Category Archives: Video

You owe your grandmothers some big hugs


And why? Well, because without them, you wouldn’t be here. And for reasons you might not suspect.

Unlike any other species on earth, grandmothers played a huge role in the chain of evolution separating us from the other apes.

Only in humans do females outlive their fertility, a phenomenon so glaring that it requires an explanation. Anthropologists and evolutionary biologists have found it in the “grandmother hypothesis,” which holds that for a creature uniquely helpless for years after birth, grandmothers played a critical role in child-rearing, allowing hunter/gatherer moms more time for the all-important role of foraging [which provided most of the group’s caloric intake as opposed to much rare hauls of meat brought in by hunting males [whose bonding in the course of hunting may have played a greater role in evolutionary success than the calories they brought in only sporadically].

Here’s an eloquent and fascinating explanation of the role of grandmothers from University of Utah anthropologist [and, yes, they do teach evolution in Mormon country] Kristen Hawkes, delivered as the annual lecture here at the Unversity of California, Berkeley, in honor of psychologist Robert Choate Tyron.

From UC Berkeley Events:

The Robert Tryon Lecture – The Grandmother and Human Evolution

Program notes:

Kristen Hawkes, Distinguished Prof. of Anthropology, University of Utah

Hunter-gatherer ethnography, evolutionary life-history theory and mathematical simulations point to ancestral grandmothering as a key to the evolution of human life history. Possible consequences of grandmothering extend from distinctively human sociality to patterns of male competition and pair bonds. Questions about how we do it continue to uncover surprises.

InSecurityWatch: Robots, terror, hacks, drones


And a lot more.

We begin with a threat to jobs, one that will only get worse and lead to yet more global instability. First, from TheLocal.ch:

Nestlé to ‘employ’ robot clerks in Japan stores

Swiss-based food giant Nestlé says its Japan unit is hiring 1,000 robots as sales clerks at stores across the country.

The first batch of the robots — a chatty humanoid called Pepper — will report to work by the end of this year at outlets that sell coffee capsules and home espresso machines.

“From December, they will start selling coffee machines for us at big retail stores,” said Nestlé Japan spokeswoman Miki Kano.

“We are sure that our customers will enjoy shopping and being entertained by robots.”

More from PCMagazine:

Lowe’s Hires Robots for the Holidays

Lowe’s is hiring some new workers for the holiday season, but they’re not human.

The hardware store just announced plans to test customer service robots, which will be able to help you locate items in the store, and share real-time information about product promotions and inventory. Dubbed OSHbot, the robots can speak multiple languages and remotely connect with expert employees in other locations to answer project-related questions.

Unfortunately, the robots won’t yet be making an appearance at Lowe’s stores nationwide. Lowe’s will deploy two of the bots at its Orchard Supply Hardware store in San Jose, Calif. to see whether customers and employees embrace the technology.

The OSHbots roll right up to you, say hello, and ask what you need. They also feature 3D-scanning technology, so you can bring in a spare part, scan it under a 3D-sensing camera, and OSHbot will identify the product, tell you how much it costs, and then guide you to where you can find it on store shelves.

And another robotic development that’s particularly spooky, via United Press International:

Israeli company showcases manned/unmanned patrol boat

  • A patrol boat for homeland security applications that can operate autonomously or by personnel on board is being highlighted by Israel Aerospace Industries at an exhibition in France

A manned/unmanned patrol boat for homeland security and other applications is being highlighted in France this week by Israel Aerospace Industries.

The vessel being shown at the Euronaval International Naval Defense and Maritime Exhibition is the Katana, which the company launched earlier this year.

The Katana can operate autonomously through the use of an advanced command-and-control station or controlled by personnel on board.

On to the crisis of the year, via BBC News:

Islamic State crisis: Peshmerga fighters head to Turkey

Iraqi Kurdish forces are travelling to Turkey, from where they plan to cross into Syria to battle Islamic State (IS) militants besieging the town of Kobane.

Officials said a plane carrying 150 Peshmerga had left Irbil. Their heavy weapons will be transported by land.

Turkey agreed to the deployment last week after refusing to allow Turkish Kurds to cross the border to fight.

Earlier, the Turkish prime minister rejected claims that he was not doing enough to end the jihadists’ assault.

More from Reuters:

How the West buys ‘conflict antiquities’ from Iraq and Syria (and funds terror)

“Many antique collectors unwillingly support terrorists like Islamic State,” Michel van Rijn, one of the most successful smugglers of antique artifacts in the past century, told German broadcaster Das Erste this month.

And smuggling is booming in Iraq and Syria right now. In Iraq, 4,500 archaeological sites, some of them UNESCO World Heritage sites, are reportedly controlled by Islamic State and are exposed to looting. Iraqi intelligence claim that Islamic State alone has collected as much as $36 million from the sales of artifacts, some of them thousands of years old. The accounts data have not been released for verification but, whatever the exact number is, the sale of conflict antiquities to fund military and paramilitary activity is real and systematic.

Grainy video from soldiers fighting for President Bashar al-Assad’s regime at Palmyra, an ancient capital in what is now Syria, shows delicate grave reliefs of the dead, ripped out, gathered up and loaded into the back of their truck. The soldiers present the heads of decapitated statues to the camera. Other stolen Palmyrene treasures were exposed by an undercover reporter for The Sunday Times. Sculptures, pillar carvings and glass vessels were found to be on sale for knock-down prices in Beirut, Lebanon. Roman vases had been robbed from graves and were being sold by the box.

And this from Der Spiegel:

Interview with an Islamic State Recruiter: ‘Democracy Is For Infidels’

  • How does Islamic State think? How do its followers see the world? SPIEGEL ONLINE met up with an Islamic State recruiter in Turkey to hear about the extremist group’s vision for the future.

The conditions laid out by the Islamist are strict: no photos and no audio recording. He also keeps his real name secret as well as his country of origin, and is only willing to disclose that he is Arab. His English is polished and he speaks with a British accent.

He calls himself Abu Sattar, appears to be around 30 years old and wears a thick, black beard that reaches down to his chest. His top lip is shaved as is his head and he wears a black robe that stretches all the way to the floor. He keeps a copy of the Koran, carefully wrapped in black cloth, in his black leather bag.

Abu Sattar recruits fighters for the terrorist militia Islamic State in Turkey. Radical Islamists travel to Turkey from all over the world to join the “holy war” in Iraq or Syria and Abu Sattar examines their motives and the depth of their religious beliefs. Several Islamic State members independently recommended Abu Sattar as a potential interview partner — as someone who could explain what Islamic State stands for. Many see him as something like an ideological mentor.

And on a related note, via Reuters:

U.S. boosts security at government buildings, citing calls by terrorist groups

The United States is stepping up security at government buildings in Washington and other major cities in response to “calls by terrorist organizations for attacks on the homeland and elsewhere,” Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said on Tuesday.

“Given world events, prudence dictates a heightened vigilance in the protection of U.S. government installations and our personnel,” Johnson said in a statement.

From Reuters, a reminder of an earlier regime change venture:

Libya near ‘point of no return’, U.N. says as fighting toll rises

Factional warfare in Libya is pushing the oil producer “very close to the point of no return”, the U.N. special envoy to the country said on Tuesday with efforts to bring about a ceasefire and political dialogue showing no result.

The death toll from two weeks of street fighting between pro-government forces and Islamist armed groups in the eastern city of Benghazi has risen to 170, medics said. Seven people were killed alone on Tuesday, 15 on Monday.

The North African country has had two governments and parliaments since a militia group from the western city of Misrata seized the capital Tripoli in August, setting up its own cabinet and assembly.

From BuzzFeed, can you say “Hubris”?:

Blackwater Founder Blames “Anti-War Left” For The Convictions Of Guards Who Killed Iraqi Civilians

“In the Vietnam War, the anti-war left went after the troops and this time they went after contractors and Blackwater represented anything they love to hate.”

The founder and former CEO of Blackwater Erick Prince blamed the anti-war left Tuesday for the conviction of four former guards for the 2007 shootings of more than 30 Iraqis in Baghdad.

“There’s a lot of politics that surrounds the event,” Prince said on NewsMax TV’s Midpoint. “The government spent tens of millions of dollars after this one case and a lot came after that Nisour Square event.”

“The bureaucratic attack the company withstand because of this. It’s all wrapped into the anger of the Iraq War. In the Vietnam War, the anti-war left went after the troops and this time they went after contractors and Blackwater represented anything they love to hate.”

Panopticon pervasiveness from the Guardian:

GCHQ views data with no warrant, government admits

  • GCHQ’s secret “arrangements” for accessing bulk material revealed in documents submitted to UK surveillance watchdog

British intelligence services can access raw material collected in bulk by the NSA and other foreign spy agencies without a warrant, the government has confirmed for the first time.

GCHQ’s secret “arrangements” for accessing bulk material are revealed in documents submitted to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, the UK surveillance watchdog, in response to a joint legal challenge by Privacy International, Liberty and Amnesty International. The legal action was launched in the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations published by the Guardian and other news organisations last year.

The government’s submission discloses that the UK can obtain “unselected” – meaning unanalysed, or raw intelligence – information from overseas partners without a warrant if it was “not technically feasible” to obtain the communications under a warrant and if it is “necessary and proportionate” for the intelligence agencies to obtain that information.

The rules essentially permit bulk collection of material, which can include communications of UK citizens, provided the request does not amount to “deliberate circumvention” of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa), which governs much of the UK’s surveillance activities.

And from National Journal, we’ll show you yours if you’ll show us ours:

British Spies Allowed to Access U.S. Data Without a Warrant

Newly released documents from the British government reveal a lack of judicial oversight for how it sifts through communications data collected by the NSA and other foreign governments

British authorities are capable of tapping into bulk communications data collected by other countries’ intelligence services—including the National Security Agency—without a warrant, according to secret government documents released Tuesday.

The agreement between the NSA and Britain’s spy agency, known as Government Communications Headquarters or GCHQ, potentially puts the Internet and phone data of Americans in the hands of another country without legal oversight when obtaining a warrant is “not technically feasible.”

The data, once obtained, can be kept for up to two years, according to internal policies disclosed by the British government. GCHQ was forced to reveal that it can request and receive vast quantities of raw, unanalyzed data collected from foreign governments it partners with during legal proceedings in a closed court hearing in a case brought by various international human-rights organizations, including Privacy International, Liberty U.K., and Amnesty International. The suit challenges certain aspects of GCHQ’s surveillance practices.

Threatpost covers the bottom line:

Cyberespionage: ‘This Isn’t a Problem That Can Be Solved’

“This isn’t a problem that can be solved. Don’t think it has a solution,” Joel Brenner, former head of national counterintelligence at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and former senior counsel at the NSA, said in a keynote speech at the Kaspersky Government Cybersecurity Forum here Tuesday. “We are economically interdependent with the Chinese in an extraordinary way.”

Brenner pointed out a number of factors that have hoped lead to the current state of affairs, including the interconnection of virtually every conceivable asset and what he says has been the stasis in defensive thinking and operations in the last 10 years or so.

“If you thought the state of cyber defense had become substantially better in the last ten years, you’d be wrong,” he said. “We’ve been walking backward on cybersecurity for more than a decade and we’ll continue to walk backward unless and until we can address the core issues. The defensive stance needs to change from filter and guard to hunt and kill.”

From the Japan Times, the high price of apocalyptic security:

Imminent U.S. revamp of nuclear weapons, subs and planes is too costly, some say

Over the next 30 years, Washington will have to overhaul or replace much of its nuclear arsenal, an effort that experts say could cost as much as a trillion dollars. The problems will lie in choosing what is truly indispensable, and in how to pay for it.

The congressionally mandated National Defense Panel put it bluntly in a July review of the Pentagon’s defense plans, saying the effort to build a new triad of nuclear bombers, missiles and submarines is “unaffordable” under present budget constraints.

With legislation in 2011 putting in place a decade of budget spending cuts, analysts say the White House will ultimately have to delay some systems, trim others or find more money. Most likely, it will have to do all three.

Gee, they’ve got mail! From the New York Times:

Report Reveals Wider Tracking of Mail in U.S.

In a rare public accounting of its mass surveillance program, the United States Postal Service reported that it approved nearly 50,000 requests last year from law enforcement agencies and its own internal inspection unit to secretly monitor the mail of Americans for use in criminal and national security investigations.

The number of requests, contained in a 2014 audit of the surveillance program by the Postal Service’s inspector general, shows that the surveillance program is more extensive than previously disclosed and that oversight protecting Americans from potential abuses is lax.

The audit, along with interviews and documents obtained by The New York Times under the Freedom of Information Act, offers one of the first detailed looks at the scope of the program, which has played an important role in the nation’s vast surveillance effort since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The Kansas City Star’s Lee Judge offers his take on the snail mail “hack”:

BLOG Mailer

And they’re looking for more, via the Guardian:

FBI demands new powers to hack into computers and carry out surveillance

  • Agency requests rule change but civil liberties groups say ‘extremely invasive’ technique amounts to unconstitutional power grab

The FBI is attempting to persuade an obscure regulatory body in Washington to change its rules of engagement that would grant it significant new powers to hack into and carry out surveillance of computers throughout the US and around the world.

Civil liberties groups warn that the proposed rule change amounts to a power grab by the agency that would ride roughshod over strict limits to searches and seizures laid out under the fourth amendment of the US constitution, as well as violating first amendment privacy rights. They have protested that the FBI is seeking to transform its cyber capabilities with minimal public debate and with no congressional oversight.

The regulatory body to which the Department of Justice has applied to make the rule change, the advisory committee on criminal rules, will meet for the first time on November 5 to discuss the issue. The panel will be addressed by a slew of technology experts and privacy advocates concerned about the possible ramifications were the proposals allowed to go into effect next year.

South China Morning Post has the latest plumbing news:

FBI net closing on ‘Edward Snowden-style’ leaker of terror watch-lists

The net is closing on a second “Edward Snowden-style” whistle-blower who has reportedly been identified by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, it emerged yesterday.

Agents had identified an employee of a US contracting firm who was suspected of leaking a US government watch list of terrorists to a journalist linked to Snowden, Yahoo News reported.

Agents had reportedly searched the suspect’s home and a criminal investigation had been opened by prosecutors in the US state of Virginia. However, no one had been arrested or charged, the report said.

It is believed that the suspect was inspired by Snowden.

From the Associated Press, pressing the issue:

AP, Seattle Times object to FBI’s fake news story

The Associated Press and The Seattle Times are objecting after learning that the FBI created a fake news story and website using their names to catch a bomb threat suspect in 2007.

Police in suburban Lacey, near Olympia, sought the FBI’s help as repeated bomb threats prompted a week of evacuations and closures at Timberline High School in June 2007.

After police interviews of potential suspects came up empty, the agency obtained a warrant from a federal magistrate judge to send a “communication” to a social media account associated with the bomb threats, with the idea of tricking the suspect into revealing his location, according to documents obtained by the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The “communication,” which contained a software tool known as a “computer and Internet Protocol address verifier,” turned out to be a link to a phony AP story about the bomb threats posted on a fake Seattle Times webpage. The 15-year-old suspect clicked on the link, revealing his computer’s location and Internet address, and helping agents confirm his identity.

The boy was arrested.

Defense One covers hackery:

NATO’s Take on Cyberspace Law Ruffles China’s Feathers

Recent revelations by a group of security researchers of another China-based hacking group, reportedly more sophisticated than Unit 61398, is likely to set off the usual recriminations and denials, but have very little impact on the U.S.-China bilateral relationship. The Chinese embassy has already responded that “these kinds of reports or allegations are usually fictitious,” a response that Robert Dix, vice president of government affairs for Juniper Networks, colorfully and baldly describes as the Chinese giving “a big middle finger to anybody in the United States that’s tried to out them or point fingers in their direction.”

The report on the group, called Axiom, describes a six-year campaign against companies, journalists, civil society group, academics, and governments, and may preclude any real discussion on cyber issues between Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Barack Obama at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit next week. There was, however, very little chance that their sidebar discussion was going to lead to major progress. The differences between the two sides are deep.

An article that ran last week in the People’s Liberation Army Daily [Chinese] criticizing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and efforts to develop the laws of armed conflict in cyberspace shows just how deep the differences are.

And from CNET, most interesting:

People trust NSA more than Google, survey says

  • In a result consistent with previous polling, a new poll has respondents claiming they’re more concerned about Google seeing all their private data than the government

People don’t always say what they think. Especially in business and love.

Please, therefore, consider this question: whom would you trust more with your private data: the NSA, a company like Google, or your mom?

I ask because I’m looking at the results of a survey, conducted between October 9 and12, that asked just that. It asked simple questions, to which its sponsors hoped to get simple answers.

The results went like this. On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being “I am shivering uncontrollably with fear”) the idea of Google or a similar concern having access to all your private data got a concerned score of 7.39.

The idea of the NSA having its eyes and hands all over you? 7.06. What about your boss snooping? That merited a mere 6.85. While the notion of your parents knowing it all got a 5.93.

From PandoDaily, another reason to make you hinky about da Google:

You can run, but you can’t hide: Google expands its real-world surveillance system with Google Fit

The company has developed an application that allows Android smartphone owners to collect health-related information in one place. It’s called Google Fit, and besides challenging Apple’s HealthKit service, it also represents Google’s efforts to gather real-world data to complement the information it already has about the digital world.

It’s no longer enough for companies to track someone’s activity across the Web by monitoring their emails, analyzing their browsing history, or keeping tabs on their online searches. All that information now needs to be supplemented with data about what someone’s doing in the real world, whether that’s demonstrated through location tracking or through a health application.

Why else would so many companies rush to help people track their steps, count their calories, or collect other health-related information? It’s not just about making self quantification more convenient for the few self-obsessed consumers who actually use that information. It’s also about increasing the amount of information that can be offered to advertisers — maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow, but certainly as soon as these companies can get away with it.

From the Daily Dot, can you hear them now?:

Verizon is launching a tech news site that bans stories on U.S. spying

  • Verizon is getting into the news business. What could go wrong?

The most-valuable, second-richest telecommunications company in the world is bankrolling a technology news site called SugarString.com. The publication, which is now hiring its first full-time editors and reporters, is meant to rival major tech websites like Wired and the Verge while bringing in a potentially giant mainstream audience to beat those competitors at their own game.

There’s just one catch: In exchange for the major corporate backing, tech reporters at SugarString are expressly forbidden from writing about American spying or net neutrality around the world, two of the biggest issues in tech and politics today.

Unsurprisingly, Verizon is deeply tangled up in both controversies.

After the jump, killing the Fourth Estate with impunity, blood on the newsroom floor, White House hackery, a major hack of a cell-phone-based electronic payment system, millions of Californians lose personal data to hackers, a major malware breach of Gmail Drafts, hacking arrests to come at an amoral media baron’s Old Blighty holding, feds crack down on stadium droners while others drones may carry heart-zappers, cops arm for violence in Ferguson, sending a battlewagon to bust grandpa, On to Mexico and probing for graves in the search for missing Mexican students as more arrests ensue and parents confront a president, a police purge in Venezuela, droning up Down Under as civil rights take a hit, an assassination plot in Bangldesh, on to Hong Kong and pressing the fight, two bizarre tales from North Korea, a call for a purge in a Japanese shrine, and those threatening clowns and trolls of Europe. . . Continue reading

EbolaWatch: Quarantines, panic, pols, & Africa


We begin with root causes, starting with this from the Guardian:

Ebola is a product of a destructive and exploitative global economic system

Deforestation and increasing demands on habitats to produce food don’t just wreck the environment, they are increasing the risk of global pandemics like Ebola

Like a sleepwalker roused from his dream, the world is slowly waking up to the full nightmare of the Ebola outbreak decimating west Africa. With small numbers of cases turning up in western countries, governments here are belatedly pledging action to fight the disease, which has already claimed almost 5,000 lives.

Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea – all countries struggling to recover from wars still fresh in the memory – have buckled under the onslaught of this horrific virus. Inadequate, creaking health services have been no match for a ruthless killer. But while the shocking poverty of these countries provides the fertile ground for the disease to spread, there are bigger issues at play that ought to cause us to think about the macroeconomic conditions that brought us to this point.

Ebola – like HIV, anthrax, Sars, avian flu and other pandemics of recent years – is a zoonotic virus, one that has crossed from animals to humans. It was first identified in 1976 during near-simultaneous outbreaks in Sudan and what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The strain of Ebola implicated in the current outbreak is thought to have originated from a mutant pathogen found in fruit bats. This is where we see a direct connection with economic development. The conflicts which have done so much damage to the affected countries have also attracted a range of activities – both legal and illicit – including logging and extractive industries like bauxite mining, which have deforested large swathes of the region.

More from The Ecologist:

Oil palm explosion driving West Africa’s Ebola outbreak

The medical response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has been monstrously inadequate, writes Richard Kock. But so has been recognition of the underlying causes – in particular the explosive spread of industrial oil palm, which disrupts the ecology of forests and farms, and undermines local economy and traditional governance, leading to a ‘perfect storm’ of disease.

It is poverty that drives villagers to encroach further into the forest, where they become infected with the virus when hunting and butchering wildlife, or through contact with body fluids from bats – this has been seen with Nipah, another dangerous virus associated with bats.

The likelihood of infection in this manner is compounded by inadequate rural health facilities and poor village infrastructure, compounded by the disorganised urban sprawl at the fringes of cities.

The virus then spreads in a wave of fear and panic, ill-conceived intervention and logistical failures – including even insufficient food or beds for the severely ill.

Take for example the global palm oil industry, where a similar trend of deep-cutting into forests for agricultural development has breached natural barriers to the evolution and spread of specific pathogens.

The effects of land grabs and the focus on certain fruit crop species leads to an Allee effect, where sudden changes in one ecological element causes the mechanisms for keeping populations – bats in this case – and viruses in equilibrium to shift, increasing the probability of spill over to alternative hosts.

Next, some possibly good news from the Guardian:

Ebola may have reached turning point, says Wellcome Trust director

  • Dr Jeremy Farrar says international community is belatedly taking the actions necessary to stem the tide of the disease

Writing in the Guardian, Dr Jeremy Farrar says that although there are several bleak months ahead, “it is finally becoming possible to see some light. In the past 10 days, the international community has belatedly begun to take the actions necessary to start turning Ebola’s tide.

“The progress made is preliminary and uncertain; even if ultimately successful it will not reduce mortality or stop transmission for some time. We are not close to seeing the beginning of the end of the epidemic but [several] developments offer hope that we may have reached the end of the beginning.”

Farrar’s comments come as the World Health Organisation confirmed that the number of Ebola cases in Liberia has started to decline, with fewer burials and some empty hospital beds. But the WHO warned against any assumption that the outbreak there was ending.

“I’m terrified that the information will be misinterpreted,” said Dr Bruce Aylward, assistant director-general in charge of the Ebola operational response. “This is like saying your pet tiger is under control. This is a very, very dangerous disease. Any transmission change could result in many, many more deaths.”

Science qualifies the optimism:

Liberia’s Ebola progress real, but epidemic far from under control

The apparent decline in cases could mean that  families are hiding patients and secretly burying the dead, but it is more likely that a combination of factors has reduced the spread of the disease, said Aylward. “There was a rapid scale up in safe burial practices in the month of September,” he said, adding that many people were isolated in Ebola treatment units, further curbing spread. There also has been intensive education of communities about the disease, including how it is spread, the value of seeking care, and self-protection strategies.

The situations in Guinea and Sierra Leone, the other two hard-hit countries, have not changed as dramatically.

In a disconnect with the drop of cases in Liberia, Aylward noted that WHO has tallied 13,703 cases—a jump of more than 3000 from the figures released 25 October. He said the steep increase reflects reporting on a backlog of cases “With the huge surge in cases in certain countries, particularly in September and October, people got behind on their data,” he said. “They ended up with huge piles of paper and we knew we were going to see jumps in cases at certain times that are going to be associated with more new data coming in that are actually old cases.” He said about 2000 of the latest cases came from old data collected in Liberia, where reporting of cases continues to be a problem. “Data for Liberia are missing for 19, 20, 21, 26 and 27 October,” the latest update from WHO notes.

And from Liberia itself, another caution via The NewDawn:

Ellen warns against early excitement – Chinese military team arrives

President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has warned against early jubilation over news of reduction in the infection across the country with news of less than 400 cases nationwide.

The Liberian leader is cautioned citizens and residents against a repeat of a scenario in March this year when people got “too happy too soon” over decline in Ebola infection, thereby giving room for the virus to resurface by June when preventive measures were largely downplayed.

“Yes we feel good, but we want to be cautious. We don’t want people to get happy too soon; we got to continue this fight, and we got to continue it with everything that we got,” President Sirleaf said Tuesday in Monrovia when she received an advance Chinese military delegation of 15 personnel to build ETUs here.

Judging from previous scenario, she warned, “This time we want to be careful, we’ll not be satisfied until we are declared that the last Ebola victim has been cured and is freed of this disease.” President Sirleaf’s warning comes as government prepares to conduct a mid-term election for 15 senators in December.

A video report from euronews:

Ebola: WHO announces ‘slowing rate of new cases’

Program notes:

Liberia may be experiencing a slowdown in the rate of new cases of the deadly Ebola virus according to the World Health Organization.

“We are seeing a slowing rate of new cases, very definitely,” WHO Assistant Director General Bruce Aylward announced.

The African country has reportedly seen a drop in burials and new hospital admissions, while the number of laboratory-confirmed cases has levelled out.

While the Associated Press adds more nuance:

Top UN Ebola official: new cases poorly tracked

Authorities are having trouble figuring out how many more people are getting Ebola in Liberia and Sierra Leone and where the hot spots are in those countries, harming efforts to get control of the raging, deadly outbreak, the U.N.’s top Ebola official in West Africa said Tuesday.

“The challenge is good information, because information helps tell us where the disease is, how it’s spreading and where we need to target our resources,” Anthony Banbury told The Associated Press by phone from the Ghanaian capital of Accra, where the U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response, or UNMEER, is based.

Health experts say the key to stopping Ebola is breaking the chain of transmission by tracing and isolating those who have had contact with Ebola patients or victims. Health care workers can’t do that if they don’t know where new cases are emerging.

“And unfortunately, we don’t have good data from a lot of areas. We don’t know exactly what is happening,” said Banbury, the chief of UNMEER.

Meanwhile, the crisis remains both critical and costly. From Sky News:

Ebola: DEC Launches ‘Unprecedented’ Appeal

The charity group asks the public for money to halt the “explosive” virus – the first time it has done so for a disease outbreak.

The Disasters Emergency Committee is to launch a major television appeal over the Ebola crisis, the first time it has called for donations in response to a disease.

The committee, which is made up of 13 of the UK’s major aid charities, said it took the decision because the killer virus threatens to become a “catastrophe”.

The DEC described the spread of the virus as “explosive”, and said it was devastating communities, health services and people’s ability to support themselves.

Next, California joins the list of states with Ebola quarantine policies, via the San Jose Mercury News:

Ebola: California is latest state to impose 21-day quarantine for those exposed to Ebola

California on Wednesday became the latest state to order a 21-day quarantine for travelers who have been in close contact with Ebola patients.

In an attempt to avoid the criticism lodged against New York, New Jersey and Maine that had blanket quarantine orders, however, California will allow county health agencies to impose the quarantine on a case-by-case basis.

By working with county health departments to assess the individual risks, the California Department of Public Health said it “respects the individual circumstances of each traveler while protecting and preserving the public health.”

And a case at hand, via KCBS in San Francisco:

Stanford Surgeon Under ‘Modified Quarantine’ In San Mateo County After Returning From Liberia

A Stanford surgeon has been put on modified quarantine in San Mateo County after treating Ebola patients in Liberia for the past month.

Dr. Colin Bucks returned to the Bay Area on Friday, but no state or federal quarantine orders were in place at the time. Dr. Bucks is not experiencing any symptoms of Ebola, but he is the first Californian to be quarantined under the new guidelines. Bucks is considered by health officials to be at “some risk.”

The doctor contacted San Mateo County health officials. After consultation with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the California Dept. of Public Health, Dr. Bucks was told to stay away from work and to stay away from others for 21 days. However, he can leave his house to go jogging by himself. He is taking his temperature every day and has not developed any symptoms.

Politics of pain, via the Los Angeles Times:

Obama urges Americans to honor aid workers fighting Ebola in Africa

President Obama on Tuesday urged Americans to set aside their fears of the Ebola virus and make sure U.S. healthcare workers who go to West Africa are “applauded, thanked and supported” when they return home.

If those workers are successful in fighting the virus at the source of the outbreak, he said, “we don’t have to worry about it here.”

“They are doing God’s work over there,” Obama said, “and they are doing that to keep us safe.”

And a fundamental lack from the Associated Press:

Funding to tame an Ebola outbreak has fallen short

“We don’t really have a pharmaceutical response for Ebola,” said retired Air Force Col. Randall Larsen, the former executive director of the Congressional Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction. “But could you imagine if there were 20,000 sick people in 10 cities and we did not have a pharmaceutical response? We would be completely overwhelmed.”

Emergency preparedness programs ramped up significantly in the U.S. after the Sept. 11 attacks and the 2001 anthrax scare, said Dr. Gerald Parker, a former principal deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. Health and Human Services preparedness office. Those efforts included research and development of vaccines and anti-viral drugs.

“It was recognized that there would be a dual benefit from research on vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics to counter bioterror threats and emerging infectious diseases,” said Parker, now a vice president at Texas A&M Health Science Center.

But a combination of budgetary constraints and politics has delayed many of those plans.

Other quarantine news from the New York Times:

New York State Ebola Policy Allows for In-Home Quarantine

Offering the first detailed account of how New York State’s quarantine order for health care workers returning from West Africa will be put into effect, the Cuomo administration has issued guidelines that go beyond federal recommendations but seek to allow individuals to spend their enforced isolation in a location of their choosing.

The state documents, copies of which were obtained by The New York Times, show an effort by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration to portray the quarantine in a humane manner.

The protocols are meant to ensure “a respectful and supportive approach” to arriving travelers, who are supposed to be “treated with the utmost respect and concern,” according to a document prepared by the State Health Department that outlines the screening procedures.

While the Guardian covers a controversy:

Ebola: Maine deploys state police to quarantined nurse’s home

  • Kaci Hickox, who was held for days in an isolation tent in New Jersey, says she doesn’t plan on obeying home quarantine in her home state

A nurse freed from an Ebola isolation tent in a New Jersey hospital declared on Wednesday the she will not comply with a quarantine request imposed by state officials, saying the policy is not based on science and infringes on her civil liberties.

“I don’t plan on sticking to the guidelines,” nurse Kaci Hickox told the Today show from her home in Maine. “I remain appalled by these home quarantine policies that have been forced upon me, even though I am in perfectly good health and feeling strong and have been this entire time completely symptom-free.”

The governor’s office said in a statement that Maine state police would monitor Kickox’s home “for both her protection and the health of the community”. A TV reporter with the local WLBZ news channel said as of 1pm ET on Wednesday at least two police cars were parked out front of the home.

More from the Washington Post:

Maine Gov. Paul LePage is seeking legal authority to enforce Ebola quarantine on nurse

Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) is looking for ways to force a nurse released from mandatory Ebola isolation in New Jersey to abide by a similar 21-day quarantine in Maine.

“The Office of the Governor has been working collaboratively with the State health officials within the Department of Health and Human Services to seek legal authority to enforce the quarantine,” LePage’s office said in a statement Wednesday. “We hoped that the health-care worker would voluntarily comply with these protocols, but this individual has stated publicly she will not abide by the protocols.”

Still more from the Guardian:

Maine prepared to go to court to enforce nurse’s Ebola quarantine order

  • Officials plead with Kaci Hickox to abide by 21-day order
  • ‘I have been this entire time completely symptom-free’

Maine’s top public health official has said the state will if necessary seek a court order to ensure a nurse stays quarantined in her home after returning from treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone.

Mary Mayhew, the commissioner of the state department of health and human services, pleaded with Hickox to abide by the state’s 21-day at-home quarantine order.

“We do not want to legally enforce an in-home quarantine unless absolutely necessary,” Mayhew said on Wednesday afternoon.

More quarantine politics from Reuters:

Obama sees different Ebola rules for U.S. military than for civilians

President Barack Obama on Tuesday appeared to back more rigorous procedures for dealing with soldiers returning from missions to Ebola-hit West African countries, even as he criticized moves by some U.S. states to quarantine returning civilian health workers.

Obama said that American military personnel were in a “different situation” compared with healthcare workers. While civilians may be discouraged from volunteering to help fight the Ebola if they are facing quarantine on their return, troops were sent as part of their mission and could expect such inconveniences.

“They are already by definition if they are in the military under more circumscribed conditions,” Obama told reporters at the White House. “We don’t expect to have similar rules for our military as we do for civilians.”

More from USA Today:

Quarantine ordered for troops returning from W. Africa

U.S. troops returning from Ebola-stricken nations will be isolated for 21 days, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Wednesday, a day after the White House raised concerns about states imposing strict quarantines of health care workers returning from West Africa.

Top commanders for the Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps made the recommendation to Hagel on Tuesday. The Army instituted an isolation requirement for 21 days — the incubation period for the deadly virus — on Monday.

Hagel directed the isolation policy be reviewed in 45 days to see whether it was necessary to continue with it, said Rear Adm. John Kirby, Pentagon press secretary.

Still more from the Guardian:

Conflicting Ebola guidelines put US defense secretary in a tough spot

  • Hagel’s choice on quarantining troops returning from west Africa involves rebuking either government scientists or military leaders

The Ebola outbreak has placed the US secretary of defense on the horns of a dilemma: whether to back the military service chiefs about a quarantine for troops or to support the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which recommends no such thing.

Defense chief Chuck Hagel has received a recommendation for a “quarantine-like program” for all US servicemembers returning from Liberia and Senegal, where they are supporting civilian efforts to contain the disease, Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said on Tuesday.

The recommendation, made by the heads of the military services, would expand across the military a directive made on Monday from the army chief, General Raymond Odierno, to keep soldiers returning from Operation United Assistance in Liberia and Senegal under a 21-day period of “controlled monitoring”.

Kirby said Hagel has yet to make a decision, having received the quarantine recommendation earlier on Tuesday. But imposing a broader military quarantine for returning servicemembers goes beyond new guidance set on Monday by the CDC, which urged a home quarantine only for high-risk individuals, such as those whose body fluids have been directly exposed to Ebola. US troops have not been involved in treating Ebola patients.

And yet more from Reuters:

US isolates troops

The U.S. military has started isolating soldiers returning from an Ebola response mission in West Africa and Australia became the first rich nation to impose a visa ban on the affected countries amid global anxiety about the spread of the virus.

The latest measures, along with decisions by some U.S. states to impose mandatory quarantines on health workers returning home from treating Ebola victims in West Africa, have been condemned by health authorities and the United Nations as extreme.

The top health official in charge of dealing with Washington’s response to Ebola warned against turning doctors and nurses who travel to West Africa to tackle Ebola into “pariahs”.

From Reuters, intranational man of mystery:

In Ebola response, Obama’s ‘czar’ stays behind the curtain

It’s not often that a White House official gets mocked on both Saturday Night Live and a major daily newspaper before he makes his first public appearance.

But Ron Klain’s low-profile first week as President Barack Obama’s behind-the-scenes Ebola “czar” has become another attack point for a White House struggling to show it’s on top of the crisis.

Since starting last Wednesday, Klain has been seen only once, in a photo op on his first day, leaving health officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institutes of Health – and Obama himself – to be the public “face” of the response.

The White House has declined to give details about his activities, especially what role he played as governors Andrew Cuomo of New York and Chris Christie of New Jersey undermined the White House’s attempt to keep the nation calm about the risk posed by healthcare workers returning from Ebola-stricken West Africa.

More predictable politics from the Associated Press:

Jeb Bush: Obama handling of Ebola ‘incompetent’

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on Tuesday criticized President Barack Obama’s initial handling of the Ebola crisis as “incompetent,” saying it gave rise to unneeded fears among the American public about the virus.

Bush, who is the latest potential Republican presidential candidate to attack the president over Ebola, also said in a wide-ranging discussion at Vanderbilt University that he supports travel restrictions for people who have been to the most severely affected countries in Africa.

Bush said Obama should have been more “clear and concise” about his plans, and lent more credibility to health officials leading the response.

“It looked very incompetent to begin with, and that fueled fears that may not be justified,” Bush said. “And now you have states that are legitimately acting on their concerns, creating a lot more confusion than is necessary.”

Meanwhile, the Obama administration made a notable symbolic move sure to piss off some of Bush’s former Florida constituents, via the Associated Press:

US sends health official to Cuban Ebola meeting

The United States has sent a health official to a Cuban meeting on coordinating Latin America’s response to Ebola. The participation of the Centers for Disease Control’s Central America director is the most concrete sign to date of the two nations’ expressed desire to cooperate against the disease.

The two-day meeting that began Tuesday in Havana is sponsored by ALBA, a forum of left-leaning Latin countries founded by Cuba and Venezuela as a counterweight to U.S. influence in the region.

Cuba is sending at least 256 medical workers to West Africa to treat and prevent Ebola. The World Health Organization says it’s the largest contribution by a single government, although there may be more doctors of other nationalities who are sent by non-governmental organizations.

The U.S. has welcomed Cuba’s response.

Ebolaphobia from the New York Times:

Connecticut Child Barred From School After Trip to Africa; Father Sues

The father of a Connecticut third grader filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday, saying his daughter has been unfairly barred from school amid fears she may have been exposed to the Ebola virus while in Africa.

The daughter, Ikeoluwa Opayemi, and her family, who live in Milford, visited Nigeria for a wedding from Oct. 2 to 13, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in Federal District Court in New Haven.

When the girl tried to return to the Meadowside Elementary School, she was told by the school district’s health director that she would have to stay home until Nov. 3 “due to concern from certain parents and teachers that she could transmit Ebola to other children,” according to the lawsuit.

More from Ebolaphobics from Science:

Been to an Ebola-affected country? Stay away from tropical medicine meeting, Louisiana says

Ebola fears are interfering with the world’s premier scientific meeting on tropical diseases. Today, Louisiana state health officials asked anyone who has traveled to Liberia, Sierra Leone, or Guinea in the past 21 days, or has treated Ebola patients elsewhere, to stay away from the annual meeting of the American Society for Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH), which begins on Sunday in New Orleans.

ASTMH doesn’t know exactly how many scientists will be affected, but there are several, says incoming president Christopher Plowe, including representatives from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “They are quite disappointed,” says Plowe, a malaria researcher at the University of Maryland. ASTMH sent all meeting registrants an email today containing a letter from Kathy Kliebert, secretary of Louisiana’s Department of Health & Hospitals, and Kevin Davis, director of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness, that outlines the state’s position. ASTMH referred registrants to the state’s health department for further information.

“Given that conference participants with a travel and exposure history for [Ebola] are recommended not to participate in large group settings (such as this conference) or to utilize public transport, we see no utility in you traveling to New Orleans to simply be confined to your room,” the letter says.

After the jump, an infectious lie, a sole supplier, North Korean Ebolaphobia, Hong Kong preparedness, fast-tracking a vaccine, anger at Aussie exclusion, Japanese angst leads to a task force, then on to Africa and vigilance in the newest addition to the ranks of the stricken while a border remains open, a study of who survive in Sierra Leone, Tokyo lends mobile assistance, Brits train “Ebola warriors,” missing funds, and survivors are shunned, then on to Liberia and the crisis personified, the healthcare worker’s painful conundrum, another blow to overstretched police resources, long overdue pay for healthcare workers, a cultural belief hampering prevention efforts with specific voices heard, Christian leaders call a three-day fast, a Christian tradition invoked, a change in command of American boots on the ground, and a presidential birthday is deferred, thence to Nigeria and an unanticipated arrival, followed by a precipitous tourism decline in Kenya. . . Continue reading

Earth in crisis: How NASA maps climate change


A remarkable presentation by top NASA scientists revealing how satellite data is combined with other observations to map the earth’s circulatory systems [air, water, and ice] and create the exquisitely detailed models from which predictions of climate are derived.

To fully appreciate the stunning detail their models capture, click on the gear symbol and set to 720p resolution and pop the video full screen.

Contrary to the cl;aims of politicians backed by Big Oil and Big Coal, the results of their research aren’t simply pipe dream conjectures, and their findings should be enough to move even the most glacial of temperaments to an awareness that we are confronted with a potential  catastrophe created by out own unending appetites for the stuff we can crate out of the planet’s “raw materials.”

And be ready for some images of astounding beauty that should inspire a deeper reverence for the world in which we live and move and have our being [to borrow from a writer of long ago].

From NASA Goddard:

Vital Signs: Taking the Pulse of Our Planet

Program notes:

Our planet is a beautiful and awesome place. In a new video, join NASA scientists on a 40-minute visual tour of Earth from space, presented at the IMAX Theater at National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. on September 10.

“Vital Signs: Taking the Pulse of Our Planet” was the theme for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center’s fifteenth installment of its annual lecture and reception sponsored by the Maryland Space Business Roundtable.

Earth is a complex, dynamic system we do not yet fully understand. Like the human body, the Earth system comprises diverse components that interact in complex ways.

On this global tour, scientists lead the viewer through Earth’s water cycle, forests and frozen regions as seen through the eyes of NASA’s Earth observing satellite fleet. They share a story of how we can make life better today and into the future.

NASA’s Earth science program aims to develop a greater understanding of Earth’s system and its response to natural or human-induced changes, and to improve predictions of climate, weather and natural disasters.

The lecture is given by:

Lennard Fisk, Ph.D
Distinguished University Professor of Space Science
University of Michigan
INTRODUCTION

Gail Skofronick-Jackson, Ph.D
Project Scientist for the Global Precipitation Measurement Mission
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
THE WATER CYCLE

Thorsten Markus, Ph.D
Project Scientist for Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2)
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
SEA ICE

Lola Fatoyinbo-Agueh, Ph.D
Principal Investigator, (Eco-Synthetic Aperture Radar) (EcoSAR)
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
LAND AND EARTH

Piers Sellers
Deputy Director, Science and Exploration Directorate
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
THE BIG PICTURE

John Oliver: How sweet [and deadly] it is


With Berkeley voters facing a ballot measure to slap a tax on those addictive, over-sweetened, high-fructose-corn-syrup-laden soft drinks, and facing a barrage of costly ads and endless pseudo-survey phone hustles. consider this not-so-saccharine segment form HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver:

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Sugar

Program notes:

Sugar. It’s in everything!

Is it good for us? Well, the sugar industry thinks so.

InSecurityWatch: Canada, war, spies, Hong Kong


And lots more. . .

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

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

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

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

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

More from Xinhua:

Canadian government introduces protection of Canada from terrorists act

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

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

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

And from The National, a surprisingly realistic assessment:

Panel: What do we sacrifice to be safe?

Program notes:

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

From Reuters, China follows the same course:

China to streamline counter-terrorism intelligence gathering

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

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

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

More from SINA English:

China to set up anti-terror intelligence gathering center

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Intercept, a symptom of endless war:

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

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

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

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

The New York Times ups the ante:

Missiles of ISIS May Pose Peril for Aircrews in Iraq

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

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

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

From the Associated Press, nothing succeeds like failure:

INSIDE WASHINGTON: Profiting from failure

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

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

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

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

Legal challenges, via the Associated Press:

NSA surveillance challenges moving through courts

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

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

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

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

From Yahoo News, the second Snowden?:

Feds identify suspected ‘second leaker’ for Snowden reporters

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

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

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

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

From Gallup, a source of high anxiety:

Hacking Tops List of Crimes Americans Worry About Most

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

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

BLOG Compucrime

A security breach, via SecurityWeek:

Tor Exit Node Found Maliciously Modifying Files

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

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

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

Network World covers another costly hack attack:

Disaster as CryptoWall encrypts US firm’s entire server installation

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

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

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

From SecurityWeek, not altogether surprising:

Hackers Target Ukraine’s Election Website

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

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

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

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

Network World covers metastasis:

The ‘Backoff’ malware linked to data breaches is spreading

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

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

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

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

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

Saudi Lawyers Sentenced To Eight Years Behind Bars For Tweeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

EnviroWatch: Disease, climate, critters, nukes


We begin with a gripper from the Independent:

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

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

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

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

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

Side effects anticipated from BBC News:

Fears that Ebola crisis will set back malaria fight

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

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

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

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

Another outbreak from Reuters:

Rise in MERS cases prompts Saudi warning to residents

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

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

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

Neglect in the Pakistani polio outbreak from Reuters:

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

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

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

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

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

More from the Express Tribune in Karachi:

PM Nawaz took six months to appoint official responsible for polio

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

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

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

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

Climactic concerns from Deutsche Welle:

Climate experts meet in Copenhagen amid fresh warnings

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

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

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

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

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

Chinese GMO complications for Big Agra from MintPress News:

Syngenta Facing Legal Blitz Over Genetically Modified Corn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

China’s Growing Bets on GMOs

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

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

Environmental devastation in China from Want China Times:

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

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

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

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

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

And a violent protest in France from VICE News:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Program notes:

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

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