said.

USA TODAY covers the other extreme:

Parts of central U.S. had coolest July on record

Summer heat was on holiday in much of the central U.S. last month: Most of the region had a very cool July, with 13 states seeing July temperatures that ranked among the 10 coldest since weather records began in 1895, NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center reported Tuesday.

Both Indiana and Arkansas had their all-time coldest July on record. Indiana was a whopping 5.3 degrees below average in July, while Arkansas was 4.6 degrees below average.

While the central U.S. shivered in July, the heat continued to scorch the West. Six states sweltered through one of their 10 hottest Julys on record.

The San Francisco Chronicle consequences of another weather extreme, drought:

130,000 acres charred in blazes across California

Several wildfires raged across Northern California on Monday, with many of them touched off by lightning strikes in dry vegetation, including a fast-growing 9,500-acre blaze in Mendocino County.

Forecasters were calling for more lightning Monday and Tuesday, leaving fire crews worried that new blazes would spark up as fast as they could control other ones.

“We’re holding all personnel on just to see what happens when this lightning comes through,” said Capt. John Hotchkiss of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention. “A lot of it will depend on whether we have wetting rain with the lightning.”

At least 130,000 acres were burning statewide as of Monday morning, Cal Fire officials said, fueled by extraordinarily dry conditions.

The Los Angeles Times covers another Golden State extreme:

‘Remarkable’ warming reported in Central California coastal waters

Ocean temperatures along the Central California coast experienced a “remarkable” warming period during the first three weeks of July, leading to unusual encounters with some fish species, scientists reported.

The warmer ocean correlated with weaker winds, which reduced coastal upwelling, allowing warmer water to move inshore, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The warming is related to unusual weather pattern seen in the Sierra Nevada, where recent thunderstorms have pummeled dry forest lands with bursts of rain and lightning, Nate Mantua, Team Leader of Landscape Ecology for Southwest Fisheries Science Center, said in an email.

Bloomberg brings us our first water story, this one with an austerian twist:

L.A. Faces $15 Billion Bill as Pipes Spring Leaks: Cities

Los Angeles is showing its age, and city officials don’t have plans for financing the facelift.

From buckling sidewalks to potholed thoroughfares to storm drains that can’t handle a little rain, the infrastructure that holds the second-largest U.S. city together is suffering from years of deferred maintenance. Bringing pipes that deliver water to 3.9 million people up to snuff could cost $4 billion — more than half the city’s annual operating budget. The bill for repaving streets will be almost that much, according to estimates from a city consultant, and patching or replacing cracked sidewalks will require $640 million.

City Council members recently gave up on a proposal to ask voters for a sales-tax increase to finance street and sidewalk repairs, and Mayor Eric Garcetti has ruled out raising water rates anytime soon to upgrade pipelines.

The San Diego Union-Tribune covers another water woe:

Southwest braces as Lake Mead water levels drop

Once-teeming Lake Mead marinas are idle as a 14-year drought steadily drops water levels to historic lows. Officials from nearby Las Vegas are pushing conservation but also are drilling a new pipeline to keep drawing water from the lake.

Hundreds of miles away, farmers who receive water from the lake behind Hoover Dam are preparing for the worst.

The receding shoreline at one of the main reservoirs in the vast Colorado River water system is raising concerns about the future of a network serving a perennially parched region home to 40 million people and 4 million acres of farmland.

NBC News Digital covers another consequential water woe:

Heartland Water Crisis: Why the Planet Depends on These Kansas Farmers

America’s Breadbasket, a battle of ideas is underway on the most fundamental topics of all: food, water, and the future of the planet.

Last August, in a still-echoing blockbuster study, Dave Steward, Ph.D., and his colleagues at Kansas State University, informed the $15 billion Kansas agricultural economy that it was on a fast track to oblivion. The reason: The precipitous, calamitous withdrawal rates of the Ogallala Aquifer.

The Ogallala is little known outside this part of the world, but it’s the primary source of irrigation not just for all of western Kansas, but the entire Great Plains. This gigantic, soaked subterranean sponge – fossil water created 10 million years ago – touches eight states, stretching from Texas all the way up to South Dakota, across 111.8 million acres and 175,000 square miles.

The Los Angeles Times covers water woes down South:

Brazil’s water crisis amid drought could lead to rationing

A drought in Brazil has led to a water crisis and the country’s largest population center is facing the prospect of rationing.

Brazil’s Public Ministry, a federal regulatory agency, has recommended that Sao Paulo state immediately commence water rationing to avoid a “collapse of reservoirs,” but the state government missed an initial deadline on Wednesday to take action.

Because of scarce rain in 2014, water levels are low, especially at Sao Paulo’s Sistema Cantareira watershed. The Public Ministry says the watershed could soon run dry.

From Reuters, oceanic water woes:

Man-made ‘dead zone’ in the Gulf of Mexico is the size of Connecticut

Scientists say a man-made “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico is as big as the state of Connecticut.

The zone, which at about 5,000 square miles (13,000 sq km) is the second largest in the world but still smaller than in previous years, is so named because it contains no oxygen, or too little, at the Gulf floor to support bottom-dwelling fish and shrimp.

The primary cause of the annual phenomenon is excess nutrient runoff from farms along the Mississippi River, which empties into the Gulf, said Gene Turner, a researcher at Louisiana State University’s Coastal Ecology Institute.

From BBC News, another kind of water woe:

Mexican mine was slow to report leak, officials say

A private copper mine in north-west Mexico did not immediately alert the authorities that large quantities of a toxic chemical were spilling into a river last week, Mexican officials say.

The authorities in Sonora state said the spill only came to light the next day, after residents downstream noticed the river had turned orange. Some 40,000 cubic metres (10 million gallons) of sulfuric acid have leaked into a tributary of the Sonora river.

The mine is owned by Grupo Mexico. “The company deliberately concealed the accident,” said Cesar Lagarda, an official at the National Water Commission, according to Mexico’s La Jornada newspaper.

After the jump agricultural woes domestic and foreign, toxic spills, household toxins, wildlife woes and a win, fracking fights, nuclear woes, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Ebola, water woes, toxics, nukes


One again, the Ebola virus claims the top spot on our collection of headlinies about the intersection of humans and the world they live in, starting with this from Xinhua:

Senegal reports suspected Ebola infection

A Malian national living in northern Senegal has been quarantined in a hospital due to suspected Ebola symptoms, Senegalese News Agency reported Saturday.

The 27-year-old patient had just returned to the northern city of Ourossogui from a trip to Mali, where he was in contact with nationals of Guinea, said the head doctor of the local medical team, adding samples have been sent to Dakar for analysis and the results could be available within 48 hours.

A doctor accompanied by officers of health services has already been dispatched to the city to disinfect the home of the patient and the bike that was used to transport him.

The Associated Press covers a domestic precaution:

US Ebola check means quarantine of missionaries

Missionaries retuning to the United States after working with patients infected with Ebola will be put in quarantine and monitored, health officials said Sunday.

The quarantine will last at least three weeks since the missionaries were last exposed to people infected with the Ebola virus, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services said.

The missionaries are with Charlotte-based SIM USA. None of them are sick or have shown any signs of having Ebola, but they agree with health officials that everyone should be as cautious as possible, SIM USA president Bruce Johnson said in a statement.

And the New York Times parses epidemiology:

Tracing Ebola’s Breakout to an African 2-Year-Old

Patient Zero in the Ebola outbreak, researchers suspect, was a 2-year-old boy who died on Dec. 6, just a few days after falling ill in a village in Guéckédou, in southeastern Guinea. Bordering Sierra Leone and Liberia, Guéckédou is at the intersection of three nations, where the disease found an easy entry point to the region.

A week later, it killed the boy’s mother, then his 3-year-old sister, then his grandmother. All had fever, vomiting and diarrhea, but no one knew what had sickened them.

Two mourners at the grandmother’s funeral took the virus home to their village. A health worker carried it to still another, where he died, as did his doctor. They both infected relatives from other towns. By the time Ebola was recognized, in March, dozens of people had died in eight Guinean communities, and suspected cases were popping up in Liberia and Sierra Leone — three of the world’s poorest countries, recovering from years of political dysfunction and civil war.

From BBC News, chaos on the ground:

Ebola virus: Liberia health system ‘overtaxed’

Liberia’s information minister has admitted that the country’s health care system has been overwhelmed by the spread of the deadly Ebola virus.

Lewis Brown told the BBC the system had been “overtaxed” by the outbreak, but that authorities were doing their best in the face of an unprecedented crisis.

The medical charity MSF said officials underestimated the outbreak and that the health system was “falling apart”.

More from the London Telegraph:

The Liberian slum where Ebola spreads death among killer virus ‘deniers’

Blue crosses on houses in New Kru Town mark the few residences to have complied with the advice of visiting health officials, while countless others rely on prayer and witchcraft to fend off Ebola in Monrovia

When some initial cases first appeared in Liberia’s northern Lofa County back in March, health officials initially thought they had it under control. But in June, a resident of a district of New Kru Town known as Carpet Street died, as did several others. According to Dr Bernice Dahn, Liberia’s chief medical officer, three of the victims passed away while they were being sheltered in a local church – a sign of how many some people believe the disease is a curse that can be cured by prayer or witchcraft.

“We must stop keeping people suspected of Ebola in our churches on ground that we can heal them,” she warned at the time. “The churches are not hospitals.”

Liberian hospitals, however, do not always inspire the kind of faith that people have in Liberian churches. A fortnight ago, one the main local health facilities, Redemption Hospital, was stoned by a mob after a woman died in there from a suspected Ebola case, following nationwide rumours that health workers were themselves passing on the disease. Today, the squat, single storey building offers redemption no more, having

A fear abated from the Associated Press:

Saudi: Suspected Ebola victim did not have virus

A Saudi man who died last week after returning from Sierra Leone did not have the Ebola virus, according to initial international laboratory results, Saudi Arabia’s Health Ministry said.

The ministry said late Saturday that samples submitted to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came back negative for the Ebola virus, adding that samples were also sent for testing to a laboratory in Germany. The ministry said the CDC is conducting additional tests to further confirm the negative Ebola finding and determine if the patient was infected with a different virus found in Sierra Leone.

The 40-year-old Saudi national died Wednesday in a hospital isolation ward in the Saudi coastal city of Jiddah after showing symptoms of the viral hemorrhagic fever. He was the only suspected Ebola case in the kingdom and had just returned from a trip to affected Sierra Leone.

Channel NewsAsia Singapore eases another fear:

Man tests negative for Ebola in Hong Kong

A Nigerian man in Hong Kong has tested negative for  Ebola, said Chinese broadcaster CCTV. He had been placed in quarantine after he was suspected of carrying the virus, said Chinese media on Sunday (Aug 10).

According to CCTV, the 32-year-old had arrived in the southern Chinese city from Nigeria on Thursday. He was sent to hospital after experiencing vomiting and diarrhoea.

From the Toronto Globe and Mail, ditto:

Brampton, Ont. patient tests negative for Ebola

The Ebola virus has been ruled out in patient at a Brampton, Ont., hospital who was placed in isolation on Friday as a precaution after showing flu-like symptoms and travelling from Nigeria.

“I can now confirm a recent case that underwent testing at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg was found to test negative for Ebola virus disease,” said Eric Hoskins, Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, in a statement released early Sunday morning.

Reuters prepares:

U.S. emergency labs ready to work on Ebola drugs if asked

All three U.S. facilities established to quickly make vaccines and therapeutics in the event of a major public health threat say they are standing by to support any U.S. government effort to scale up a treatment for Ebola.

The facilities, called Centers for Innovation in Advanced Development and Manufacturing (ADM), were set up by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in partnership with private industry, to respond to pandemics or chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear threats.

They have the expertise to quickly switch production lines to manufacture, for example, a smallpox vaccine if that scourge were to re-emerge, or an anthrax vaccine, and other life-saving compounds against both natural outbreaks and bioterrorism.

And TheLocal.es prescribes that drug the U.S. says they aren’t sending to Africa:

Spanish priest to receive experimental Ebola drug

A Spanish priest infected with Ebola will be treated with an experimental drug that has been used on two Americans infected with the deadly virus, the government said.

The drug called ZMapp arrived at Madrid’s La Paz-Carlos III hospital where the 75-year-old missionary was being treated in isolation, the health ministry said in a statement late on Saturday.

Spain’s drug safety agency allowed the “exceptional importation” of ZMapp under a law that allows “the use of non-authorised medications in cases where a patent’s life is in danger and they can’t be treated satisfactorily with an authorised medication,” it said.

From the Christian Science Monitor, an African counter-example:

Uganda offers lessons on how West Africa can contain Ebola outbreak

So far, the current epidemic has killed nearly 1,000 people in four countries, but it hasn’t touched East Africa. Countries like Uganda, which faced a major outbreak in 2000, are prepared with strategies to isolate and treat patients.

Uganda’s experience shows the importance of moving quickly. Indeed, as soon as laboratory tests confirmed that Lukwiya’s patients had Ebola, the government immediately called a news conference with the World Health Organization (WHO), the US Centers for Disease Control, and major donor nations, asking for assistance.

“In Uganda we have a government with very little shame about infectious disease,” says Roy Mayega, an epidemiologist and lecturer in the school of public health at Makerere University in Kampala. “They are not proud. When there is a crisis, they communicate it quickly.”

Uganda’s Health Ministry immediately blanketed radio stations and newspapers with public service announcements explaining the disease and describing proper procedure for burying the dead — in sealed plastic bags. And crucially, the government hired more than 1,000 local villagers from the area around Gulu and sent them door-to-door, looking for Ebola patients hidden by their families, and offering counsel on treatment and burial.

China Daily sends help:

Chinese Ebola doctors leave for Africa

Chinese disease control experts will leave for three West African nations affected by Ebola on Sunday evening and Monday, the National Health and Family Planning Commission (NHFPC) said on Sunday.

The NHFPC announced on Saturday that China will send three expert teams and medical supplies to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to assist the prevention and control of the Ebola virus.

China dispatched emergency humanitarian aid supplies from Shanghai to West African nations hit by Ebola on Sunday.

And from Xinhua, a Cuban alert:

Cuba acts on WHO Ebola alert

Cuban health authorities took steps Friday to protect the country against the Ebola virus, after the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a global alert to prevent the spread of the disease.

Niurka Molina, head of the Public Health Ministry’s international disease control, said the measures apply to both travelers and Cuban doctors arriving from Africa, where an Ebola outbreak has claimed nearly a thousand lives.

Thousands of Cuban doctors and healthcare workers are working in Africa, and other regions, as part of the country’s four-decade outreach policy, which has come to be known as medical diplomacy.

Deutsche Welle covers worries in Paris:

Ebola concerns hit home in France

With the World Health Organization now calling the Ebola outbreak a global emergency, the virus is no longer seen as a distant problem. That message is hitting home in France, a major hub for West African air traffic.

So far, no cases have been detected in France, although an Air France flight from Conakry was briefly quarantined in April over an Ebola scare.

“Even if the risk of contamination cannot be ruled out, it remains very low,” says Dr. Francois Bricaire, a specialist in infectious and tropical diseases at the Pitie-Salpetriere hospital in Paris. “But, in my opinion, the risk of an epidemic appears unlikely. Because from the moment a case is diagnosed, measures will be taken immediately to stop the transmission.”

Still, the country is beefing up its guard. Air France flights from West Africa now screen passengers before departure and French airports watch out for suspect cases. A number of French hospitals, including Pitie-Salpetriere, are equipped with special isolation rooms.

And for our final Ebola headline, Salon ponders the Next Big Thing:

How to survive the next plague: Why we’re unprepared for the outbreak of a super-virus

  • Ebola isn’t going to become a pandemic, but we still need to be better prepared, argues Dr. Stephen Morse

Last week, the World Health Organization declared the West African Ebola epidemic an international health emergency. Since its emergence this spring, the hemorrhagic fever  has killed more than 900 people across three different countries. And since two infected American aid workers returned to Atlanta for treatment, the media has exploded, highlighting any number of horrific (and unlikely) scenarios. But might there be some merit to the fear-mongering? What would happen if a similar disease — say, MERS, or the avian flu — found its way, uncontained, to American soil?

Last week, Salon spoke with Dr. Stephen Morse, professor and director of the Infectious Disease Epidemiology Certificate program at Columbia University Medical Center. Morse has served on numerous governmental and civilian committees for public health preparedness, most recently at the Department of Defense where he co-directed the Pathogen Countermeasures program.

The Oakland Tribune brings us our first water woes headline:

California drought: Lawmakers consider historic rules to limit groundwater pumping

In what would be the most significant water law passed in California in nearly 50 years, lawmakers in Sacramento are working with Gov. Jerry Brown on a landmark measure to regulate groundwater pumping for the first time.

With an Aug. 31 deadline until the end of the session and billions of dollars at stake, negotiations among farmers, environmentalists, cities and elected officials are reaching a crescendo.

Although landowners who want to divert water from reservoirs and rivers have been required to get a permit from the state since 1914, farmers and cities who tap underground aquifers — California’s largest water source — can pump as much as they want, when they want and with almost no oversight or limits.

One of the accompanying graphics:

BLOG Cal water

The Latin American Herald Tribune covers water woes to the south:

Mexico’s Yaqui Indians Defend Water Rights in Meeting with Senators

Representatives of the Yaqui Indian tribe demanded a halt to the operation of an aqueduct in the northwestern Mexican state of Sonora, saying in a meeting with senators that it will leave their communities without water.

“Yaqui elders, men, women, youth and children have come to this city to make ourselves heard because we’re sure that what’s happening on our land is a violation of our rights,” Yaqui spokesman Tomas Rojo said, according to a statement by Mexican civil society organization Serapaz.

Rojo also accused Sonora Gov. Guillermo Padres of continuing “with his crassness of taking our water away with projects like the Independence Aqueduct.”

More than 100 Yaqui Indians, who arrived Friday via caravan in Mexico City to meet with legislators and federal authorities, explained to the senators their position in a long-running dispute with the Sonora government that has included road-blocking protests by the indigenous group.

The Washington Post covers suburban sprawl run amok:

Southeast could become an overdeveloped ‘megalopolis’ in the next half century

Giant urban sprawl could pave over thousands of acres of forest and agriculture, connecting Raleigh to Atlanta by 2060, if growth continues at its current pace, according to a newly released research paper from the U.S. Geological Survey.

“We could be looking at a seamless corridor of urban development,” said Adam Terando, a research ecologist with the USGS and an adjunct professor at North Carolina State University who was the study’s lead author.

The development will engulf land from North Carolina to Georgia, and possibly spread to Birmingham, Ala., “if we continue to develop urban areas in the Southeast the way we have for the past 60 years,” he said.

And our first and only Fumushimapocalypose Now! headline comes from the Yomiuri Shimbun:

Fukushima to make decision on soil storage this month

Central and local government officials met in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, Friday to discuss the government’s offer of a total of ¥301 billion in financial assistance to the prefecture and two towns there that are candidates for interim facilities to store soil contaminated with radioactive substances released from Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

At the meeting, Environment Minister Nobuteru Ishihara and Takumi Nemoto, state minister for reconstruction, presented the national government’s financial support plan to Fukushima Gov. Yuhei Sato, Okuma Mayor Toshitsune Watanabe and Futaba Mayor Shiro Izawa.

Sato, Watanabe and Izawa responded favorably to the offer. The Fukushima prefectural government will decide by the end of this month whether to green-light construction of the facilities to store tainted soil collected during decontamination work.

From the Mainichi, tempting fate in the Arctic:

Russia starts drilling its northernmost oil well

Russia has begun drilling on its northernmost oil well, in the Kara Sea off the northern coast of Siberia.

The well is part of a joint project between the Russian state-owned oil company Rosneft and ExxonMobil to develop the region’s oil reserves, which are estimated at up to 100 billion barrels.

The Russian-American project comes despite deteriorating relations between Washington and Moscow over the crisis in Ukraine, in which each side has hit the other with sanctions.

The Guardian covers sin of fracking omission in Old Blighty:

Fracking campaigners criticise ‘censored’ report on house prices

  • Government urged to publish sections cut from study into impact of shale gas wells on local communities

The government has been criticised for censoring a report into the impact of shale gas drilling that examines the effect on house prices and pressure on local services.

Campaigners are calling for full publication of the study carried out by Whitehall officials, as the government continues to resist the idea of offering compensation to individual householders near proposed fracking sites.

The report, called Shale Gas: Rural Economy Impacts, was written in March and a draft was released under environmental information laws with large portions of the text removed. In particular, the section looking at the effect of drilling on house prices has three missing chunks.

And the Associated Press covers a tar sands recalculation:

Study: Keystone carbon pollution more than figured

The much-debated Keystone XL pipeline could produce four times more global warming pollution than the State Department calculated earlier this year, a new study concludes.

The U.S. estimates didn’t take into account that the added oil from the pipeline would drop prices by about $3 a barrel, spurring consumption that would create more pollution, the researchers said.

Outside experts not connected to the study gave it mixed reviews. The American Petroleum Institute found the study to be irrelevant because regardless of the pipeline, the tar sands will be developed and oil will be shipped by railroad if not by pipeline, spokeswoman Sabrina Fang said.

The new estimates, from scientists at the Stockholm Environment Institute, were published Sunday by the journal Nature Climate Change. Peter Erickson, lead author, said his work implies that the pipeline could basically wipe out reductions from some potential pollution-cutting policies under discussion.

For our final item, LiveScience, well, at least its not chemicals:

Computer Games Better Than Medication in Treating Elderly Depression

Computer games could help in treating older people with depression who haven’t been helped by antidepressant drugs or other treatments for the disorder, researchers say.

In a study of 11 older patients, researchers found playing certain computer games was just as effective at reducing symptoms of depression as the “gold standard” antidepressant drug escitalopram. Moreover, those patients playing the computer games achieved results in just four weeks, compared to the 12 weeks it often takes with escitalopram (also known by its brand name, Lexapro).

The computer games even improved what researchers call executive functions more than the drug did, according to the study. These functions are the thinking skills used in planning and organizing behavior, and their impairment has been linked to depression in elderly patients.

EnviroWatch: Ebola, water woes, Fuku’d, more


In the world of people, planet, and their interactions, we begin with the leading story of the recent days, first from the International Business Times:

Liberian Rioters Shut Down Highway To Protest Government Delays In Collecting Ebola Victims’ Bodies

Rioters in central Liberia blocked the country’s busiest highway Saturday to protest the government’s delay in collecting the bodies of Ebola victims. Police raced to the scene to quell the demonstrations before they reached a violent pitch, the Associated Press reported.

“There are reports of dead bodies lying in streets and houses,” Lindis Hurum, the emergency coordinator for the Doctors Without Borders charity group, told the AP. In the central town of Weala, about 50 miles from the capital of Monrovia, several bodies had by lying by the side of the road for two days.

The World Health Organization, or WHO, on Friday declared the Ebola pandemic in West Africa an international public health emergency. The outbreak — the deadliest on record — has so far killed at least 961 people in the region, including nearly 300 in Liberia. Many people have contracted the virus after touching or handling corpses of Ebola victims, the AP noted. Liberia’s government has ordered bodies to be cremated to stem fears the virus would spread via neighborhood burials.

More on the crisis from Deutsche Welle:

Lagos overwhelmed, Nigeria asks for Ebola outbreak help

  • Nigeria has appealed for volunteers to stop Ebola’s spreading. On Friday, President Goodluck Jonathan declared a national emergency over Ebola, which has so far claimed two lives there

Authorities in Lagos, home to 20 million and the largest city in Africa’s most populous country, have said they are facing a shortage of medical personnel. Lagos has nine confirmed Ebola cases, including two deaths.

“I won’t lie about that,” Lagos health commissioner Jide Idris said about the staff shortage Saturday.

Declaring Ebola a national emergency on Friday, President Goodluck Jonathan called on Nigerians to avoid gatherings to prevent the spread of the virus. In addition, he warned against moving the corpses of people who had died from Ebola.

BBC News takes action:

Ebola virus: Guinea shuts Liberia and S Leone borders

Guinea has closed its borders with Liberia and Sierra Leone to contain the spread of Ebola, which has killed 959 people in the three countries. The latest outbreak is thought to have begun in Guinea, but Liberia and Sierra Leone are currently facing the highest frequency of new cases.

Guinea said it was closing its borders in order to stop people from entering the country.

“We have provisionally closed the frontier between Guinea and Sierra Leone because of all the news that we have received from there recently,” Health Minister Remy Lamah told a news conference. He added that Guinea had also closed its border with Liberia.

The Guardian has more from on the ground:

Ebola crisis in Liberia brings rumours, hygiene lessons and hunger

  • As aid workers offer health advice on the streets, residents fear emergency measures are starving the capital of supplies

Another day has just broken in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia. Outside a block of humble flats on Centre Street, two women in long overcoats jump out of a taxi, avoiding the torrents of rainwater pouring along the gutter as they carry a large plastic bucket. On the porch, a crowd of young homeless men take shelter. They are about to receive a lesson in handwashing, non-contact and recognising symptoms of the deadly Ebola virus. It has killed 249 of their countrymen so far since March, 961 worldwide, and prompted 1,779 reported cases internationally.

The fact that Ebola is spread through bodily fluids such as sweat and saliva means that reducing physical contact has become a national obsession. At any time of day, outside banks, shops and homes, people disinfect their hands with chlorinated water. Shaking hands is forbidden and some have donned latex gloves.

Last week the government ramped up anti-Ebola measures. On Wednesday, Liberia’s president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, declared a state of emergency for 90 days. Her televised statement sent a new wave of fear through communities following two weeks of alarming announcements.

And from the Independent, fears coming closer:

Ebola outbreak: Fears strike Canadian hospital as patient isolated following ‘flu-like symptoms’

A hospital in Ontario, Canada, has isolated a patient with flu-like symptoms after the person was revealed to have recently travelled from Nigeria – one of the Ebola-hit areas.

The measure is just a precautionary one and the patient has not yet been diagnosed with the deadly disease – a virus with a mortality rate as high as 90 per cent and which has swept through west Africa killing 961.

The unnamed patient has been admitted to Brampton Civic Hospital, with a diagnosis yet to come.

Dr Eileen de Villa from, Associated Medical Officer at Peel Public Health said: “Measures that are being taken are indeed precautionary. I mean, there are health concerns ongoing in West Africa at this stage of the game,” reports the Toronto Star.

National Post covers another phase of the crisis:

International response to Ebola outbreak that’s killed almost 1,000 has been slow and inadequate, aid groups say

The international response to the Ebola outbreak that has killed almost 1,000 Africans has been slow and inadequate, and the World Health Organization is at least partly to blame, said spokesmen for two key aid groups.

The WHO on Friday designated the outbreak as an international public health emergency, eight months after it began. On May 18, when the situation seemed to be stabilizing, the Geneva-based organization said the outbreak “could be declared over on May 22.”

The WHO’s leaders “need to do a reality check and step up,” Koen Henckaerts, a health expert at the European Commission’s humanitarian aid division, said in a telephone interview from the Liberian capitol of Monrovia. “There is a lack of coordination among all the different partners.”

From the Associated Press, an interesting aside:

US bots flagged Ebola before outbreak announced

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is focusing a spotlight on an online tool run by experts in Boston that flagged a “mystery hemorrhagic fever” in forested areas of southeastern Guinea nine days before the World Health Organization formally announced the epidemic.

HealthMap uses algorithms to scour tens of thousands of social media sites, local news, government websites, infectious-disease physicians’ social networks and other sources to detect and track disease outbreaks. Sophisticated software filters irrelevant data, classifies the relevant information, identifies diseases and maps their locations with the help of experts.

“It shows some of these informal sources are helping paint a picture of what’s happening that’s useful to these public health agencies,” HealthMap co-founder John Brownstein said.

The Economic Times covers another front:

Ebola vaccine to go on trial next month, may be ready by 2015: UN

Clinical trials of a preventative vaccine for the Ebola virus made by British pharma company GlaxoSmithKline may begin next month and made available by 2015, the World Health Organization said on Saturday.

“We are targeting September for the start of clinical trials, first in the United States and certainly in African countries, since that’s where we have the cases,” Jean-Marie Okwo Bele, the WHO’s head of vaccines and immunisation, told French radio.

He said he was optimistic about making the vaccine commercially available. “We think that if we start in September, we could already have results by the end of the year.

Homeland Security News Wire rationalizes:

Quantities of experimental Ebola drug used in U.S. too small to be shipped to West Africa

Nigerian health authorities said yesterday that West African patients infected with the Ebola virus will not have access to experimental drugs being used to treat American cases of the disease for several months, if at all. Health minister Onyebuchi Chukwu told a press conference he had asked the U.S. health authorities about the unproven medicines used on two American doctors who became infected while treating patients in Liberia, but was told such small quantities of the drug existed that West Africa would have to wait for months for supplies, even if they were proved safe and effective. The two Americans were given the drug ZMapp after being flown to the United States, and appear to be recovering.

Nigerian health authorities said yesterday that West African patients infected with the Ebola virus will not have access to experimental drugs being used to treat American cases of the disease for several months, if at all.

Health minister Onyebuchi Chukwu told a press conference he had asked the U.S. health authorities about the unproven medicines used on two American doctors who became infected while treating patients in Liberia, but was told such small quantities of the drug existed that West Africa would have to wait for months for supplies, even if they were proved safe and effective.

And from the Los Angeles Times, the more mundane:

Ebola outbreak causes postponement of taekwondo tournament

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has prompted organizers to postpone a large taekwondo tournament in the Nigerian capital of Abuja.

The Chika Chukwumerije Sports Foundation event was expected to draw more than 400 athletes from 11 countries in the region.

Taekwondo’s close contact “provides an ideal environment for a highly unlikely spread of the Ebola virus if only one infected person comes to the venue,” Chukwumerije said in a statement.

From the Hindu, Indian precautions:

No Ebola case has been reported in India: Harsh Vardhan

The Indian government is maintaining intense surveillance to prevent the spread of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in the country. A control room with helpline numbers 23063205, 23061469 and 23061302 got operational on Saturday morning at the Health Ministry and it dealt with 30 calls during the day, according to an official statement.

Union Minister for Health Dr. Harsh Vardhan has clarified that India does not have any confirmed or even suspected Ebola virus affected person. The World Health Organisation (WHO) had informed that one Indian passenger had travelled on the same flight in which an Ebola virus patient (a foreign national) was travelling from Monrovia to Lagos. This Indian passenger is back in India. He has been tracked and his health is being regularly monitored. The Health Minister said, “We are happy to share that the person is healthy, fit and fine.”

The Minister expressed satisfaction with the reaction of the general public to the awareness campaign launched by the government. “Most of the callers to the helpline reflected a mature understanding of the collective responsibility in times like this. They wanted to know details about the symptoms and preventive measures,” Dr. Harsh Vardhan said in the statement.

South China Morning Post covers another Asian response:

Hong Kong installs detection systems as WHO declares Ebola a global problem

  • Detection systems installed at Hong Kong’s borders as epidemic that has killed nearly 1,000 in Africa is declared international emergency

Hong Kong’s Centre for Health Protection (CHP) said the risk of the city being affected remained low, but it has stepped up precautions, such as installing detection systems at hospitals and border crossings.

Beijing announced a donation of 30 million yuan (HK$37 million) worth of medical equipment, such as protective clothing, monitoring devices and drugs, to the Ebola-hit areas.

“This is the largest, most severe and the most complex outbreak in the nearly four-decade history of this disease,” said the WHO chief Dr Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun.

For our final Ebola item, Nikkei Asian Review covers the economic front:

Spreading Ebola epidemic has widening economic ramifications

The International Monetary Fund predicts GDP growth in Guinea will be 3.5% instead of 4.5%, as canceled flights hamper business and some farmers leave their fields to escape the virus.

Infectious diseases and disasters are the archenemies of the tourism industry. Japan’s tour companies suffered blows from the SARS and H1N1 epidemics, so they know what could be in store.

Business people in the energy and infrastructure sectors from Japan, China and South Korea make frequent trips to Africa. If the Ebola epidemic spreads to the West and Asia, it could impact a broad range of industries and financial markets.

From the Guardian, a dismal dietary dispatch:

Salmonella trial reveals US food safety relies on self-reporting

  • Three ‘knowingly shipped’ contaminated peanut products
  • Company allegedly failed to act on positive tests

Jurors in the first US federal criminal trial stemming from a deadly outbreak of food-borne illness are learning a disconcerting fact: America’s food safety largely depends on the honour system.

Witnesses say Stewart Parnell and others at Peanut Corporation of America knowingly shipped salmonella-tainted products, and that they sent customers lab results from other clean batches rather than wait for tests to confirm if their products were free of deadly bacteria.

Defence lawyers correctly noted for the jurors that salmonella tests are not even required by federal law.

After the jump, water woes hit critical levels at home and abroad, planning for the inevitable, a Superfund’s Silent Spring, China’s soil pollution crisis, the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!, and Chinese fracking anxieties. . . Continue reading

Must See: The Arctic Methane Monster’s Rapid Rise


An ongoing concern here at esnl has been the acceleration of methane releases of methane from the Arctic, both on land and from the sea bead.

While global warming activists have focused largely on carbon dioxide, methane [natural gas] is 125 times more powerful an agent for global warming, and its potential to cause global havoc is perhaps the most underestimated “natural” destructive force on the planet.

What is critical in understanding the exponential releases of methane is that anthropogenic warming as a result of CO2 and other greenhouse gases is priming the pump for the methane releases — releases which will dwarf the cumulative impacts of all the other greenhouse gases [as it did in the case of the Permian Mass Extinction, AKA the Great Dying].

Which brings us to this must-see video from environmental researcher Jennifer Hynes. It’s one of the most chilling presentations you’ll ever see.

From CoreLightFilms:

The Arctic Methane Monster’s Rapid Rise

Program notes:

Researcher Jennifer Hynes offers a riveting, comprehensive, scientific Power Point presentation about the Arctic atmospheric “methane global warming veil”, a spiral of runaway global warming.

Hynes gives great credit to a website we consult daily, a source of many of our previous posts about the impending methane-spawned disaster, Arctic News.

EnviroWatch: Ebola, drought, nukes, fracktiousness


Plus the latest from Fukushimapocalypse Now!

For our first item, via United Press International, Ebola arrives in the U.S.?:

New York City man tested for Ebola at Mount Sinai after returning from West Africa

The male patient checked into the emergency room Monday morning suffering from a high fever and gastrointestinal problems. He recently returned to America from a West African country affected by Ebola.

male patient at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital is being tested for the Ebola virus, hospital officials confirmed.

The patient checked into the emergency room Monday morning, suffering from a high fever and gastrointestinal problems. According to the hospital, the man recently returned to the United States from a West African country where Ebola has been reported.

“All necessary steps are being taken to ensure the safety of all patients, visitors and staff,” Mount Sinai officials said in a statement.

Vocativ covers the social media response:

Manhattan Ebola Rumor Causes New York Twitter Freakout

And from thinkSPAIN, one European nation prepares:

Spain gets ready for possible arrival of Ebola haemorrhagic virus

SPAIN is preparing itself as far as possible in case the deadly Ebola virus – currently sweeping three west African nations – reaches the country.

The Spanish-owned city-provinces of Ceuta and Melilla on the northern Moroccan coast could be a point of entry for the disease, which so far has a survival rate of less than 10 per cent and his highly infectious, although not contagious.

Whilst no apparent risk or signs of the disease entering Spain have been detected as yet, these two enclaves of Spain are a known and regular entry point for sub-Saharan Africans attempting to enter Europe via the ‘back door’, either by jerry-built boat or by climbing the border fence after trekking across the continent for months, and not everyone who gets through is caught and sent back.

The Guardian covers another case with an American connection:

Ebola outbreak: doctor who treated Nigeria’s first victim contracts virus

  • Doctor was part of a team that attended to Liberian-American civil servant who collapsed on arrival at Lagos airport last month

A doctor who treated Nigeria’s first Ebola victim has himself contracted the deadly virus, raising fears that the seven-month-long epidemic in three west African nations could spread in the continent’s most populous nation.

The doctor was part of a team that attended to Patrick Sawyer, a 40-year-old Liberian-American civil servant who collapsed on arrival at Lagos airport last month. Sawyer had flown from Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, with flight stopovers in nearby Ghana and Togo.

“As at today, one of the doctors that treated the late Mr Sawyer has tested positive to the Ebola virus,” the health minister Onyebuchi Chukwu told reporters in the capital, Abuja. Officials said they had identified 70 people with whom Sawyer had been in contact, eight of whom had been transferred to isolation wards in Lagos.

And from China’s CCTV, a report on what’s needed to fight the increasingly dangerous outbreak:

Resources needed to tackle this Ebola epidemic

Program notes:

For more on what resources were lacking to tackle this Ebola epidemic, CCTV America spoke to Professor Kathryn Jacobsen from George Mason University.

The Independent takes us to a strategy to fight the impactgs of California’s potentially catastrophic drought:

#droughtshaming: How California’s snitches are slaking thirst for justice

As California staggers thirstily through its worst drought in decades, the state’s more conscientious residents are employing extreme measures to curb their neighbours’ wasteful water use.

In a phenomenon known as “drought shaming”, many are calling water utility hotlines to report excessive lawn-watering or car-washing, while others snitch via social media, posting images of waste accompanied by the hashtag #DroughtShaming.

The whole of California is now officially in “severe drought”. Reservoirs are at just 60 per cent of the historical average. A recent study suggested the drought is likely to cost California $2.2bn (£1.3bn) this year, and to put approximately 17,000 agricultural labourers out of work.

In January, California Governor Jerry Brown called for a 20 per cent voluntary reduction in water use from the state, but water use decreased by just five per cent in the subsequent five months For 270 days beginning on 1 August, the California Water Resources Board has introduced fines of up to $500 for residents or businesses using drinkable water to spray down pavements, in non-circulating fountains or to water lawns and wash cars.

On to Japan for today’s Fukushimapocalypse Now!, this item from Kyodo News:

TEPCO places ice blocks in bid to freeze toxic water in trenches

The operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant said Monday it has placed tons of ice blocks in underground trenches at the complex in an attempt to freeze highly toxic water pooled there, a step seen as necessary before constructing a 1.5-kilometer ice wall to prevent radioactive water from further increasing.

Stopping the buildup of radioactive water in the trenches — resulting from cooling water for reactors that suffered meltdowns in the 2011 nuclear crisis — is seen one of the urgent tasks Tokyo Electric Power Co. needs to address.

Amid concerns about the spread of ocean pollution by the toxic water, TEPCO is struggling with the unprecedented attempt to freeze 1.5-km of soil around basement areas of the Nos. 1 to 4 reactor buildings.

And more nuclear woes for another nuclear plant on the Pacific shore built near a fault line, via the Associated Press:

San Onofre nuclear power plant dismantling will cost $4.4 billion, take 20 years

Dismantling the San Onofre nuclear power plant in Southern California will take two decades and cost $4.4 billion.

Southern California Edison on Friday released a road map that calls for decommissioning the twin-reactor plant and restoring the property over two decades, beginning in 2016.

U-T San Diego says it could be the most expensive decommissioning in the 70-year history of the nuclear power industry. But Edison CEO Ted Craver says there’s already enough money to pay for it.

Edison shut down the plant in 2012 after extensive damage was found to tubes carrying radioactive water. It was closed for good last year.

From the Guardian, a major setback for the America’s federal dam builders:

US Army Corps ordered to disclose more information about dam pollution

  • Corps will have to disclose the amount of pollutants its dams are sending into waterways in a groundbreaking legal settlement

For the first time in its history, the US Army Corps of Engineers will have to disclose the amount of pollutants its dams are sending into waterways in a groundbreaking legal settlement that could have broad implications for the Corps’ hundreds of dams nationwide.

The Corps announced in a settlement on Monday that it will immediately notify the conservation group that filed the lawsuit of any oil spills among its eight dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers in Oregon and Washington.

The Corps will also apply to the Environmental Protection Agency for pollution permits, something the Corps has never done for the dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers.

From the Independent, violence hits the Irish fracking industry:

British fracking industry suffers first terrorist-style bomb attack in Northern Ireland

Britain’s fracking industry has suffered its first terrorist-type attack, after the home of a shale gas worker in Northern Ireland was petrol-bombed from a passing car.

Police are looking for the driver of a dark-coloured Audi estate that was seen in the area at the time of the attack at 3.25am on Sunday, when two petrol bombs were hurled at a security guard’s house near the Belcoo shale site on the outskirts of Enniskillen in County Fermanagh.

Nobody was hurt and the property is not thought to have been damaged in the attack, which was criticised by all parties.

And for our final item, more fracking fractiousness closer to home via the Los Angeles Times:

In Colorado, lines are drawn for an election battle over fracking

When Rep. Jared Polis found that a 100-foot tower and a drilling operation had been built last year across the road from his weekend home, he told his story on YouTube, predicting that by fighting for “sensible regulations” he would become the anti-fracking “poster boy.”

That could come true if two Polis-backed ballot measures to restrict fracking in Colorado qualify for the November ballot. If proponents have collected enough valid signatures by Monday, the state’s voters will decide on one initiative requiring all new oil and gas wells to be set back 2,000 feet from any home or school — a major expansion of the current buffer requirement of 500 feet — and a second that would give communities more control over drilling by adding an “environmental bill of rights” to the state’s constitution.

Polis’ proposed ballot measures have touched off a furious battle in this state, where the number of active wells has doubled in the last decade, creating thousands of jobs in what has become a $29.5-billion industry. Among those who do not share his views: two fellow Democrats in reelection races for governor and U.S. Senate. Those races would be far more unpredictable with the measures on the ballot.

EnviroWatch: Water, weather, plagues, nukes


Today’s compendium of headlines from the intersection of people and planet begins with more of the most compelling story of the moment, via Sky News:

Liberia Closes Schools To Halt Ebola Spread

  • Security forces are ordered to enforce new anti-ebola rules as government workers are made to take compulsory leave.

Liberia has closed all schools and quarantined several communities as it attempts to stop the spread of the deadly ebola virus.

All non-essential government workers were also put on 30 days compulsory leave as the country announced its anti-ebola action plan.

Security forces across the country have been ordered to enforce the new rules.

Liberia had recorded 129 of the 672 deaths blamed on ebola as of July 23, according to the World Health Organisation.

Al Jazeera America covers the later on another subject of ongoing and considerable interest:

Report: World faces water crises by 2040

Wind, solar power increase needed to avoid global drought

The world will face “insurmountable” water crises in less than three decades, researchers said Tuesday, if it does not move away from water-intensive power production.

A clash of competing necessities — drinking water and energy demand — will cause widespread drought unless action is taken soon, researchers from Denmark’s Aarhus University, Vermont Law School and the U.S.-funded Center for Naval Analyses Corporation said in the reports.

“There will be no water by 2040 if we keep doing what we’re doing today,” researcher Benjamin Sovacool, director of the Center for Energy Technology at Aarhus University said in a press release on two new reports released Tuesday.

Globally, there has been a three-fold population increase in the past century and a six-fold increase in water consumption, the report said. If trends in population and energy use continue, it could leave a 40 percent gap between water supply and demand by the year 2030.

Another water story, this time from MercoPress:

Sao Paulo faces water rationing; in 100 days the system could run dry

  • Federal prosecutors have asked the government of Sao Paulo to present water rationing plans for Brazil’s most populous state to prevent the collapse of its main reservoir. If such plans are not presented in 10 days, the prosecutor’s office said on its website it may ask courts to force rationing.
  • Sao Paulo is facing the worst drought in more than 80 years. The key Cantareira water system, which provides water to some 9 million of the 20 million people living in the metropolitan area of Sao Paulo city, is at less than 16% of its capacity of 1 trillion liters.

Citing a study prepared by the state university of Campinas, the prosecutor’s office said that the Cantareira system could run dry in 100 days unless rationing is implemented.

The Sao Paulo state government’s water utility said in an emailed statement that it disagrees with the “imposition of water rationing, for it would penalize the population.”

From Public Radio International, a Brazilian environmental body count:

Activists in Brazil are fighting to protect the environment — and their lives

908. That’s the number of environmental and land-reform activists assassinated worldwide between 2003 and 2013, according to a study by the NGO Global Witness. The number might shock you, but perhaps even more shocking is that nearly half of those murders — 448 — took place in one country: Brazil.

What is it that makes Brazil the most dangerous place in the world to be an activist?

You’ll find clues in the story of Guarabana Bay. The bay, just minutes from downtown Rio’s world famous beaches, is a study in pollution and filth. Dark sludge cakes the shoreline. Garbage floats everywhere. It’s so bad that some sailors set to compete here in the 2016 Summer Olympics are warning colleagues not to let this water touch their ski

While an item in yesterday’s EnvrioWatch noted strong opposition to GMO rice in china, an MIT Technology Review indicates GMO receptivity for another staple:

Chinese Researchers Stop Wheat Disease with Gene Editing

  • Researchers have created wheat that is resistant to a common disease, using advanced gene editing methods.

Advanced genome-editing techniques have been used to create a strain of wheat resistant to a destructive fungal pathogen—called powdery mildew—that is a major bane to the world’s top food source, according to scientists at one of China’s leading centers for agricultural research.

To stop the mildew, researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences deleted genes that encode proteins that repress defenses against the mildew. The work promises to someday make wheat more resistant to the disease, which is typically controlled through the heavy use of fungicides. It also represents an important achievement in using genome editing tools to engineer food crops without inserting foreign genes—a flashpoint for opposition to genetically modified crops.

The gene-deletion trick is particularly tough to do in wheat because the plant has a hexaploid genome—that is, it has three similar copies of most of its genes. That means multiple genes must be disabled or the trait will not be changed. Using gene-editing tools known as TALENs and CRISPR, the researchers were able to do that without changing anything else or adding genes from other organisms.

On to the latest Fukushimaposcalypse Now!, starting with a chilly item from NHK WORLD:

Ice put into utility tunnels at Fukushima plant

The operator of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has begun putting ice into underground utility tunnels to help freeze radiation-contaminated wastewater.

The Tokyo Electric Power Company began work in April to create a wall of ice between the basement of the No. 2 reactor building and its utility tunnel.

TEPCO initially planned to freeze radioactive wastewater that’s been flowing into underground utility tunnels at the plant. It hoped the measure would prevent the wastewater from mixing with groundwater and flowing out to sea.

Followed by a hotter reception from NHK WORLD:

Emergency radiation exposure limit may be raised

Japan’s nuclear watchdog is considering raising the radiation exposure maximum limit for nuclear plant workers for serious accidents.

Nuclear Regulation Authority Chairman Shunichi Tanaka told at the body’s regular meeting on Wednesday that the possibility of a nuclear accident, where workers could be exposed to radiation beyond the current legal accumulative limit of 100 millisieverts, cannot be denied. His proposal to study raising the limit was approved at the meeting.

The authority will decide on the level by referring to overseas standards. It will also confer on how to get prior consent from workers and train them for such cases. If a legal amendment is necessary, it plans to send its findings to a relevant government panel for deliberations.

Jiji Press disposes, unhappiness ensues:

Shioya Picked as Candidate Site for Designated Waste Disposal

Japan’s Environment Ministry said Wednesday it has picked state-owned land in the town of Shioya in Tochigi Prefecture as a candidate site for building a final disposal facility for designated waste contaminated by radioactive substances from the March 2011 nuclear accident.

Senior Vice Environment Minister Shinji Inoue visited Shioya Mayor Kazuhisa Mikata to explain the ministry’s decision and to seek the eastern Japan town’s understanding for the conducting of a detailed field investigation.

“I can’t help but feel regret,” Mikata said, expressing the town’s opposition to construction of the facility.

From the Guardian, a fractious fracking flap:

EC serves notice to Poland over shale gas defiance

  • Warsaw accused of breaching EU law on assessing environmental impact of fracking, reports EurActiv

The European commission has begun legal proceedings against Poland for amending its national laws to allow shale drills at depths of up to 5,000 metres without first having assessed the potential environmental impacts, EurActiv has learned.

In June, Brussels sent Poland formal notice that it was opening a case against it for infringing the environmental impact assessment (EIA) directive.

If Warsaw does not now satisfy the commission’s concerns by the end of August, the case could reach the European court of justice (ECJ).

Truthout ponders a rising crisis alert:

Does NASA’s Data Show Doomsday for New York City?

If we don’t do something quick to stop global warming, some of the biggest cities in America could go the way of Atlantis in just a matter of decades.

Sam Carana over at Arctic News has taken the time to analyze the latest data from NASA, and what’s he’s projecting from that data is startling.

Sam suggests that global sea levels may rise rapidly over the next few decades; so rapidly, in fact, that we could see more than 2.5 meters of seal level rise by 2040, which is just 26 years from now.

And because, as Sam Carana points out, sea levels now look like they’re going rise exponentially – on a curve – as opposed to on a straight line, they will continue to rise even faster after 2040.

And for our final item, from CNBC, an alert from left field:

Paul Singer: This threat is ‘head-and-shoulders’ above all others

Billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Singer has issued an unusual warning for investors, calling the threat of a widespread blackout from an electromagnetic surge the “most significant danger” in the world.

Called an “electromagnetic pulse” or EMP, the events can occur naturally from solar storms or artificially from a high-altitude explosion of nuclear weapons.

“While these pages are typically chock full of scary or depressing scenarios, there is one risk that is head-and-shoulders above all the rest in terms of the scope of potential damage adjusted for the likelihood of occurrence,” Singer wrote to clients of his $24.8 billion Elliott Management on Monday in a standard investment update letter. “Even horrendous nuclear war, except in its most extreme form, can [be] a relatively localized issue, and the threat from asteroids can (possibly) be mitigated.”

EnviroWatch: Fires, toxins, nukes, crops


Our compendium of news environmental begins with Golden State burning, via the Christian Science Monitor:

California fire threatens 500 homes, more high temps forecast

California fire crews are battling the so-called Sand Fire, which doubled in size over the weekend, as well as a fire near Yosemite National Park. Intense heat is expected to continue in the state this week.

More than 1,000 residents have been evacuated from the Sierra Nevada foothills as wildfire threatens 500 homes.

The so-called Sand Fire doubled in size over the weekend, burning 13 homes and outbuildings and scorching six square miles of grassland and timber near Plymouth, Calif., some 30 miles east of Sacramento. Nearly 2,000 firefighters are battling the blaze with the help of a DC-10 air tanker, but high temperatures and gusting winds continue to fan the flames. The blaze, which began on Friday, is currently 50 percent contained.

The intense heat is expected to continue throughout the week, further complicating efforts to battle the fire and heightening the potential for other outbreaks, Sacramento-based National Weather Service meteorologist Drew Peterson told the Los Angeles Times.

From CBC News, corporate poisoning north of the border:

Mercury survivors neglected by government, Grassy Narrows First Nation claims

A northwestern Ontario First Nation has released a five-year-old report confirming the community suffers ongoing effects from mercury poisoning, but it says the government has never acted on the findings.

At a news conference in Toronto on Monday, members of Grassy Narrows First Nation presented the 2009 report that they say should have been made public long ago.

The report was commissioned by the Mercury Disability Board, an organization established in 1986 through an out-of-court settlement to assess and manage claims related to mercury contamination in the Wabigoon/English River system.

A Dryden-based paper company dumped mercury into the river between 1962 and 1970, contaminating the main source of fish for Grassy Narrows First Nation and Wabesemoong Independent Nations.

And from EcoWatch, troubled waters on the northern border:

Plastic Pellets Pollute Lake Erie

Millions of industrial plastic pellets pollute the sands beneath our feet, but you can’t see them unless you look closely, and no beach cleanup will ever make it better.

“We picked up all the bags and bottles already,” said one young volunteer that collected trash on Whiskey Island at Wendy Park’s Sandy Beach, along the shore of Lake Erie in Cleveland as part of the Burning River Fest. I was sitting next to her on the ground sifting through leaf litter picking up the little pieces. I yelled, “I’ll give a dollar to the first person to find a pellet!” Within a few minutes a dozen volunteers were on their hand and knees picking up thousands of them. The amount of pellets on this beach is equivalent to a least one plastic bottle every three feet.

Industries that make or use preproduction plastic pellets contribute to the problem of uncontrolled pellet loss. Preproduction plastic is the raw plastic resin materials that are molded into finished plastic products, according to the California Environmental Protection Agency. Preproduction plastics are often produced in a resin pellet format, occasionally termed as “nurdles.” These small, 1- to 5- mm diameter pieces are produced in various shapes, colors and plastic types. Preproduction plastics can be produced in powder, granule and flake form.

From the Guardian, the best “science” money can buy:

Bee research tainted by corporate funding, MPs say

  • Report warns against letting pesticide companies fund key research for government plan to boost pollinators

Criticial future research on the plight of bees risks being tainted by corporate funding, according to a report from MPs published on Monday. Pollinators play a vital role in fertilising three-quarters of all food crops but have declined due to loss of habitat, disease and pesticide use. New scientific research forms a key part of the government’s plan to boost pollinators but will be funded by pesticide manufacturers.

UK environment ministers failed in their attempt in 2013 to block an EU-wide ban on some insecticides linked to serious harm in bees and the environmental audit select committee (EAC) report urges ministers to end their opposition, arguing there is now even more evidence of damage. Millions of member of the public have supported the ban.

“When it comes to research on pesticides, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is content to let the manufacturers fund the work,” said EAC chair Joan Walley. “This testifies to a loss of environmental protection capacity in the department responsible for it. If the research is to command public confidence, independent controls need to be maintained at every step. Unlike other research funded by pesticide companies, these studies also need to be peer-reviewed and published in full”.

On to Latin America for two contrasting agricultural stories via Public Radio International:

Brazil is set to become the world’s biggest soy producer — and that might be bad news for its forests

In the soy bean world, all eyes are now on the state of Mato Grosso in Brazil.

It’s covered by millions of acres of industrial farms and deep green soy fields. If this year’s harvest — the best in Brazilian history — comes in as expected, Brazil is poised to surpass the US and become the world’s largest soy producer. Soy beans have boosted Brazil’s economy and even brought President Dilma Roussef to Mato Grosso to congratulate farmers in person.

But in a nearby indigenous village, no one is celebrating. The boom in soy production coincided with a spike in deforestation. And Hiparidi Toptiro, an activist from the indigenous Xavante people, says local soy farmers are willing to do anything for a chunk of the forest where the Xavante live.

“Throughout our lands, people show up wielding false deeds to the area,” Toptiro says.  “And they have begun to plant soybeans inside our lands. They pay off one of our villages with a little money, which complicates the relationship between all of us in the reserve. “ He calls it dividing and conquering with trinkets.

The Guardian looks at the alternative:

Can ‘agroecology’ bring food security to Latin America?

  • A home-grown, alternative approach to farming is bad news for pesticides, monoculture and food poverty in Brazil

In response to problems caused by agribusiness, including contamination of natural resources, increases in food prices, soil infertility and health problems, agroecology has emerged as a marriage between science, traditional agriculture and social movements.

Family farming, the practice which agroecology is based on, involves about 500 million people worldwide, according statistics from UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Agroecological farmers produce relatively more food. In South America, family farming takes place on 18% of the territory and produces about 40% of its food.

María de Los Angeles is an Ecuadorian representative of the agroecological movement of Latin America and the Caribbean. She says conventional production is not sustainable because it degrades the soil and is based on fossil fuels.

“Agroecology recovers elements of each territory and knowledge developed by farmers for thousands of years. Instead of monoculture, we’re talking about preserving biodiversity and humankind itself.”

Off to Japan for the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!, starting with an offering from Jiji Press:

No Clear Effect of Fukushima Groundwater Bypass: TEPCO

Tokyo Electric Power Co. admitted Monday that it still cannot confirm whether a so-called groundwater bypass operation at its crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant is working.

In May, the utility began the operation to pump untainted groundwater into the sea so that the water will not flow into reactor buildings and increase the amount of radioactive water at the plant.

TEPCO official Teruaki Kobayashi told a news conference Monday that the company is still unable to see tangible results from the operation in reactor buildings.

From the Asahi Shimbun, justifiable skepticism:

ASAHI POLL: 59% oppose planned restart of Kyushu reactors

Nearly 60 percent of citizens are opposed to the planned restart of reactors at the Sendai nuclear power plant in Kagoshima Prefecture, the first such restart under tougher standards introduced after the Fukushima crisis, according to an Asahi Shimbun survey.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority on July 16 concluded that reactors at the Kyushu Electric Power Co. plant meet the safety standards introduced after the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami triggered the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

It is the first time since the Fukushima nuclear disaster began that a nuclear plant has passed the NRA’s stricter inspections.

The Asahi Shimbun again, with cause for even more skepticism:

Former Kansai Electric Power executive reveals 18 years of secret payments to prime ministers

A former top official at Kansai Electric Power Co. has come forward to reveal a nearly 20-year history of doling out “top secret” huge donations to Japanese prime ministers, funded on the backs of ratepayers.

Chimori Naito, 91, a former KEPCO vice president, said that for 18 years from 1972, seven prime ministers received 20 million yen (about $200,000 now) annually from Yoshishige Ashihara, who served as both KEPCO president and chairman.

At that time, political donations to individual lawmakers were not illegal. However, in 1974, electric power companies declared a ban on corporate donations to politicians because of strong public opposition to the use of electricity fees to pay for such contributions.

Naito had long taken pride in working closely with Ashihara in making the donations as part of efforts to promote nuclear energy and to further develop the electric power industry.

NHK WORLD covers a hot real estate deal:

Govt. won’t nationalize radioactive storage site

The government says it will allow landowners to keep their property rights for the land where it will build temporary storage facilities for radioactive debris in Fukushima Prefecture. It had originally planned to buy the land for the facilities.

Environment Minister Nobuteru Ishihara and Reconstruction Minister Takumi Nemoto met Fukushima Prefecture Governor Yuhei Sato and the mayors of Futaba and Okuma in Tokyo on Monday. The two towns host the crippled nuclear power plant.

The government had planned to buy land from landowners in the towns to build the intermediate storage facilities for radioactive soil and waste from the nuclear power plant. But some landowners had refused to sell.

From the Guardian, fracking Britain’s heritage:

Fracking: oil exploration already occurs in national parks, says energy minister

  • Tory MP Matthew Hancock’s remark comes as firms are invited to bid for first onshore oil and gas licences in six years

Ministers are right to leave the door open to fracking in national parks because oil and gas have been exploited uncontroversially in such areas for decades, Matthew Hancock, the new energy minister, has said.

Unveiling the first new competition for onshore oil and gas licences for six years, the Conservative MP said there would need to be exceptional circumstances for shale drilling in protected countryside but people should remember that national parks cover 16% of the UK.

The government is on Monday to advertise around half of the UK to companies which want to exploit shale gas, in the first sale of new onshore licences since experts discovered the scale of the UK’s reserves.

And for our final item, a chiller from News Corp Australia:

The arrival of an Ebola-infected air passenger in Nigeria has airlines and airports scrambling to respond around the world

A MAN collapses at an international airport: It’s a hackneyed scene from almost every plague film ever made. But now it has happened — airports around the world are on high alert as fears mount that the deadly Ebola virus is on the move.

Nigerian health authorities are racing to stop the spread of the flesh-eating Ebola virus after a man sick with one of the world’s deadliest diseases carried it by plane to Lagos, Africa’s largest city with 21 million people.

Nigeria is so concerned it has ordered the establishment of “disease isolation centres” at international airports across the country to prevent any further entry of the untreatable disease.

But the horse may have already bolted.

Quote of the day: The Sixth Mass Extinction


From the abstract of “Defaunation in the Anthropocene,” a major study in the latest issue of Science:

We live amid a global wave of anthropogenically driven biodiversity loss: species and population extirpations and, critically, declines in local species abundance. Particularly, human impacts on animal biodiversity are an under-recognized form of global environmental change. Among terrestrial vertebrates, 322 species have become extinct since 1500, and populations of the remaining species show 25% average decline in abundance. Invertebrate patterns are equally dire: 67% of monitored populations show 45% mean abundance decline. Such animal declines will cascade onto ecosystem functioning and human well-being. Much remains unknown about this “Anthropocene defaunation”; these knowledge gaps hinder our capacity to predict and limit defaunation impacts. Clearly, however, defaunation is both a pervasive component of the planet’s sixth mass extinction and also a major driver of global ecological change.

The last mass extinction happened 65 million years ago, spelling the end of the age of the dinosaurs. While that event is linked to a massive asteroid strike, the current collapse is, sadly, largely of our our own making.

Headlines II: Spies, lies, laws, zones, more


We open today’s tales from the dark side with a demand via The Intercept:

The Bahamas Wants to Know Why the NSA is Recording Its Phone Calls

Government officials in the Bahamas want their U.S. counterparts to explain why the National Security Agency has been intercepting and recording every cell phone call taking place on the island nation.

Responding to a report published by The Intercept on Monday, which revealed that the NSA has been targeting the Bahamas’ entire mobile network and storing the audio of every phone call traversing the network for up to 30 days, Bahamian officials told the Nassau Guardian that they had contacted the U.S. and vowed to release a statement regarding the revelations.

In a front-page story published Tuesday, Bahamian Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell told the Guardian that his government had reached out to the U.S. for an explanation. Mitchell said the cabinet was set to meet to discuss the matter and planned to issue a statement on the surveillance. The Bahamian minister of national security told the paper he intended to launch an inquiry into the NSA’s surveillance but did not provide a comment.

The New York Times parses spookery:

Fine Line Seen in U.S. Spying on Companies

The National Security Agency has never said what it was seeking when it invaded the computers of Petrobras, Brazil’s huge national oil company, but angry Brazilians have guesses: the company’s troves of data on Brazil’s offshore oil reserves, or perhaps its plans for allocating licenses for exploration to foreign companies.

Nor has the N.S.A. said what it intended when it got deep into the computer systems of China Telecom, one of the largest providers of mobile phone and Internet services in Chinese cities. But documents released by Edward J. Snowden, the former agency contractor now in exile in Russia, leave little doubt that the main goal was to learn about Chinese military units, whose members cannot resist texting on commercial networks.

The agency’s interest in Huawei, the giant Chinese maker of Internet switching equipment, and Pacnet, the Hong Kong-based operator of undersea fiber optic cables, is more obvious: Once inside those companies’ proprietary technology, the N.S.A. would have access to millions of daily conversations and emails that never touch American shores.

Then there is Joaquín Almunia, the antitrust commissioner of the European Commission. He runs no company, but has punished many, including Microsoft and Intel, and just reached a tentative accord with Google that will greatly change how it operates in Europe.

In each of these cases, American officials insist, when speaking off the record, that the United States was never acting on behalf of specific American companies. But the government does not deny it routinely spies to advance American economic advantage, which is part of its broad definition of how it protects American national security. In short, the officials say, while the N.S.A. cannot spy on Airbus and give the results to Boeing, it is free to spy on European or Asian trade negotiators and use the results to help American trade officials — and, by extension, the American industries and workers they are trying to bolster.

From Agence France Presse, taking it on the road:

Eric Holder To Discuss NSA Spying Scandal In Germany

US Attorney General Eric Holder will travel to Germany to discuss privacy concerns after the NSA spying scandal damaged relations between the two allies, Germany said Wednesday.

German interior minister Thomas de Maiziere told journalists in Washington that Holder has accepted an invitation from Berlin to explain how the US would curb spying on foreign nationals overseas.

“We will have this discussion together in Germany,” he said.

The Christian Science Monitor raises a reasonable question:

US hacking charges against China for economic cyber-spying: Why now?

The US indictment of five military officials in China’s secret ‘Unit 61398′ aims to put China on notice but also plays to US corporate concerns that Washington has done too little to curb cyber threats.

While many believe it is unlikely those Chinese military officers will ever be extradited for trial in the US, the public outing of China’s military for engineering the cyber theft of the crown jewels of US companies’ intellectual property is the punitive part of a multipart “carrot and stick” policy the Obama administration adopted to deal with a problem shortly after it took office, these experts say.

In the administration’s early days, cyber threats were already a priority. But by 2010, cyber espionage had vaulted to the top of the list. The next year, a nonpublic internal federal review determined that “China’s economic espionage activities were greater than all others combined, including Russia,” says James Lewis, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

By early 2013, the US and China had agreed to regular diplomatic talks – a cyber working group – that was one of the White House “carrots” designed to deal with sensitive cyber issues behind closed doors. In those talks, the US told Chinese representatives that using the powerful state-controlled military to conduct cyber-espionage operations against hundreds of US corporations was unacceptable.

From the Associated Press, stupid is as stupid does:

U.S. hacking victims fell prey to slapstick, mundane ruses

The hacking techniques the U.S. government says China used against American companies turned out to be disappointingly mundane, tricking employees into opening e-mail attachments or clicking on innocent-looking website links.

The scariest part might be how successfully the ruses worked. With a mouse click or two, employees at big-name American makers of nuclear and solar technology gave away the keys to their computer networks.

In a 31-count indictment announced on Monday, the Justice Department said five Chinese military officials operating under hacker aliases such as “Ugly Gorilla,” “KandyGoo” and “Jack Sun” stole confidential business information, sensitive trade secrets and internal communications for competitive advantage. The United States identified the alleged victims as Alcoa World Alumina, Westinghouse, Allegheny Technologies, U.S. Steel, United Steelworkers Union and SolarWorld.

From the Verge, an embarrassment:

The US Navy was hacked from inside its own aircraft carrier

When the Navy Criminal Investigative Service started looking into a breach of one of their low-security networks, the team got an unpleasant surprise: at least one of the culprits was a Navy sailor, performing the attacks from an aircraft carrier at sea.

The hacking group called Team Digi7al breached at least 24 websites in 2012, including the Navy’s own SmartMove system, used to help sailors coordinate changes of address. The team was looking for social security numbers and other personal data, the raw material for identity theft, targeting sites like the Toronto Police Service and Stanford University. For the most part, the attacks were small enough to stay under the radar — but when a tweet posted to Team Digi7al’s Twitter account from an internal Navy network, NCIS realized the SmartMove attack had been an inside job, and sprang into action.

It took an elaborate sting operation to find Digi7al’s inside, including a fake database designed as an attractive target, but finally NCIS traced the breach back to Nicholas Paul Knight, the systems administrator for the nuclear reactor onboard the USS Harry Truman aircraft carrier. On Tuesday, Knight plead guilty to charges of identity theft and obstruction of justice in federal court. He faces five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

A paradigm shifts from Homeland Security News Wire:

Snowden revelations spur a surge in encrypted e-mail services

The Edward Snowden revelations about National Security Agency(N.S.A) surveillance programs have fueled a surge of new e-mail encryption services. “A lot of people were upset with those revelations, and that coalesced into this effort,” said the co-developer of a new encrypted e-mail service which launched last Friday. The company notes that its servers are based in Switzerland, making it more difficult for U.S. law enforcement to reach them.

The Edward Snowden revelations about National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance programs have fueled a surge of new e-mail encryption services. “A lot of people were upset with those revelations, and that coalesced into this effort,” said Jason Stockman, a co-developer of ProtonMail, a new encrypted e-mail service which launched last Friday with collaboration from scientists from Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the European research lab CERN.

Yahoo News reports that ProtonMail is marketed as user-friendly as major commercial e-mail services such as Google Gmail and Yahoo Mail, but it offers extra security. The company notes that its servers are based in  Switzerland, making it more difficult for U.S. law enforcement to reach them. E-mail encryption has been a go-to-tool for dissident activists in China and Iran to avoid detection by the authorities, but the adoption of encryption services is now favored by many Americans who want to avoid surveillance from the NSA or other intelligence services.

From the Washington Post, a legacy for the University of California’s new president [former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano]:

Planned Homeland Security headquarters, long delayed and over budget, now in doubt

The construction of a massive new headquarters for the Department of Homeland Security, billed as critical for national security and the revitalization of Southeast Washington, is running more than $1.5 billion over budget, is 11 years behind schedule and may never be completed, according to planning documents and federal officials.

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the George W. Bush administration called for a new, centralized headquarters to strengthen the department’s ability to coordinate the fight against terrorism and respond to natural disasters. More than 50 historic buildings would be renovated and new ones erected on the grounds of St. Elizabeths, a onetime insane asylum with a panoramic view of the District.

The entire complex was to be finished as early as this year, at a cost of less than $3 billion, according to the initial plan.

The Tribune Washington Bureau seeks release:

Obama administration to release drone memo on killing US citizens

President Barack Obama’s Justice Department will release a long-sought secret document laying out the legal basis for using drones to kill Americans suspected of terrorist activities abroad, administration officials confirmed Tuesday.

Rather than appeal a court order that the so-called “drone memo” be released under the Freedom of Information Act, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. concurred with the decision of Solicitor Gen. Donald Verrilli not to pursue the appeal and agreed to release a redacted version of the document, the officials said.

Officials requested anonymity to discuss the closed-door deliberations, first disclosed Tuesday by The Associated Press. The documents will be released later, pending court approval.

From CNN, an announcement with suspicious timing:

Stream of al Qaeda threats has U.S. intelligence concerned

A series of al Qaeda-based threats to attack American and Western targets in Europe, as well as threats to launch attacks inside the United States, has caused significant concern inside the U.S. intelligence community, CNN has learned.

Officials are trying to determine the extent to which the threats may be linked and determine what it may mean about the strength of al Qaeda in several countries. While the “threat stream” has evolved during the past six months, according to a senior U.S. official, none of the threats has been corroborated.

The official said the threats appear to detail “a lot of activity where intelligence suggests there are operational cells,” but so far, “we do not see operational cells of al Qaeda inside the United States,” the official said, although he emphasized it could not be ruled out.

From the Arizona Republic, about damn time:

FBI reverses no-recording policy for interrogations

Since the FBI began under President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908, agents have not only shunned the use of tape recorders, they’ve been prohibited by policy from making audio and video records of statements by criminal suspects without special approval.

Now, after more than a century, the U.S. Department of Justice has quietly reversed that directive by issuing orders May 12 that video recording is presumptively required for interrogations of suspects in custody, with some exceptions.

There was no news release or press conference to announce the radical shift. But a DOJ memorandum —obtained by The Arizona Republic — spells out the changes to begin July 11.

From the Dept. of Oh, Puhleeeze via The Wire:

GOP Senator Does Not Think the FBI Director’s Weed Joke Was Very Funny

FBI Director James Comey made a weed joke earlier this week; turns out the Senate Judiciary Committee didn’t find it funny. Speaking at a conference on Monday, the FBI chief made headlines when he admitted that the agency is “grappling with the question” of whether it could be more open to hiring people who smoke pot, especially as the demand for cybercrime fighters increases.

What went mostly unreported was a little funny that Comey made when he added that some of the prospective hires “want to smoke weed on the way to the interview.”

Today we found out that Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions was not so amused:

Do you understand that that could be interpreted as one more example of leadership in America dismissing the seriousness of marijuana use and that could undermine our ability to convince young people not to go down a dangerous path?”

From the Boston Globe, with maximum security:

Ohio Prison Shows Pirated Movies to Prisoners Convicted of Pirating Movies

Pirated movies are being shown to Ohio inmates convicted for selling pirated films, according to Cleveland.com. The Lorain County Correctional Institution confirmed that prison officials know about the practice and that it’s being investigated.

Richard Humphrey, who was released on May 6 for a parole violation, posted on torrentfreak.com that guards let the inmates watch “Ride Along” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” before the films’ DVD releases. Humphrey faced a 29-month sentence in 2010 for selling pirated copies of movies on a subscription-based website.

From CNN, keeping kids secure from security people:

Cop, rabbi, scoutmaster among arrests in child porn bust

They are people children are supposed to trust: A New York Police Department officer, a Fire Department of New York paramedic, a rabbi and a scoutmaster were among more than 70 people arrested in a major child porn bust, a U.S. law enforcement official said Wednesday.

The police officer allegedly used the video chatting service Skype to have women pose their children naked for him, another law enforcement official said.

Another of those arrested — a supervisor with the Transportation Security Administration — allegedly traveled to the Dominican Republic to have sex with children, the official said. He allegedly made more than 50 trips there.

From Reuters, how much for a hack attack?:

EBay says client information stolen in hacking attack

E-commerce company eBay Inc said hackers stole email addresses, birthdays and other identity information between late February and early March in a data breach that may have affected a “large number” of accounts.

In the latest major cyber attack at a U.S. company, eBay said it had found no evidence of unauthorized access to financial or credit card information, which is stored separately in encrypted formats.

But the company urged all of its users, including the 145 million customers who bought or sold something on eBay in the last 12 months, to change their passwords.

Blowback blues from Global Times:

Microsoft ‘surprised’ at move to change systems

  • Windows 8 ban to aid security

In an e-mail to the Global Times, Microsoft said they are surprised by the news.

“Windows 8 has some unique back doors reserved by developers for later system upgrade and daily maintenance. The downside of the back doors is the potential risk of leaking sensitive personal information to developers or Internet hackers,” Zhang Yi, CEO of Shenzhen-based iiMedia Research, told the Global Times.

Zhang’s opinion was echoed by Ni Guangnan, a research fellow with the Chinese Academy of Engineering, who reportedly appealed that the government should not purchase Windows 8 devices.

Ni was quoted by China Electronics News as saying the new generation of Windows system would leave information vulnerable to monitoring from the US government, as shown in the scandal of PRISM.

More blowback from South China Morning Post:

US cyberespionage charges may cool Westinghouse’s China nuclear deal

  • Business ties at risk after Washington accuses five PLA officers of hacking

China may consider postponing negotiations for buying eight nuclear reactors from an American nuclear company embroiled in a US indictment of five PLA military officers for alleged cyberespionage, Chinese experts say.

The deal, together with parts and services, would potentially be worth more than 24 billion yuan (HK$30 billion) and create thousands of jobs.

Five cybertechnology experts, allegedly from the People’s Liberation Army’s Shanghai-based Unit 61398 that has been accused of being a major source of cyberattacks abroad, are now wanted by the FBI for hacking into a number of US firms, including Westinghouse Electric, the company tendering to supply the Chinese nuclear power plants.

And north of the border, and sure to move south, from CBC News:

La Ronde under fire for scanning visitors’ fingerprints

  • Quebec privacy commissioner says La Ronde has not been cleared to have biometric database

La Ronde, the Montreal amusement park owned by Six Flags, is scanning biometric data from its users to admit them to the park. The only problem is, it hasn’t been cleared to do so.

This year, the park brought in measures to scan what it calls “fingerpoints.” The scans of season-pass holders’ index fingers are then used to admit them to the amusement park.

“So what happens is season-pass owners come to the park, they have two options. Either they can do a traditional way, so they can get a season pass with picture or they can go through our new system, which is quicker,” La Ronde’s communications officer Jules Hébert told CBC Daybreak on Wednesday.

After the jump, the latest developments in the ongoing and ever-escalating Asian Games of Zones, with an emphasis on the latest efforts of to send Japan down Abe’s Road of rash remilitarization. . . Continue reading

Maps of the day: Ten feet deep and rising


First up, this from Scientific American:

New research indicates that climate change has already triggered an unstoppable decay of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. The projected decay will lead to at least 4 feet of accelerating global sea level rise within the next two-plus centuries, and at least 10 feet of rise in the end.

What does the U.S. look like with an ocean that is 10 feet higher? The radically transformed map would lose 28,800 square miles of land, home today to 12.3 million people.

These figures come from Climate Central research published in 2012, analyzing and mapping every coastal city, county and state in the lower 48 states. (A next generation of research is currently under way.)

Using Climate Central’s Surging Seas maps, we decided to Look at just what a ten-foot rise in sea level would bring to San Francisco Bay’s East Bay region, home of Casa esnl and so much more.

Everything that’s not white is under water.

First up, an overview:

BLOG Seas

Next, a look at West Berkeley from University Avenue to Gilman Street, with all the non-white areas due for submergence:

BLOG Berkeley

Next, an overview of the City of Richmond, which would sustain major immersion:

BLOG Richmond

And for our next image, part of southern Richmond, including the major toxic waste dump at Campus Bay, UC Berkeley’s Richmond Field Station, most of which would wind up under water unless the university’s plans for a $1.5 billion academic/corporate/national laboratory development includes a massive sea wall. Also included is the housing complex at Marina Bay:

BLOG Marina Bay

Finally, a look at part of West Oakland, including Alameda Island:

BLOG Oakland

Better lay in some extra swimming trunks.

Science News: Of plates and platitudes


For your Sunday viewing pleasure, we bring you a pair of fascinating videos from University of California Television [UCTV]

First, best-selling author and student of human behavior parses the mysteries of those telling phrases and speech patterns that serve as social lubricants:

The Elephant in the Room: The Psychology of Innuendo and Euphemism

Program notes:

Why don’t people just say what they mean? In this lecture, Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker explains the paradoxical appeal of euphemism, innuendo, politeness, and other forms of shilly-shallying.

And for our second video, a look at some of the fundamental forces shaping our world through a look at the great African Valley which may have given rise to the human species:

Rift! Geologic Clues to What’s Tearing Africa Apart

Program notes:

East Africa is one of the most geologically intriguing places on the planet—a place where the African continent is literally ripping apart. Deep rift valleys, active volcanoes, and hot springs are dramatic evidence for the powerful forces deep within the earth that are slowly reshaping the continent. Join geochemist David Hilton on an adventure to the East African Rift Valley and learn how he and his colleagues utilize geologic samples to understand this dynamic region of our planet.

Another map, this time of climate change


From NASA, noting the rise of temperatures across the U.S. over the past 119 years:

BLOG TempsBLOG Tempt

From NASA:

Since consistent record-keeping began in 1895, the average temperature in the United States has increased by 1.3 to 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 to 1.1° Celsius), and most of that change has happened since 1970. The warmest year on record for the United States was 2012. The map above shows temperature changes between 1991 and 2012 compared to the average temperature between 1901 and 1960. Bold lines divide the country into regions, and the change is uneven across the regions. “Multiple lines of independent evidence confirm that human activities are the primary cause of the global warming of the past 50 years,” says the report.

Confirmed: Shrooms zap depressive thoughts


We’ve covered the absurd contradiction that an ancient folk remedy may offer hope for the depressed in ways that Big Pharma can’t.

Now comes more confirmation, this time from one of the world’s leading research institutions, the University of Zurich:

Psilocybin inhibits the processing of negative emotions in the brain

When emotions are processed in a negatively biased manner in the brain, an individual is at risk to develop depression. Psilocybin, the bioactive component of the Mexican magic mushroom, seems to intervene positively in the emotion-processing mechanism. Even a small amount of the natural substance attenuates the processing of negative emotions and brightens mood as shown by UZH researchers using imaging methods.

Emotions like fear, anger, sadness, and joy enable people to adjust to their environment and react flexibly to stress and strain and are vital for cognitive processes, physiological reactions, and social behaviour. The processing of emotions is closely linked to structures in the brain, i.e. to what is known as the limbic system.

Within this system the amygdala plays a central role – above all it processes negative emotions like anxiety and fear. If the activity of the amygdala becomes unbalanced, depression and anxiety disorders may develop.

Researchers at the Psychiatric University Hospital of Zurich have now shown that psilocybin, the bioactive component in the Mexican magic mushroom, influences the amygdala, thereby weakening the processing of negative stimuli.

These findings could “point the way to novel approaches to treatment” comments the lead author Rainer Krähenmann on the results which have now been published in the renowned medical journal “Biological Psychiatry”.

Literature:

Rainer Kraehenmann, Katrin H. Preller, Milan Scheidegger, Thomas Pokorny, Oliver G. Bosch, Erich Seifritz, Franz X. Vollenweider,(in press). Psilocybin-Induced Decrease in Amygdala Reactivity Correlates with Enhanced Positive Mood in Healthy Volunteers. Biological Psychiatry.

For readers with journal paywall access, the article is here.

More headlines, politics, economics, & more


To be followed by another set from the world of zones, drones, spooks, and military posturing.

The New York Times gives us our first headline:

U.S. Economy Barely Grew in First Quarter

The American economy slammed on the brakes in the beginning of 2014, as weaker exports and lower spending by businesses essentially brought growth to a standstill.

At 0.1 percent, the pace of expansion in January, February and March was the slowest since late 2012, and revealed another one of the periodic pauses in the growth that has characterized the slow recovery of the last five years.

Many experts had predicted a slowing in the first quarter of 2014, especially in the wake of more robust growth in the second half of 2013 and very cold weather in January and February, but the figures released by the Commerce Department on Wednesday morning were still drastically below the 1.2 percent rate of expansion that Wall Street had been expecting.

So how did the markets respond? Well, they paid more attention to another report. From BBC News:

All three major US indexes closed higher on Wednesday, with the Dow Jones finishing at a record high

The Dow Jones rose 45.47 points to close at 16,580.84, four points above a previous high hit on 31 December 2013.

The S&P 500 index increased 5.62 points to 1,883.95, and the Nasdaq climbed 11.01 points to 4,114.56.

Traders cheered a US Federal Reserve statement which indicated the central bank thought the US economy was improving.

From the Los Angeles Times, another favor to the corporate bottom line:

GOP senators block minimum-wage hike but Democrats vow to try again

A top election-year proposal from Democrats — a bid to raise the federal minimum wage — was rejected by Republicans in the Senate, who blocked legislation Wednesday to boost the rate to $10.10 an hour.

President Obama has turned the plight of the nation’s low-wage workers into a battle cry for Democrats as they try to appeal to voters while the economy continues to sputter. Several states have advanced their own wage hikes amid congressional inaction.

“It’s time for Republicans in Congress to listen to the majority of Americans who say it’s time to give America a raise,” the president said before the midday vote.

However, the effort made little headway with Republicans, who argued that the rate hike would cost jobs. The measure was blocked by a GOP filibuster on a party-line vote, 54-42.

While BBC News has more bad news for the real losers in the game of greed:

American Dream breeds shame and blame for job seekers

  • Out-of-work Americans tend to blame themselves for their predicament

Decades ago, the American dream inspired employees, offering the promise of the good life. But now, with jobs disappearing, that dream has become a nightmare for the unemployed who see their joblessness as a personal – and shameful – failure.

Victor Tan Chen studies some of the unluckiest people in the US.

The sociology fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, researches car workers in cities like Detroit, hard-hit by the economic downturn and by long-term trends in the US industrial base.

“But they used to be the luckiest men in America,” Chen says.

From United Press International, a noble effort with questionable chances of success:

Senate Dems to attempt to reverse Citizens United

Democrats announced a plan to push for a constitutional amendment to undo changes to campaign finance rules wrought by the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling.

After complaining for four years about changes to campaign finance allowed by the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision, Democrats are finally doing something about it.

Rules Committee Chair Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., announced Wednesday that Democrats would schedule a Senate vote for this year on an amendment, sponsored by New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall. The amendment would overturn Citizens United and another recent decision that classified campaign spending as speech protected under the First Amendment and opened the door to corporation- and union-run SuperPACs that flooded the country with political advertisements.

“The Supreme Court is trying to take this country back to the days of the robber barons, allowing dark money to flood our elections. That needs to stop, and it needs to stop now,” Schumer said. “The First Amendment is sacred, but the First Amendment is not absolute. By making it absolute, you make it less sacred to most Americans. We have to bring some balance to our political system.”

ProPublica documents the sad plight of the concept of euqal justice under law:

The Rise of Corporate Impunity

Meet the only Wall St. executive prosecuted as a result of the financial crisis. Has justice been served?

American financial history has generally unfolded as a series of booms followed by busts followed by crackdowns. After the crash of 1929, the Pecora Hearings seized upon public outrage, and the head of the New York Stock Exchange landed in prison. After the savings-and-loan scandals of the 1980s, 1,100 people were prosecuted, including top executives at many of the largest failed banks. In the ‘90s and early aughts, when the bursting of the Nasdaq bubble revealed widespread corporate accounting scandals, top executives from WorldCom, Enron, Qwest and Tyco, among others, went to prison.

The credit crisis of 2008 dwarfed those busts, and it was only to be expected that a similar round of crackdowns would ensue. In 2009, the Obama administration appointed Lanny Breuer to lead the Justice Department’s criminal division. Breuer quickly focused on professionalizing the operation, introducing the rigor of a prestigious firm like Covington & Burling, where he had spent much of his career. He recruited elite lawyers from corporate firms and the Breu Crew, as they would later be known, were repeatedly urged by Breuer to “take it to the next level.”

But the crackdown never happened. Over the past year, I’ve interviewed Wall Street traders, bank executives, defense lawyers and dozens of current and former prosecutors to understand why the largest man-made economic catastrophe since the Depression resulted in the jailing of a single investment banker — one who happened to be several rungs from the corporate suite at a second-tier financial institution.

It brings a song to mind, one written the last time nation was dealing with the grim aftermath of a market collapse wrought by untrammeled greed.

From vlogger Evertnr11

Woody Guthrie: Pretty Boy Floyd

From the lyrics:

Well, you say that I’m an outlaw,
You say that I’m a thief.
Here’s a Christmas dinner
For the families on relief.

Yes, as through this world I’ve wandered
I’ve seen lots of funny men;
Some will rob you with a six-gun,
And some with a fountain pen.

And as through your life you travel,
Yes, as through your life you roam,
You won’t never see an outlaw
Drive a family from their home.

From NextGov, Warren weighs in on the new and noxious FFC rule proposals:

Elizabeth Warren: Internet ‘Fast Lanes’ Will Help ‘Rich and Powerful’

Sen. Elizabeth Warren urged the Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday to enact strong net-neutrality rules to ensure that all websites receive equal service.

“Reports that the FCC may gut net neutrality are disturbing, and would be just one more way the playing field is tilted for the rich and powerful who have already made it,” the Massachusetts Democrat wrote in a Facebook post.

“Our regulators already have all the tools they need to protect a free and open Internet—where a handful of companies cannot block or filter or charge access fees for what we do online. They should stand up and use them.”

And from the China Post, the latest counter to Washington’s global neoliberal trade agenda:

China pressing for vast Asia-Pacific FTA as rival US-led deal runs into snags

China is pressing for a vast Asia-Pacific free trade agreement, a senior official said Wednesday, as a rival U.S.-led deal that excludes the Asian giant runs into snags.

Wang Shouwen, an assistant commerce minister, told reporters at a briefing that China has proposed setting up a working group to study the feasibility of an Asia-Pacific Free Trade Agreement (FTAAP).

The proposal comes ahead of a meeting in May of trade ministers from the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, which China will host.

The response from Washington was prompt, as China Daily reports:

US not edged out of Latin America: State

A US assistant secretary of state criticized the US media’s “Chicken Little” views on China’s growing engagement with Latin America, saying “it’s not a question of someone edging us (the US) out of a market”.

“That’s an exaggeration,” Roberta Jacobson, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, said during a talk at the Americas Society/Council of the Americas in Manhattan on Tuesday.

Calling the US’s Latin America relationships “the strongest they’ve ever been”, Jacobson said in response to an audience member’s question that she is “not particularly worried about (the US) becoming obsolete in the region” despite media reports that have suggested the country is “losing influence” in a part of the world considered its backyard. Jacobson attributed the negative portrayal to a US media obsession with the invading “country of the moment”.

“One day it’s China, one day Russia,” she said.

While the Economic Times covers another Washington worry:

China poised to overtake US economy: World Bank ranking

China is advancing rapidly to overtake the United States as the biggest economy in the world, new data shows, with the leader of the world economy since the 19th century possibly losing its top spot to the Asian giant from this year.

“The United States remained the world’s largest economy (in 2011), but it was closely followed by China” once data was adjusted for comparison on a standard basis, the World Bank said on Wednesday. “India was now the world’s third largest economy, moving ahead of Japan.”

In parallel, the OECD grouping 34 advanced economies and analysing the same data, said that “the three largest economies in the world were the United States with 17.1 percent (of global output), China 14.9 percent and India 6.4 percent.”

From AlterNet, more on that long, grievous Claifornia Dought we’ve been covering:

All of California Is Now Under Drought Conditions, and That’s Bad News for All of Us

  • Consumers will feel the effect soon as food prices are expected to skyrocket.

For the first time in 15 years, all of the Golden State suffers from a water shortage, and while that’s very bad for the region, it may also send food prices skyrocketing throughout the country.

The U.S. Drought Monitor, a weekly map of drought conditions produced jointly by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Department of Agriculture, and the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, says that the entire state suffers from conditions ranging from “abnormally dry” to “exceptional drought.” The heavy-population centers all suffer from “extreme drought” or “exceptional drought.” The latter designation, also known a as a D4, being the most critical.

It has also been reported that all of the state’s reservoir levels are low, with one, the San Antonio Reservoir, which is in Alameda County and serves the Bay Area, being essentially dry since winter. Other reservoirs are reported to be near half capacity, and others are at less than half capacity.

The drought has also led to a really frightening potential for fires, with headlines like this one from CNN today occurring in April, rather than August and September:

Fast-moving wildfire in Southern California grows, driven by wind

Mandatory evacuations were lifted Wednesday for nearly 1,700 homes in the path of a wildfire near Rancho Cucamonga, California, but fire officials urged some residents to keep on an eye on the wind-whipped blaze, authorities said.

The fire, fanned by strong wind gusts and high temperatures, began in the Etiwanda Preserve in San Bernardino National Forest at about 8 a.m. local time, according to Cal Fire. By late afternoon, it had grown to more than 1,000 acres, the agency said.

Next, a trip north of the north with the Canadian Press and yet another growing gap:

Western growth pulls away further from rest of Canada’s

A regional breakdown of economic performance suggests Canada’s two economies drifted even further apart in 2013.

Statistics Canada says in a new report issued Tuesday that improvement in economic output last year was heavily slanted toward resource-rich regions.
The gap between the West and the rest was even more pronounced, said Bank of Montreal economist Robert Kavcic, widening to almost two full percentage points.

Saskatchewan, which also benefited from a bump in the agriculture sector, posted a 4.8% surge in gross domestic product in 2013, while oil-rich Alberta realized a 3.9% growth rate.

On to Europe, starting with a headline from Reuters:

Euro zone inflation edges up, swift ECB action seen less likely

Euro zone inflation rose in April, reducing chances the European Central Bank will act soon to ward off deflation, but the pace of price rises was below forecast and still within the ECB’s “danger zone” of under 1 percent.

Annual consumer inflation in the 18 countries sharing the euro nudged higher to 0.7 percent in April from March’s 0.5 percent, which was the lowest since late 2009, the European Union’s statistics office Eurostat said on Wednesday.

The reading was lower than the 0.8 percent predicted in a Reuters poll despite higher spending over the Easter period, reflecting the poor state of the euro zone economy after a long recession and with unemployment at near-record levels.

And a major defeat for Britain in its battle against the Tobin Tax, via EUobserver:

EU top court throws out UK challenge to transactions tax

The European Court of Justice on Wednesday (30 April) rejected a UK legal challenge to plans by eleven countries to set up a financial transactions tax (FTT).

The main thrust of London’s opposition to the tax relates to the so-called “residence” and “issuance” principle in the proposed bill, which means that some traders operating outside the FTT-11 would still be liable to pay the levy. The UK, which has the largest financial services sector in the EU, says that it would be hit by the tax as a result.

But since the proposal has not been agreed, the UK case was restricted to challenging the right of the eleven countries, led by France and Germany, to proceed with the bill.

From the London Telegraph, winners in the Great Mail Robbery of 2014:

Abu Dhabi and Soros got ‘golden ticket’ in Royal Mail sale

Sovereign wealth funds and billionaire investors among 16 firms given preferential treatment over small investors in the Royal Mail privatisation

Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, billionaire investor George Soros and activist hedge fund Third Point were among the 16 investors given preferential treament in the controversial Royal Mail privatisation.

The Government on Wednesday released details of these preferred investment firms, who saw the shares they had bought rise 38pc on the first day of trading, while thousands of small private investors missed out after the Government imposed a cap of £10,000 on them.

Other preferential investors included Lazard Asset Management, the investment arm of the government’s independent adviser on the privatisation, Capital Research, Fidelity Worldwide, GIC, Henderson, JP Morgan, Kuwait Investment Office, Lansdowne Partners, Och Ziff, Schroders, Standard Life, and Threadneedle.

More from The Independent:

Royal Mail float scandal: how hedge funds cleaned up

The Royal Mail flotation scandal has deepened after officials finally admitted that hedge funds were among the “priority investors” sold hundreds of millions of pounds of shares.

The Business Secretary, Vince Cable, has repeatedly insisted that the handful of key investors offered Royal Mail shares on preferential terms were long-term institutional investors. This was to ensure the new company started with “a core of high-quality investors” who “would be there in good times and bad”. He promised to marginalise “spivs and speculators”.

But sources in the Department for Business have confirmed to The Independent that around 20 per cent of the shares it had allocated to 16 preferred investors had gone to hedge funds and other short-term investors. This would equate to around £150m of Royal Mail shares – 13 per cent of the entire stock sold by the Government. The companies bought in at the float price of 330p a share. The shares shot up within seconds of trading, eventually peaking within weeks at more than 600p, allowing the hedge funds to bank vast profits at the taxpayers’ expense.

On to Amsterdam and a dirty little secret from euronews:

Dutch prime minister reacts to revelations he threatened to leave the eurozone

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte threatened to take his country out of the eurozone.

His stance was two years ago over planned reforms which were never implemented. It has been revealed in a Dutch newspaper.

European Council President Herman van Rompuy told the paper he was shocked at the strength of opposition to the reforms but stressed no other European leader had talked of leaving the euro. Eurosceptic politician Gert Wilders wants explanations.

“I was very pleasantly surprised. I remember Mr Rutte telling my party it’s a crazy idea only to think about leaving the eurozone. I have asked for an urgent debate in the Dutch parliament. I hope he will support me. Mr Rutte can explain what he really said,” the leader of the Party for Freedom said.

Germany next, and good news for Angela Merkel from Deutsche Welle:

German jobless rate down during spring economic upswing

The German labor market has seen a boost amid mild spring weather, seeing unemployment drop below a psychologically important threshold. Stable growth conditions have helped many people find a new job.

The number of people unemployed in Europe’s biggest economy fell below the three-million threshold for the first time this year in April, the Nuremberg-based Federal Employment Agency (BA) reported Wednesday.

It logged 2.943 million people out of work last month, the lowest figure recorded in any April in 22 years.

The agency said the overall jobless number dropped by 110,000 over March, and by 77,000 compared to last April.

On to France, where RFI reports that the Parisian species of austerianism still resists the usual tax cuts for elites and corporations. [But it’s still austerity, and those who bear the brunt are the least able to afford it. . .]:

Valls defends ‘modern’ economic policy after Socialist revolt

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls defended his “deeply modern” economic policy on Wednesday, the day after 41 MPs from his Socialist Party refused to back a cuts package that finances reductions in taxes for business.

Describing his policies as social-democratic and reformist, Valls told France Inter radio he was proud of a “this deeply modern left, which faces up to reality and at the same time wants to respond to expectations of social justice”.
Dossier: Eurozone in crisis

“I don’t think being left-wing means passing on debt to future generations,” he told a caller who had said that left-wing supporters felt betrayed by his policies. “I don’t think being left-wing means raising taxes and smothering the middle class.”

Meanwhile, reaction sets in via France 24:

No mosques or EU flags: France’s far-right mayors get down to business

The 11 far-right National Front mayors elected in France’s recent municipal elections have begun implementing controversial policies, including rejecting projects for new mosques and cancelling commemorations of the abolition of slavery.

A month after their victory in French municipal elections, the 11 far-right National Front mayors have implemented their first policies – and some of them have already caused quite a stir.

France 24 again, this time with legal umbrage:

Strauss-Kahn to sue Belgian pimp over ‘DSK’ brothel

Former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn is suing a Belgium-based pimp for opening a brothel that bears the initials ‘DSK’, his lawyers said Wednesday.

The pimp, Dominique Alderweireld or “Dodo la Saumure” (“saumure” means brine, or the salted oil in which mackerel – also the French slang for pimp – is often served), has been linked to sex parties the disgraced French politician attended in the past.

Strauss-Kahn, a potential presidential contender in the 2012 French election whose chances were dashed by a New York sex scandal involving a hotel maid, is well known by his initials DSK in France and French-speaking countries like Belgium and Switzerland.

From RFI, a powerful symbolic act:

PSA Peugeot Citroën workers give ‘pathetic’ bonuses to charity as boss’s salary announced

Angry employees of French carmaker PSA Peugeot Citroën have donated their “pathetic” bonuses to charity. Workers received bonuses of between 40 cents and 18 euros, unions said, just as the company announced a 1.3-million-euro annual salary for new boss Carlos Tavares.

Judging their bonuses “pathetic and not acceptable”, workers at PSA’s factory in Valenciennes, northern France, decided they would give them to the Restos du Coeur, a charity launched by comedian Coluche in the 1980s to help the poor.

Spain next, starting with a promise from El País:

Government promises to create 600,000 jobs in two years

  • But Rajoy administration admits employment levels it inherited in 2011 will not return until 2018

Spanish labor market continued to shed jobs in first quarter of 2014

The government has promised to create 600,000 jobs between 2015 and 2016 despite admitting that employment would not return to the levels it inherited when it came into power in 2011 until 2018, three years after the current legislature ends.

According to the macroeconomic framework approved by the Cabinet on Wednesday, employment will grow 0.6% this year, 1.2% in 2015 and, in 2016, hopefully pick up steam with a rise of 1.5%, always in terms of the national accounts.

But the improvement will not be sufficient to compensate for the decline that the labor market has suffered since 2011, when Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party came to power.

Looking for an out with TheLocal.es:

Half of all Catalans want out of Spain: poll

Almost half of all Catalans would vote to become independent from Spain, a recent poll by a Catalan government research group shows.

Forty-seven percent said they would vote in favour of an independent Catalan state, while 19.3 percent would give the proposal the thumbs down.

Some 8.6 percent said they would want Catalonia to be a state, but not an independent one according to the Catalan research institute Centro de Estudios de Opinion (CEO).

With a possible referendum coming later this year, one in ten Catalans are still undecided on whether they would vote.

TheLocal.es again, this time with a highly publicized arrest for a nasty bit of racist theatrics:

Arrested: Man who threw banana at Dani Alves

The man who threw a banana at FC Barcelona Brazilian player Dani Alves, sparking a global anti-racism campaign, has been arrested by Spanish police.

Barcelona’s Alves made headlines when decided to eat the piece of fruit thrown at him during Sunday’s game against Villareal, a reaction he described as “instinct”.

That reaction has now become a worldwide anti-racism campaign with footballers celebrities, and even politicians posing in selfies eating bananas to support the cause.

Now the man who threw the banana has been arrested by Spanish police on a charge of inciting hatred.

And a fascinating story about a legal ruling politically painful to the ruling party, via the victor, El País:

Judge rules against ex-PM in EL PAÍS defamation case over illegal payments

Ruling states that PP, in breach of law, paid Aznar on at least three occasions while in office

A judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by former Popular Party (PP) Prime Minister José María Aznar against EL PAÍS over a story it published in May 2013 that alleged he had continued to receive sums of money from the Popular Party after he took office in 1996, in contravention of the Incompatibilities Law.

On April 25, Judge Enrique Presa Cuesta ruled that Aznar was paid bonuses on at least three occasions by his party while prime minister. The judge pointed out in his sentence that Aznar’s lawyer had argued that the money was given in return for activities he had carried out before taking office in May 1996, but had failed to back this up with any documentary evidence.

The ruling also requires Aznar to pay all legal costs, noting that in preparing the story, EL PAÍS used “official PP accounts,” and that it also “tried to contact the former prime minister and his party to ascertain their version of events.”

From the Guardian, another way to penalize the poor [who can’t buy those costly carts] via the Guardian:

Madrid’s smart parking meters to charge more for most polluting cars

  • Electronic cars will park free and hybrids will get 20% off under scheme to target emissions in Spanish capital

The city of Madrid is introducing smart parking meters that will slap a surcharge on cars that pollute more and reduce parking charges for efficient vehicles, a system that city officials are touting as the first of its kind in the world.

Starting on 1 July, the price a motorist pays to park in the city streets will be based on a complex table governed by the engine and the year of the car. Hybrids will pay 20% less to park, while a diesel car made in 2001 will see a 20% mark-up. Electronic cars will park for free.

Italy next, and some modestly good news from ANSAmed:

Italy’s youth jobless rate dips to 42.7% in March

  • Second straight 0.1% monthly drop but 3.1% higher over year

Youth unemployment in Italy dipped to an annual 42.7% in March, 3.1% higher than March 2013 but down 0.1% on February 2014, national statistics agency Istat said Wednesday. The rate has fallen 0.1% for the second straight month, from 42.9% in January, Istat said in provisional estimates. The number of 15-to-24 year-olds in work rose 1.4% from February to March, to 915,000, but was 6.0% down on March 2013. The youth employment rate of 15.3% was 0.2% up on February and 0.9% down over the year.

Premier Matteo Renzi has vowed to tackle youth unemployment by freeing up the labour market but has faced criticism that new flexibility moves raise already widespread job insecurity.

And a trip to Eastern Europe with EUbusiness:

Kosovo privatisation officials arrested in multi-million-euro fraud

Police on Wednesday arrested 10 officials of Kosovo’s privatisation agency suspected of embezzling millions of euros during the sale of a factory.

The officials are accused of triggering the bankruptcy of the factory in northern Kosovo which produced concrete reinforcements, a police statement said.

It said “several million euros” had been embezzled without giving a more precise figure.

After the jump, more grim news from Greece — including a political death, recession in Russia, good news for Venezuela workers, Indonesia labor force problems, Indian economic ascendancy, Thai troubles, nuclear industry consolidation, Japanese judicial rage, Microsoft move fills Japanese trash piles, Norse land losses, and more environmental news as well. . . Continue reading

CannabiNews: A Pot-pourri of headlines


For some reason or another, pot was much in the news today, so we pulled out some items for separate treatment [literally, as one item reveals].

First up, they callit Sin City, via The Verge:

High rollers: Las Vegas is poised to become the Disneyland of weed

  • Cannabis entrepreneurs fight to stake their pot leaf in the world’s biggest tourist destination

They won’t have neon signs, drive-thru windows, or 24-hour wedding chapels attached to them. But Las Vegas marijuana dispensaries will be massively profitable tourist attractions that could deepen the entire nation’s relationship with weed. At least that’s the hope of the 109 applicants who entered the heated competition for Vegas’ first medical marijuana dispensary and grow-room licenses in time for Tuesday’s deadline.

Nevada voters legalized medical marijuana way back in 2000, but the state only recently enacted regulations to allow people to open pot businesses legally. Unincorporated Clark County — not to be confused with Clark County, which contains the city of Las Vegas proper — includes the flashy 4.2-mile gambling corridor known as the Las Vegas Strip. It’s home to mega-casinos like the Bellagio and Caesars Palace and became the first jurisdiction to draft its licensing requirements. Those requirements look a lot like the ones that control its lucrative gambling industry: they favor high rollers and are geared towards reaping massive profits.

Although only medical marijuana is legal in Nevada now, a petition has been filed to legalize weed for recreational use, and it’s expected to pass by 2016. As it is, Vegas is known as a place where out-of-towners can come and get crazy for a weekend, because “whatever happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” Throw legal marijuana into the mix, and you’ve got a potential stateside Amsterdam. As a result, Vegas has turned into a serious land grab for would-be marijuana entrepreneurs.

But here in the “liberal” San Francisco Bay Area, the official mood is less expansive, as the  East Bay Express reports:

Back In the Closet

  • California medical cannabis patients are increasingly being forced to hide behind closed doors as bans on dispensaries and home cultivation sweep through the East Bay.

Residents of Berkeley, Oakland, Richmond, and San Francisco might not think about it much, but hundreds of thousands of medical cannabis patients and their allies are in an unprecedented struggle across California. A battle is raging in the wake of a 2013 state Supreme Court ruling that affirmed the right of cities and counties to ban dispensaries. And local governments are now using that decision to also prohibit medical marijuana cultivation for personal use and to levy fines against growers of up to $1,000 per plant on growers.

Based on unfounded, outdated, and narrow-minded fears about crime, odor, and child safety, these bans strike at the very core of voter-approved Proposition 215, which reads:

“The people of the State of California hereby find and declare that the purposes of the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 are as follows: (A) To ensure that seriously ill Californians have the right to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes where that medical use is deemed appropriate and has been recommended by a physician.”

Yet despite that groundbreaking law, the vast majority of Californians now live in cities and counties that have enacted bans on medical pot dispensaries, including much of Alameda and Contra Costa counties. In addition, more than a dozen cities and counties — including Concord and Martinez — have banned all outdoor growing, and a few cities are prohibiting all cultivation. Legal challenges to the more sweeping bans are pending, but the pain is immediate.

On the other hand, in the typically Red state of the Colorado, some traditionally conservative institutions are leaping on the the pot bandwagon, as in this tale from Boing Boing:

Pot encouraged at Colorado Symphony concert series

The Colorado Symphony Orchestra will perform a series of concerts where attendees are encouraged to smoke weed. The bring-your-own-cannabis concerts, called “Classically Cannabis: The High Note Series,” are a collaboration with pro-pot producers Edible Events.

“We see ourselves as connecting classical music with all of Colorado,” Colorado Symphony Orchestra director Jerry Kern told the Denver Post. “Part of our goal is to bring in a younger audience and a more diverse audience, and I would suggest that the patrons of the cannabis industry are both younger and more diverse than the patrons of the symphony orchestra.”

And for our final item, one more proof of ganja’s healing properties from CBS News:

Medical marijuana effectively treats MS symptoms, review finds

On Monday, for the first time, the American Academy of Neurology said medical marijuana is an effective treatment for some symptoms of multiple sclerosis. It concluded spasm, muscle tightness and pain can all be helped.

But that’s when the drug is given as an oral spray or pill. There’s not enough evidence to determine if smoking marijuana was equally effective, says lead author Dr. Barbara Koppel.

“There is lots of literature about smoking, but it’s all anonymous questionnaires, and it’s patient testimonials,” Koppel says.

The study is available here, with the absrtact free.

SImply because it’s, well, the coolest thing ever


Via Scientific American, may we introduce you to. . .the cart-wheelin’ spider:

Tabacha and Tabbot

From Scientific American:

In the latest edition of ZooTaxa, Peter Jäger from the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt, Germany describes a new species of spider native to the Erg Chebbi desert of southeastern Morocco. Named Cebrennus rechenbergi, its genus contains 13 known species, most of which are found in the arid region that stretches from Morocco to Turkmenistan. These desert spiders are nocturnal and elusive, spending most of their time hidden under rocks or buried in their long, silken burrows, which means there’s very little known about their biology or ecology. But what we do know, thanks to Jäger’s recent observations, is that one of them is an expert ‘flic-flacker’.

One of the strangest defense mechanisms ever observed in nature, flic-flacking, as it’s known in the scientific literature, is essentially cartwheeling to avoid danger. It’s been observed in a handful of animals around the world, including the larvae of the southeastern beach tiger beetle (Cicindela dorsalis), the American mantis shrimp (Nannosquilla decemspinosa) and caterpillars of the moth species Pleurotya ruralis and Cacoecimorpha pronubana. And then there’s the golden wheel spider (Carparachne aureoflava), which you can read about in one of my earlier blog posts here.

Native to the steep sand dunes of the Namib Desert in Southern Africa, the golden wheel spider is a small, cream-coloured species of huntsman. It lives in constant fear of the parasitic Pompilid wasp – a particularly nasty predator that goes to great lengths to snare its prey

A wide-ranging talk with Noam Chomsky


Chomsky [previously] talks with UC Santa Barbara sociologist Jan Nederveen Pieterse about the plutariat, labor insecurity and its desirability under modern capitalism [think the spread of “temp” jobs], class war, political deception, globalization and the accompanying global plutonomy, the limits of human comprehension, drug wars as race wars in drag, and so much more.

When Pieterse poses the question of neoliberalism, Chomsky siezes the opportunity.

“Neoliberalism is not new, and it’s not liberal,” Chomsky declares. It’s 19th Century imperialist governance in drag, accompanied by the ravages of the market. “The rich do not tolerate markets for themselves,” he said, because they recognize their depredations.

Chomsky describes Europe as “extremely undemocratic,” with governments styling themselves conservative, socialist — even communist — all following the same economic policies — dictated by Brussells and designed to undermine and eliminate the welfare state. They’re driven by policies of class war dictated by plutocrats at the top through their instruments in Brussels.

The new factor is South America, exercising a remarkable independence for the first time since their European colonization more than 500 years ago.

There’s more, and it’s well worth your time.

Just released by University of California Television:

A Conversation with Noam Chomsky

Program notes:

Jan Nederveen Pieterse in conversation with Noam Chomsky, linguist, philosopher and political commentator. Chomsky is Emeritus professor of linguistics at MIT. Jan Nederveen Pieterse is professor of Global Studies and Sociology at University of California, Santa Barbara.

An odd thought occurred whilst watching, sprung from our brief fling in Hollywood: Were I a casting director and looking for a couple of actors to play senior professors, Chomsky and Pieterse would top our list. Talk about cinemantic visages. . .