Category Archives: Video

Academic research and U.S. drone kill lists


Living in Berkeley, we’re acutely aware of the deep connections between academic research and battlefield body counts, given that Cal played — asnd continues to play — a key role in nuclear weapons development.

But academic research body counts aren’t limited to those incinerated or lethally irradiated in Hiroshima and Nagasaki or other weapons developed at the national laboratories administered by the University of California for the Department of Energy [formerly the Atomic Energy Commission].

Killer tech can also emerge from social science and computer labs, where software evolves to monitor social currents and metadata, in search of patterns boffins declare are likely source of actual or potential threats to the Moloch of national security.

University of California faculty dominate the roster of the JASONS [previously], the battalion of academics recruited to tackle intellectual conundrums for the Department of Defense.

So we note with interest a fascinating segment from Abby Martin’s Breaking the Set featuring Nafeez Ahmed, political activist and Guardian columnist.

Here’s his bio from the Guardian website:

Dr Nafeez Ahmed is a bestselling author, investigative journalist and international security scholar. He is executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development, and author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilization among other books. He writes for the Guardian on the geopolitics of environmental, energy and economic crises on his Earth insight blog.

Their focus of the segment is the role another Pentagon-funded academic research program, the Minerva Research Initiative, described thusly on the project’s website:

Just as our military forces could not effectively operate without understanding the physical terrain and environment, detection of radical actors and regime disruptions is limited by our understanding of the cultural and political environments where those threats develop. The Minerva Research Initiative, initiated by former Secretary Gates in 2008, seeks to build deeper understanding of the social, cultural, and political dynamics that shape regions of strategic interest around the world.

Deeper understanding of global populations and their variance as provided by Minerva-funded research will yield more effective strategic and operational policy decisions. Minerva scholars have already briefed valuable, warfighter-relevant insights to senior officials such as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, decision makers in the defense policy community, and on the ground to our combatant commands.

As the nascent program continues to grow, university-driven Minerva research will further enable critical social and cultural understanding to help decision makers effectively address today’s known and tomorrow’s unknown challenges.

With that out of the way, from Breaking the Set:

How DoD Flawed Algorithms are Basis for Drone Kill List | Interview with Nafeez Ahmed

Program notes:

Abby Martin features an interview with author and journalist Nafeez Ahmed, discussing his four-part investigation into the Pentagon’s mass social science project called The Minerva Research Initiative, as well as his latest book ‘Zero Point’.

EnviroWatch: Ebola, land, trade, and nukes


We begin with the latest Ebola news, first from the Jakarta Globe:

Last Ebola-Free Region of Liberia Falls to Virus

Every region of Liberia has now been hit by Ebola, officials said Friday, as the World Health Organization warned the fight against the worst-ever outbreak of the killer disease would take months.

After seeing people fall to the deadly virus in area after area, Liberia said two people had succumbed to the virus in Sinoe province, the last Ebola-free bastion in a country that has seen the biggest toll with 624 deaths.

The virus has spread relentlessly through Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, and Nigeria has also been affected despite showing some progress in fighting the epidemic, which has killed 1,427 people since March.

From the Guardian, a British patient:

Ebola outbreak: British national living in Sierra Leone tests positive for virus

  • Overall risk to UK public ‘very low’ says chief medical officer as west African nations impose stringent new measures

A British national living in Sierra Leone has tested positive for the Ebola virus – the first Briton confirmed to have contracted the disease.

The Department of Health said medical experts were assessing the situation “to ensure that appropriate care is delivered”. Consular assistance is being provided.

Professor John Watson, deputy chief medical officer, said: “The overall risk to the public in the UK continues to be very low. Medical experts are currently assessing the situation in Sierra Leone to ensure that appropriate care is provided.

The Associated Press covers a crackdown:

Sierra Leone makes hiding Ebola patients illegal

Sierra Leone voted to pass a new amendment to its health act, imposing possible jail time for anyone caught hiding an Ebola patient, a practice the World Health Organization believes has contributed to a major underestimation of the current outbreak.

The new law, an update to the country’s 1960 Public Health Act, was passed on Friday and imposes prison terms of up to two years for violators, said lawmaker Ansumana Jaiah Kaikai.

The measure was necessary to compel residents to cooperate with government officials, Kaikai said, noting that some residents had resisted steps to combat Ebola including the construction of isolation centers in their communities.

CBC News covers another crackdown:

Ebola outbreak: Ivory Coast closes western borders

  • Filipino peacekeepers leave Liberia due to outbreak

Ivory Coast has closed its land borders with Ebola-affected West African neighbours Guinea and Liberia in an attempt to prevent the world’s deadliest outbreak of the virus from spreading onto its territory, the government announced.

A number of African nations have defied advice from the World Health Organization (WHO) and put in place restrictions on travel to and from the countries where Ebola has appeared, which also include Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

More on the Philippine pullout from Deutsche Welle:

Philippines withdraw UN troops over Ebola concerns

The Philippines will repatriate over 100 UN troops serving in Liberia “as soon as possible.” The decision comes after Liberia confirmed all regions have now been hit by the Ebola virus.

The Philippines defense department confirmed on Saturday that it will pull out more than 100 troops from a UN peace-keeping mission Liberia amid concerns over the Ebola virus. It will also bring home over 300 Filipino UN troops from the Golan Heights amid deteriorating security in the region.

In a statement, the department said the 115-member contingent in Liberia will be “repatriated as soon as possible” due to the increasing health risk from the outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa.

“The Philippines prioritizes the safety and security of its troops, but remains committed to the peacekeeping missions of the United Nations,” the statement added.

South China Morning Post covers a return:

Hong Kong Red Cross volunteers return from Ebola-stricken Liberia, free of disease

Two local volunteers who worked to fight Ebola in Liberia arrived back in Hong Kong yesterday disease-free, as lawmakers gathered to discuss measures to prevent the deadly virus from entering the city.

Clinical psychologist Eliza Cheung Yee-lai and Dr May Yeung Pui-shan, both from Hong Kong Red Cross, showed no symptoms when they were stopped by health officers at the airport for preliminary assessments. They were allowed to leave without being quarantined.

“Eliza and I have finished our mission. Our health is good, and we are in good spirits,” said Yeung, a public health expert.

The Guardian names a culprit:

Ebola: research team says migrating fruit bats responsible for outbreak

  • A toddler’s chance encounter with one infected bat in Guinea led to west Africa’s present epidemic

The largest-ever outbreak of Ebola was triggered by a toddler’s chance contact with a single infected bat, a team of international researchers will reveal, after a major investigation of the origins of the deadly disease now ravaging Guinea, Liberia, Ivory Coast and Nigeria.

A group of 17 European and African tropical disease researchers, ecologists and anthropologists spent three weeks talking to people and capturing bats and other animals near the village of Meliandoua in remote eastern Guinea, where the present epidemic appeared in December 2013. They have concluded that the disease was spread by colonies of migratory fruit bats. Their research is expected to be published in a major journal in the next few weeks.

Early studies suggested that a new strain of Ebola had emerged in west Africa but, according to epidemiologist Fabian Leendertz, a disease ecologist at the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin, who led the large team of scientists to Guinea, it is likely the virus in Guinea is closely related to the one known as Zaire ebolavirus, identified more than 10 years ago in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Leendertz said the virus had probably arrived in west Africa via an infected straw-coloured fruit bat. These bats migrate across long distances and are commonly found in giant colonies near cities and in forests.

A coming visit via the Associated Press:

CDC director to visit Ebola outbreak countries

A top U.S. health official plans to travel to West Africa to see firsthand how the Ebola outbreak is unfolding.

Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is scheduled to visit Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea next week.

A CDC spokesman Friday said Frieden wants to meet the African and international health leaders trying to control the outbreak, and to hear what help they need. He also plans to visit hospitals treating Ebola patients.

And from Global Times, preparations:

China raises precaution against Ebola

China’s health authorities have stepped up control measures against Ebola in the past week, in wake of continuous epidemic in West Africa.

The National Health and Family Planning Commission distributed a protocol for diagnosis, treatment and fast response of Ebola cases to 31 provincial health departments on Thursday.

The document elaborates the symptoms of the disease and instructs medical workers how to put possible cases under medical observation, to handle suspected cases, to treat confirmed cases and under what circumstances to release a person under observation.

From CBC News, another environmental alert:

Iceland volcano: Bardarbunga eruption begins

  • Volcanic ash could affect air traffic

Iceland’s Bardarbunga volcano began erupting Saturday under the country’s largest glacier after a week of seismic activity rattled the area with thousands of earthquakes, the country’s Meteorological Office said.

The eruption prompted Iceland to raise its aviation alert level to red — the highest level on a five-point scale — indicating the threat of “significant emission of ash into the atmosphere.”

Seismic data indicates that magma from the volcano is melting ice beneath the Dyngjujokull icecap on the Vatnajokull glacier, Met Office vulcanologist Melissa Pfeffer said.

MintPress News covers another one:

Environmentalists Rally Against New Herbicide For GE Crops

Citing the inevitability of “superweeds” and calling the product a “life preserver” for fatally flawed technology, environmentalists urge the EPA not to register a new Dow AgroSciences herbicide for GE corn and soybeans

Environmentalists warn that an herbicide designed to work with new varieties of genetically engineered (GE) corn and soybeans should not be registered by the Environmental Protection Agency because, like other widely-used herbicides for GE crops, it will gradually promote the emergence of “superweeds” resistant to the new herbicide.

The herbicide at issue is Dow AgroSciences’ Enlist Duo, whose active ingredients are two “old” chemicals: glyphosate (best known by the trade name “Roundup”) and 2,4-D. The herbicide would be applied in fields planted with Enlist Corn and Enlist Soybeans – which Dow has engineered to tolerate the product.

The first commercial applications of 2,4-D date back to the mid-1940s, but the chemical gained notoriety due to its use in a Vietnam War-era defoliant: Agent Orange. Although 2,4-D was not the only herbicide in Agent Orange, the product was contaminated with dioxin — a potent carcinogen — as a byproduct of the production process.

From Deutsche Welle, a video report on the destructive role played by free trade pacts on local agriculture in one Latin American nation:

Business Brief: Columbia’s Struggling Farmers

Program note:

Free trade pacts are supposed to be a win-win situation for the nations who enter in to them.

And from Al Jazeera America, a sovereign victory to the north:

Canada’s First Nations people seek to ‘evict’ energy companies from land

  • Indigenous people of British Columbia are emboldened by a court decision siding with tribe in land rights dispute

The Gitxsan and First Nations peoples across the country have been emboldened by a June Supreme Court of Canada decision they describe as a “game changer.” In that case, the court sided with the Tsilhqot’in First Nation, a band of roughly 3,000 people residing in British Columbia’s interior, in a dispute over commercial logging. The court ruled that because the Tsilhqot’in were found to hold “aboriginal title” over the territory in question, their permission was required before logging could proceed.

“Canada is witnessing something that I call the rise of native empowerment,” said Bill Gallagher, a lawyer and author who specializes in First Nations legal challenges. “The Supreme Court of Canada has declared, verbatim, that the doctrine of terra nullius — that nobody was here when flags were planted by colonizers — that that doctrine does not apply in Canada.”

On to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with the Japan Times:

Late Fukushima nuclear plant chief’s testimony may be made public

The government plans to disclose testimony by Fukushima No. 1 chief Masao Yoshida that could shed light on whether he ordered staff at the stricken power plant to stay at their posts during the triple meltdown crisis, sources revealed Friday.

The decision could be made by mid-September, governmental and other sources said, noting Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga might comment on the leaking testimony on Monday.

Yoshida, who died of cancer in July last year, gave testimony to a government panel that was formed to probe the March 2011 disaster. It interviewed Yoshida for more than 20 hours between July and November 2011.

And from the Asahi Shimbun, a compromise:

Fukushima Prefecture to accept intermediate storage facility for radioactive waste

Fukushima Prefecture is set to accept the construction of an interim facility to store radioactive waste from cleanup work due to the nuclear disaster, advancing the stalled process of decontaminating the affected areas.

The prefectural government has decided to shoulder the difference between the appraised value of land in Okuma and Futaba, where the structure will be built, and the price it would have fetched before the 2011 accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The decision came after landowners insisted that the land should be bought at a fair market value because the current appraisals are much lower than pre-disaster estimates.

For our final item, Big Oil tries to buy a city, via the San Francisco Chronicle:

Chevron pouring money into Richmond election

The biggest political campaign war chest in Richmond doesn’t belong to a candidate, it belongs to a corporation that hopes to steer the city’s November municipal election in its favor.

Chevron, the city’s main employer and taxpayer, is also the biggest spender on political campaigns – it set aside $1.6 million in a political action committee called Moving Forward that supports the oil giant’s favorite City Council and mayoral candidates.

Let me repeat: $1.6 million. For local elections in a city of a little over 106,000 residents.

InSecurityWatch: Hacks, wars, spies, zones


We open with a major embarrassment, via the Guardian:

Records of up to 25,000 Homeland Security staff hacked in cyber-attack

  • Anonymous official says number could be even greater as department warns employees to check bank accounts

The internal records of as many as 25,000 employees of America’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) were exposed during a recent computer hack at a federal contractor that handles security clearances, an agency official said on Friday.

The official, speaking anonymously, said the number of victims could be greater. The incident is under active federal criminal investigation.

The department was informing employees whose files were exposed in the hacking against contractor USIS and warning them to monitor their financial accounts.

Next up, via Independent, using wars abroad to crack down in Old Blighty:

Theresa May to introduce anti-jihadist powers to tackle ‘deadly extremist ideology’

Home Secretary Theresa May is planning to introduce new anti-jihadist powers as she warns that the “struggle against a deadly extremist ideology” is likely to last for decades.

She is considering extending banning orders to groups with extreme ideology but which are not engaged in terrorist activities, and she wants new powers to target extremists who try to radicalise young men and women.

The Home Secretary revealed that she has prevented “more than 150 people”, including “hate preachers”, from entering the UK because their behaviour is considered unacceptable.

Quartz goes hunting:

Kickstarter-funded journalists found an ISIL training camp using Google Earth and Bing Maps

A group of crowd-funded citizen journalists seem to have located a training camp for the militant group ISIL using only online mapping services and some old-fashioned detective work. Bellingcat, which raised almost £51,000 ($85,000) to do its own unique form of journalism, was founded by Eliot Higgins, who became famous (and was profiled by the New Yorker) for proving Syria was using chemical weapons from his bedroom in Leicester, England using only images and videos available online. His team includes a mix of bloggers, research analysts, and traditional reporters.

Bellingcat has explained in detail how it found the exact location of a training camp. First, using stills from videos showing the graduation of an ISIL class earlier this year, the team identified a large river and several bridges in the background, which it identified as the Tigris in Mosul, Iraq, the city that ISIL took in June and have been wreaking havoc in since. The group used Google Earth to make the identification.

And the New York Times raises doubts:

U.S. Officials and Experts at Odds on Threat Posed by ISIS

Earlier this year, President Obama likened the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria to a junior varsity basketball squad, a group that posed little of the threat once presented by Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda.

But on Thursday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called ISIS an “imminent threat to every interest we have,” adding, “This is beyond anything that we’ve seen.”

With the rapid advance of ISIS across northern Iraq, and the release this week of a video showing one of the group’s operatives beheading an American journalist, the language Obama administration officials are using to describe the danger the terrorist group poses to the United States has become steadily more pointed. But some American officials and terrorism experts said that the ominous words overstated the group’s ability to attack the United States and its interests abroad, and that ISIS could be undone by its own brutality and nihilism.

From the McClatchy Foreign Staff, you can’t tell tbhe players without a program:

Iraq’s Shia militias that once fought US, confront extremists, sow fear among Sunnis

Iraq’s Sunni political blocs have already withdrawn from talks about forming a new government, calling the massacre a “natural result” of the military’s decision to allow unaccountable militias to operate alongside of official forces.

Members of Iraq’s Sunni minority long have complained that the country’s security forces unfairly targeted them, but their fears have heightened since Iraq’s most-revered Shiite cleric in June gave a call to arms for men to defend their country against the Islamic State militants sweeping toward Baghdad.

Ayatollah Ali al Sistani’s fatwa came at a moment of crisis, with the country shocked by the Islamic State’s victories across Iraq and the collapse of three Iraqi army divisions.

His call motivated more than 40,000 men to join Iraq’s official government security forces, according to the Ministry of Defense. Untold thousands more are operating alongside the army and police in well-armed militias – the same ones who targeted U.S. forces during the American occupation of Iraq with deadly precision.

From the Guardian, anxiety to the north:

Canadian intelligence chief concerned by citizens joining militant groups

  • Michel Coulombe highlights al-Qaida, Isis, al-Shabaab links
  • Says: ‘Well over 100 Canadians’ have joined militant groups

Canadians who go abroad to join militant groups such as Islamic State (Isis) pose a threat on their return home and could use their foreign contacts to set up networks in Canada, the country’s intelligence director said on Saturday.

Michel Coulombe, director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, wrote in a Globe and Mail article that “well over 100 Canadians”, both men and women, have left the country to join groups such as al-Qaida and al-Shabaab.

“The most obvious national security threat is the one posed by extremists who return,” Coulombe said. “How many are coming back to Canada more radicalised than when they departed? Will their status as veterans of a foreign conflict better enable them to recruit other Canadians?

And from the Associated Press, hopes for easing a domestic anxiety:

What if Michael Brown’s last moments had been recorded?

The fatal police shooting of the unarmed black 18-year-old in Ferguson, Missouri, is prompting calls for more officers to wear so-called body cameras, simple, lapel-mounted gadgets that capture video footage of law enforcement’s interactions with the public. Proponents say the devices add a new level of accountability to police work.

“This is a technology that has a very real potential to serve as a check and balance on police power,” says Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union.

The case supporters make is simple: Cops and criminal suspects alike are less likely to misbehave if they know they’re being recorded. And there’s some evidence supporting it. In a recent Cambridge University study, the police department in Rialto, California — a city of about 100,000— saw an 89 percent decline in the number of complaints against officers in a yearlong trial using the cameras.

And real cause for anxiety South of the Border via Al Jazeera English:

Mexico says 22,322 people now ‘disappeared’

  • Government increases its count of those who have gone missing since start of war with powerful drug gangs in 2006.

The Mexican government has increased its calculation of the number of people who have disappeared since the start of the country’s drug war in 2006 and now lists 22,322 as missing, officials said.

It had said in May that 8,000 people were missing.

Assistant Attorney General, Mariana Benitez, said 12,532 people went missing during the 2006-12 administration of President Felipe Calderon, who declared war on drug traffickers. An additional 9,790 have disappeared since President Enrique Pena Nieto took office on December 1, 2012.

And from Agence Frnce-Presse, Mexico’s latest response to the growing crisis, a new paramilitary police [and no, that isn’t the fascist salture; they’re holding raptors, thought to what end. . .]:

Mexico launches new police force to fight drug gangs

Program note:

Mexico launches a new 5,000-member national police force tasked with protecting key sectors of the economy from drug gangs and other organized crime.

After the jump, the latest from the Asia Game of Zones, including shots fired on the Indian/Pakistani border, a massive data breach in Korea, Chinese domestic Internet surveillance, Japan claims a Chinese Army digital invasion, more semantic outrage over a Sino/American aerial close encounter, Chinese strategy, Japanese military budget boosting [including space plans], dissent within the Land of the Rising Sun, and a robotic warning. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Ebola, inequality, toxins, nukes


We open today’s coverage of stories about people, place, and their interaction with a much-needed report on an aspect of the Ebola crisis that’s received far too little notice.

From Democracy Now!:

“A Reflection of Growing Inequality”: Dr. Paul Farmer on the Deadly Ebola Outbreak in West Africa

Program notes:

As the death toll from the West African Ebola outbreak nears 1,400, two American missionaries who received experimental drugs and top-notch healthcare have been released from the hospital. We spend the hour with Partners in Health co-founder Dr. Paul Farmer discussing what can be done to stop the epidemic and the need to build local healthcare capacity, not just an emergency response. “The Ebola outbreak, which is the largest in history that we know about, is merely a reflection of the public health crisis in Africa and it’s about the lack of staff, stuff and systems that could protect populations, particularly those living in poverty, from outbreaks like this or other public health threats,” says Farmer, who has devoted his life to improving the health of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. He is a professor at Harvard Medical School and currently serves as the special advisor to the United Nations on community-based medicine. He has written several books including, “Infections and Inequalities: The Modern Plagues.”

A longer version of the interview is posted online here.

Closer to Casa esnl, some good news, via the San Francisco Chronicle:

Sacramento Ebola test comes back negative

Health officials announced Thursday night that a patient in Sacramento who was thought to have been exposed to the Ebola virus after traveling to West Africa has tested negative and does not have the disease.

Dr. Ron Chapman, Director of the California Department of Public Health, said that a blood sample sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came back free of the deadly virus, which has been ravishing West Africa over the last two months, killing more than 1,100 people.

The patient had recently traveled to the region, officials said.

Followed immediately by more bad news, first via BBC News:

Ebola crisis: Speed and extent of outbreak ‘unprecedented’

The World Health Organization has said the speed and extent of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is “unprecedented”.

The WHO’s Dr Keiji Fukuda expressed concern over so-called “shadow zones”, areas which cannot be reached and where patients are not being detected.

Speaking at a news conference in the Liberian capital Monrovia, Dr Fukuda said combating the disease would take “several months of hard work”.

“We haven’t seen an Ebola outbreak covering towns, rural areas so quickly and over such a wide area,” he added.

CBC News has the numbers:

Ebola epidemic’s death toll rises to 1,427

  • Ebola ‘road map’ in the works to fight outbreak for 6 to 9 months, WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib says

The Ebola epidemic in West Africa has led to 1,427 deaths out of 2,615 known cases, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday.

In its latest update, the WHO reported 142 new laboratory-confirmed, probable or suspected cases of Ebola and 77 more deaths from four affected countries — Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone.

Al Jazeera America adds another caution:

Ebola virus may not be contained in Nigeria as two more cases emerge

  • The development comes as African nations have tightened travel restrictions against WHO’s advice

Two new cases of Ebola have emerged in Nigeria and, they are outside the group of caregivers who treated an airline passenger who arrived with Ebola and died, Health Minister Onyebuchi Chukwu said Friday.

The two are spouses of a man and woman who had direct contact with Liberian-American Patrick Sawyer, who flew into Nigeria last month with the virus and infected 11 others before he died in July, including the male and female caregiver who both subsequently died of Ebola, Chukwu told reporters in Abuja, the capital.

Nigerian officials initially claimed the risk of exposure to others was minimal because Sawyer was whisked into isolation after arriving at the airport. But Lagos state health commissioner Jide Idris later acknowledged that Sawyer was not immediately quarantined the first day.

More from Reuters:

WHO warns of ‘shadow zones’, hidden cases in Ebola outbreak

The scale of the world’s worst Ebola outbreak has been concealed by families hiding infected loved ones in their homes and the existence of “shadow zones” that medics cannot enter, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday.

The U.N. agency issued a statement detailing why the outbreak in West Africa had been underestimated, following criticism that it had moved too slowly to contain the killer virus, now spreading out of control.

Independent experts raised similar concerns a month ago that the contagion could be worse than reported because suspicious local inhabitants are chasing away health workers and shunning treatment.

Under-reporting of cases is a problem especially in Liberia and Sierra Leone. The WHO said it was now working with Medecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to produce “more realistic estimates”.

The Guardian covers a consequence:

Ebola has caused Liberia’s cauldron of dissatisfaction to boil over

  • Relations between the Liberian state and its citizens were already in crisis before the Ebola outbreak made things much worse

“We dodged bullets during the war, now Ebola is going to kill us?” my aunt asked me in distress one evening in mid-July, as we sat commiserating at my house on the outskirts of Monrovia, Liberia’s capital.

Back then, Ebola seemed like a looming threat in the way that armed conflict had 15 years earlier. But by the end of the month, the Liberian government had declared a state of emergency and, days later, the World Health Organisation designated the Ebola outbreak in west Africa an international health emergency. Ebola has now killed more than 1,000 people, with the number of deaths in Liberia surpassing those in Guinea and Sierra Leone.

Yet before the highly infectious disease permeated Liberia’s borders from neighbouring Guinea in March, the country was plagued by a crisis of citizenship. Relations between the Liberian state and its citizens were already volatile.

The Guardian covers First World fear:

Fear and false alarms as Ebola puts Europe on alert

  • After the death of a Spanish missionary who contracted the virus in Liberia, European authorities are taking no chances

There has been only one confirmed Ebola case in Europe since the epidemic broke out in Africa, but a string of false alarms has provoked jitters and charges of overreaction.

From Austria to Ireland, Spain to Germany, there have been at least a dozen cases of west Africans with mild flu symptoms being isolated until it was established that they were not suffering from Ebola. The only recorded case involved a Spanish missionary who contracted the virus in Liberia and died after he had returned to Spain.

In Spain, worries over Ebola have resulted in three false alarms in as many days.

From TheLocal.fr, airborne alarm:

Ebola: Cabin crew told to boycott Air France flights

Pressure mounted on Air France to suspend flights to West Africa on Friday when a trade union called on cabin crew to refuse to board planes to Ebola hit countries. It comes after panic spread through a Paris flight earlier this week.

A trade union representing Air France cabin crew has told its members to refuse to board planes bound for West African countries hit by Ebola.

The UGICT –CGT union said crew were not sufficiently protected against contamination from Ebola and they should boycott flights bound to Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

TheLocal.it covers another alarm:

Italian woman in suspected Ebola case

An Italian woman travelling from Nigeria on Friday was stopped at Istanbul airport in a suspected Ebola case, Turkish media reported.

The Italian woman had a high fever and was put under medical supervision on arrival at Istanbul Ataturk Airport, Cihan news agency reported.

She had travelled on a Turkish Airlines flight from Kano in Nigeria, where there have been 12 confirmed cases and four deaths of the Ebola virus.

The woman was taken from the airport to Istanbul’s Haseki Training and Research Hospital, Cihan said.

BBC News covers another consequence:

Ebola crisis: Senegal defends Guinea border closure

Senegal has defended the closure of its border with Guinea because of the Ebola outbreak, despite warnings that such measures are counterproductive.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says travel bans do not work.

Senegal’s Health Minister Dr Eva Marie Colle Seck told the BBC the travel ban would not affect humanitarian flights, and that the WHO was “learning, like everybody [else]”.

In Liberia, a boy of 16 shot while protesting about a quarantine has died.

CBC News gets proactive:

Ebola treatment of Kent Brantly, Nancy Writebol holds lessons for others

  • Replace fluid and electroytes, U.S. doctor advices colleagues treating Ebola patients in Africa

Two Americans who recovered from Ebola virus infections are contributing to doctors’ understanding of the deadly disease, a physician who treated them says.

Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol were infected with the Ebola virus in Liberia while working for Christian aid groups.

They were evacuated from Liberia, treated for three weeks at a hospital in Atlanta and discharged this week.

And The Hill reassures:

FDA seeks to dispel Ebola outbreak fears

The Food and Drug Administration has posted a Web page with quick facts about the Ebola virus and the outbreak in West Africa in order to fight misconceptions about the disease permeating the general public.

“Currently, there are no FDA-approved vaccines or drugs to prevent or treat Ebola,” the FDA says on its page. “Ebola does not pose a significant risk to the U.S. public.”

The FDA plans to update the page with its ongoing assessments of the disease and has provided information for the public to report fake Ebola drugs and vaccines, which have been a major concern for the agency.

While health officials have repeatedly said there is virtually no risk of an Ebola outbreak in the U.S., 4 in 10 people are concerned there will be a large outbreak, and a quarter of people are worried they or a loved one will be infected within the next year according to a new survey by Harvard University.

And that old metadata surfaces anew in another context, via MIT Technology Review:

Cell-Phone Data Might Help Predict Ebola’s Spread

  • Mobility data from an African mobile-phone carrier could help researchers recommend where to focus health-care efforts

A West African mobile carrier has given researchers access to data gleaned from cell phones in Senegal, providing a window into regional population movements that could help predict the spread of Ebola. The current outbreak is so far known to have killed at least 1,350 people, mainly in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone.

The model created using the data is not meant to lead to travel restrictions, but rather to offer clues about where to focus preventive measures and health care. Indeed, efforts to restrict people’s movements, such as Senegal’s decision to close its border with Guinea this week, remain extremely controversial.

Orange Telecom made “an exceptional authorization in support of Ebola control efforts,” according to Flowminder, the Swedish nonprofit that analyzed the data. “If there are outbreaks in other countries, this might tell what places connected to the outbreak location might be at increased risk of new outbreaks,” says Linus Bengtsson, a medical doctor and cofounder of Flowminder, which builds models of population movements using cell-phone data and other sources.

Meanwhile, the London Daily Mail evokes another specter:

Will climate change cause a rise in dengue fever? Holidaymakers visiting Italy and Spain could be at risk

  • Risk of dengue fever in Europe is likely to increase, researchers claim
  • Dengue is a viral infection carried and spread by mosquitoes
  • Thrive in warm, humid conditions, which could include areas in Europe
  • This is dependent on climate change continuing on its current trajectory
  • Italy’s Po Valley and areas in southern Spain are at risk
  • University of East Anglia’s research is based on data collected in Mexico

On to other environmental news, first with an Al Jazeera America story that evokes concerns raised by Paul Farmer much closer to home:

Alabama community alleges race bias over toxic landfill site

  • Coal ash from earlier environmental disaster is causing health concerns for poor African-American residents

Five-and-a-half years have passed since an earthen dam holding toxic coal ash from a coal plant failed in Harriman, Tenn., spilling more than a billion gallons of the ash into rivers and forests, and destroying several homes. The TVA Kingston Fossil Plant disaster was widely considered one of the worst in U.S. history, or at least one of the biggest by volume. And it’s still causing headaches, hundreds of miles away.

Last week, Environmental Protection Agency investigators traveled to Uniontown, Ala., to interview residents and activists who say a local landfill that accepted much of the Tennessee coal ash is polluting air and water sources nearby, causing people who live in the area to become sick. The residents of the poor, predominantly black area say they are being unfairly burdened with the literal remnants of a disaster they had nothing to do with.

“The landfill is a hill, a mountain, and it’s scary,” said Esther Calhoun, a 51-year-old resident that has lived in Uniontown for most of her life. “Who wants to live in a place that might be bad for your health? But most of us are on a fixed income. We’re stuck here.”

After the jump, endangered species under threat from palm oil logging, claims of plankton alive in space, fire ants invade Hawaii, too much gas in North Dakota, mine fires in Pennsylvania, and the latest chapter of the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Ebola, water, GMOs, nukes


Today’s headlines from the interface between planet and people begins, again, with the story of the day, first from BBC News:

Ebola crisis: Liberia police fire at Monrovia protests

Police in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, have fired live rounds and tear gas during protests after a quarantine was imposed to contain the spread of the deadly Ebola virus.

Residents of the capital’s West Point slum area say the barbed wire blockade stops them buying food and working.

Four people are said to have been injured in the clashes.

Liberia has seen the most deaths – 576 – in the world’s worst Ebola outbreak, which has hit West Africa this year.

The Washington Post delivers good news for Westerners who got treatments with experimental drugs unavailable to most of those stricken with the dread disease which kills ninety percent of those afflicted:

Two Americans who contracted Ebola have been released from the hospital

American doctor Kent Brantly and North Carolina missionary Nancy Writebol, both of whom contracted Ebola while treating infected Liberian patients, have been released from an Atlanta hospital. Writebol was discharged from Emory University Hospital on Tuesday and Brantly was released on Thursday.

“Today is a miraculous day,” Brantly said at an Emory news conference. “I am thrilled to be alive, to be well and to be reunited with my family.”

The Texas doctor appeared near death weeks ago after contracting the disease, which has killed 1,350 people in the four African nations affected by the contagion. He was flown back to the United States from Liberia in a special transport plane that included an isolation unit and arrived at Emory on Aug. 2.

Another patient who got the same drug didn’t fare so well, via El País:

Death was to be expected, say doctors who treated ebola-infected priest in Spain

  • The team who looked after Miguel Pajares in Madrid say hardest part was lack of direct contact

The death of Spanish missionary Miguel Pajares from the ebola virus in Madrid was “to be expected” even though doctors fought to save his life “to the very end,” medics who treated him at the capital’s Carlos III Hospital have said.

Speaking to news agency Efe about being the first doctors to treat an ebola patient in Europe, tropical disease specialists Marta Arsuaga and Fernando de la Calle Prieto said that at first they hoped he might pull through despite the virus’s 80 percent mortality rate, since he was being treated in a more advanced health system.

For five days, the team managed to keep 75-year-old Pajares, who had been brought back to Spain after contracting the virus working in a hospital in Liberia, alive. “At that moment we all wanted him to pull through so badly … but it is a very serious virus and the end was to be expected,” said Arsuaga.

And a video report from Deutsche Welle on an African nation on edge:

Ebola fears growing in Nigeria

Program notes:

International health officials have been keeping a close watch on Nigeria since the first cases of Ebola surfaced there a few weeks ago. But intensive government efforts have so far managed to contain the virus to about a dozen cases in Africa’s most populous nation. Still, as DW’s Adrian Kriesch discovered, the mood on the ground is anything but calm.

BBC News closes the borders:

Ebola travel: South Africa bans incomers from W Africa

South Africa says non-citizens arriving from Ebola-affected areas of West Africa will not be allowed into the country.

The health ministry said borders would be closed to all non-citizen travellers from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

South African nationals will be allowed to re-enter the country when returning from high-risk countries, but will undergo strict screening. All non-essential outgoing travel to the affected countries has been banned.

Deutsche Welle answers a question:

How does Ebola spread?

As more doctors treating Ebola patients contract the disease themselves, it’s clear that better prevention is needed. But given the virus’s resilience and the low Ebola awareness in West Africa, this is no easy task.

Ebola has claimed over 1,000 lives in West Africa so far. Despite great efforts on the part of medical specialists, the World Health Organization and aid organizations, the virus continues to spread.

In order to become infected with the disease, people need to come into direct contact with bodily fluids – such as blood, urine, feces and sweat – that contain the virus, or touch a contaminated object. The virus is very resilient and can survive on various surfaces for a long time. It can be transferred via traces of bodily fluids on surfaces like toilet seats and tabletops.

When the carrier dies, the virus doesn’t die right away. Instead, it lives inside the corpse for up to a week, continuing to pose a danger.

Global Times offers a Southeast Asian reassurance:

No Ebola case in Cambodia: PM

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said Thursday that the country has not seen any case related to the West Africa-hit Ebola virus disease. His remarks came after rumors across social media in recent days that Ebola was found in Cambodia.

“There is no Ebola presence in Cambodia so far,” the prime minister said during a graduation ceremony of students at Beltei International Institute.

He said the country has taken urgent measures to prevent the deadly Ebola virus by installing body-temperature sensors at airports and border checkpoints.

IRIN News observes:

Ebola horror hastens use of test drugs

Ebola’s devastation in West Africa has catapulted experimental drugs from labs to patients and shaken up vaccine development, which was hitherto patchy as outbreaks of the virus have tended to be spasmodic and geographically limited.

“There is no market for Ebola vaccines,” Marie-Paule Kieny, World Health Organization (WHO) assistant director-general, told IRIN. “Outside of an outbreak, who would want to get vaccinated against Ebola? Nobody. Therefore the market is inexistent more or less. So there was not that much investment into developing that. Nevertheless, they were carrying forward.”

From Mother Jones, capitalizing on fear and xenophobia:

Another GOP Candidate Says Migrant Kids Might Have Ebola. (They Don’t.)

Arizona Speaker of the House Andy Tobin is the latest Republican politician to suggest migrants from Central America might bring the Ebola virus with them to the United States. Tobin, who is seeking the GOP nomination for the state’s 1st Congressional District in Tuesday’s primary, made the connection in an interview published in the Tucson Weekly on Thursday.

Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) started the GOP Ebola fearmongering trend last month when he wrote a letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stating that “[r]eports of illegal immigrants carrying deadly diseases such as swine flu, dengue fever, Ebola virus and tuberculosis are particularly concerning.”  In August, Reps. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.) and Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) leveled the same charge.

Although allegations of disease-ridden migrants are common throughout history, vaccination rates in Central America are higher than in Texas. And Ebola, which is difficult to contract, is not found in Central America.

On to water woes, starting with this from the Los Angeles Times:

Western drought causes Earth’s surface to rise as groundwater drops

A year and a half of drought has depleted 63 trillion gallons of water across the Western United States, according to a new study that documents how the parched conditions are altering the landscape.

The loss of groundwater, as well as surface water such as reservoirs, has been so extreme that it lifted the West an average of one-sixth of an inch since 2013, according to researchers from UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the U.S. Geological Survey.

The situation is even worse underneath the snow-starved mountains of California, where the Earth rose up three-fifths of an inch. Groundwater is very heavy, and its weight depresses the Earth’s upper crust. Remove the weight, and the crust springs upward.

And the accompanying graphic:
BLOG Water
More from Quartz:

The loss over the last 11 years is about 240 gigatons of water, as of March 2014—the equivalent of the annual mass loss from the Greenland ice sheet. California residents have resorted to painting their lawns green to save water. And the state’s agricultural sector, including a booming marijuana business, has been tough on the water supply—to say nothing of how fast the water is being consumed by regular citizens.

There’s some good news when it comes to earthquake risk, though. Some experts have expressed concern that drought could create more stress on the San Andreas fault that runs through California; but today’s study found that stress changes from the water were “unlikely to affect” earthquake risk.

From the Latin American Herald Tribune, pressure to exact a price for water pollution:

Mexican Congress Urges Government to Cancel Mine Concession after Toxic Spill

Mexico’s Congress has urged the federal government to cancel Grupo Mexico’s concession for a large copper mine in the northwestern state of Sonora after acid spilled into two rivers.

The Permanent Committee, which assumes legislative duties when Congress is in recess, called for a halt to operations at the Cananea mine while authorities assess the damage caused by the Aug. 6 spill of 40,000 cubic meters (10.5 million gallons) of copper sulfate acid solution into the Sonora and Bacanuchi rivers.

The Mexico City-based mining giant’s negligence in storing chemical residues caused the spill, the committee said.

Public Radio International covers an aquatic cri de couer:

Coral reefs can communicate with fish, and many of them are crying for help

Georgia Tech ecologist Mark Hay calls it part of “the coral reef death spiral.”

“Everything that’s going on,” Hay says, “global warming, overfishing, pollution — means there’s less coral, more algae and more contact between corals and algae.”

And Hay says that contact can start to degrade a reef incredibly quickly — within just two days. “Those corals … start bleaching and tissues start dying where they’re in contact,” he says. “And then on a couple of those corals, that bleaching just spreads [to] the rest of the coral.”

From water to the air with The Verge:

NASA finds unexpectedly high levels of banned ozone-depleting chemical

It’s been decades since the world realized the danger that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs, formerly found in products like aerosol sprays, refrigerants, and solvents) posed to the Earth’s ozone layer. But despite the fact that the CFC known as carbon tetrachloride (CCl4) was banned way back in 1987, a new study from NASA shows a troubling amount of the compound in our atmosphere — something that presents a continued threat to the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica.

“We are not supposed to be seeing this at all,” said NASA’s Qing Liang, lead author of the study. “It is now apparent there are either unidentified industrial leakages, large emissions from contaminated sites, or unknown CCl4 sources.” Between 2007 and 2012, studies showed now new CCl4 emissions — but this new study shows that worldwide emissions of CCl4 were still at 30 percent of their peak levels back before ban went into effect. The study also showed that concentrations of the compound were declining by only one percent per year during that 2007 to 2012 time period, not by the four percent rate originally estimated.

Beyond the unexplained sources of CCl4, the compound is also staying in the atmosphere 40 percent longer than earlier studies showed. “Is there a physical CCl4 loss process we don’t understand, or are there emission sources that go unreported or are not identified?” Liang asked. But unfortunately, the team behind the study isn’t ready to release any theories about what’s causing the higher-than-expected concentration of ozone-depleting chemicals.

Another atmospheric threat, via the Independent:

Iceland volcano: Fears of eruption and ash cloud increase as Met Office registers 1,000 small earthquakes in region

Fears of another volcanic eruption in Iceland continued today with reports that weather officials have detected 1,000 small quakes in the Barðarbunga volcano, following an unusually strong earthquake on Monday.

Hundreds of people have been evacuated from the highlands north of the Vatnajokull glacier by Iceland’s civil protection department after the volcano began belching huge plumes of smoke.

Iceland’s Met Office released an updated statement this morning, saying: “seismic activity in Bárðarbunga and vicinity is still great. As yesterday, the main activity stems from the intrusive event under Dyngjujökull.”

From Global Times, another environment under siege:

Disappearing forests

Mountainous forests in East China’s Zhejiang Province are being consumed due to the need to develop more farmland.

In fact, many forests have already been turned into fields. Trees were chopped down and harvested for wood, leaving the land to be plowed and turned into terraced fields.

One of the key factors is the low availability of land. As a leading province in terms of economic development and urbanization, Zhejiang is in constant need of land for industrial and construction use. A lot of farmland, as a result, has been taken over.

On the other hand, because China has a stipulated “red line” base minimum of 1.8 billion mu (120 million hectares) of fields, the removal of any fields needs to be matched with the addition of the same area of land. This has meant that local governments in Zhejiang have turned their sights toward the mountains.

Inter Press Service covers yet another GMO push:

US, Brazil Nearing Approval of Genetically Engineered Trees

  • Governments weighing approval of permit for genetically engineered eucalyptus trees, which critics say would increase deforestation

The U.S. and Brazilian governments are moving into the final stages of weighing approval for the commercialisation of genetically engineered eucalyptus trees, moves that would mark the first such permits anywhere in the world.

The Brazilian government is slated to start taking public comments on such a proposal during the first week of September. Similarly, U.S. regulators have been working on an environmental impact assessment since early last year, a highly anticipated draft of which is expected to be released any day.

Despite industry claims to the contrary, critics warn that the use of genetically engineered (GE) trees would increase deforestation. The approvals could also spark off a new era of such products, which wouldn’t be confined solely to these countries.

While RT charts a major reversal:

End of the line: GMO production in China halted

In a surprise U-turn, China’s Ministry of Agriculture has decided not to continue with a program which developed genetically-modified rice and corn. Some environmentalists say public concerns about GM crops played a key role in the decision.

On August 17, when these permits were up for renewal, the Ministry of Agriculture decided not to extend them. In 2009, the ministry’s Biosafety Committee issued approval certificates to develop the two crops, rice and corn.

Developed by the Huazhong Agricultural University, near Wuhan, it was hoped that the GMO strains would help to reduce pesticide use by 80 percent, while raising yields by as much as 8 percent, said Huang Jikun, the chief scientist with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told Reuters in 2009. It is illegal to sell genetically-modified rice on the open market in China.

On to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with the Asahi Shimbun:

Local leaders seek disclosure of testimony by former nuclear plant chief

Leaders of local governments near the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant want the testimony given by the plant manager months after the accident to be disclosed.

The Asahi Shimbun ascertained that eight local leaders want full disclosure after seeking the views of the Fukushima governor and heads of 13 cities, towns and villages located within 20 kilometers of the plant and areas outside the 20-km radius where radiation levels were more than 20 millisieverts per year.

Masao Yoshida was plant chief when the March 11, 2011, Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami set off the nuclear accident.

The Asahi Shimbun again, with more pressure:

TEPCO shareholders go to court for disclosure of Yoshida testimony on nuclear disaster

Shareholders of Tokyo Electric Power Co. filed a lawsuit Aug. 20 for disclosure of testimony about the 2011 nuclear disaster given by the late manager of the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

“(The government) should make public investigative records of 772 people, including Masao Yoshida (then plant manager), to enable a re-examination of what was wrong and what was correct,” said Yui Kimura, who heads the plaintiffs’ group.

The 10 TEPCO shareholders and others are calling on the Cabinet Secretariat to disclose records of the government investigation panel’s interviews with 772 people involved in the nuclear crisis triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

Jiji Press advances oversight:

Japan N-Plant Decommissioning Aid Body Starts Operations

Japan’s Nuclear Damage Compensation and Decommissioning Facilitation Corp., which will supervise work to decommission crippled nuclear reactors and control radioactive water at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, began operations on Thursday.

The Japanese government wants to strengthen its involvement in decommissioning work through the new body. Some 50 experts on decommissioning technologies will be on hand to advise Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the disaster-stricken plant, and develop related technologies.

Takehiko Sugiyama, head of the new organization, and Hajimu Yamana, the senior official in charge of decommissioning, put up a signboard bearing the name of the organization at the entrance of its head office in Toranomon in Tokyo’s Minato Ward on Thursday.

And foor our final item, via NHK WORLD, preparing for a visit:

Residents plan tour to Fukushima evacuation zone

A group of residents near Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant plans to organize guided tours of their hometown. The aim is to keep alive the memory of the 2011 nuclear accident.

Areas in 7 municipalities around the nuclear plant are part of a designated no-entry evacuation zone due to high radiation levels there. Residents need to acquire permission to enter the area.

A group of residents of Okuma town say they want outsiders to know that the impact of the accident still lingers. Okuma is one of two towns that host the plant.

Chart of the day II: A textbook case of inflation


Because the inflationary costs are those of textbooks, which, according to this short video, are rising in price at three times the overall inflationary rate. And while The Economist seems to blame instructors for the phenomenon, we suspect that consolidation in the poublishing realm, acvompanied by rampant greed, plays a greater role..

One consequence of soaring prices had been the increasing refusal of students to pay for new textbooks, and a study of Connecticut college students reveals that two-thirds have simply opted out of buying at least one textbook, while others are buying used or sharing texts.

Overall, students pay an average of $1,200 a year on textbooks, a figure that is nothing less than obscene.

And three hundred dollars for one text? Really?

From The Economist:

Live chart: The price of textbooks

Program notes:

A textbook case of price-gouging: Why university books in America are so expensive.

From BBC 2: ‘Super Rich: The Greed Game’


Broadcast, fittingly, on 1 April 2008 just as the bubble was bursting, this BBC 2 documentary, produced and directed by John O’Kane and narrated by Robert Peston, is a reminder that the modern “wealth creator” is rarely the inventor of some new product that makes our lives better but is rather an expert at manipulating the money game, in which creation of notional riches becomes the end rather than a mere byproduct of their efforts.

And at the center of the debacle were the central banksters, acting to ensure that confidence in currency, the prerequisite for green game players, was bolstered, despite all the screeching alarm bells.

And note that facilitating it all were the so-called “liberal” political parties, with Britain’s Labour Party and the Democrats in the U.S. greased the skids in the 1990s by deregulating financial markets and paving the way to an explosion of hedge fund wealth.

What is particularly galling is the rampant and unalloyed arrogance of the players to whom the rest of us, as one of them offhandedly remarks, are mere riffraff.

From BBC 2 via Underground Documentaries:

Super Rich: The Greed Game

Program note:

As the credit crunch bites and a global economic crisis threatens, Robert Peston reveals how the super-rich have made their fortunes, and the rest of us are picking up the bill.