Category Archives: Wealth

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.

Quote of the day: The real looters in Ferguson


From Guardian columnist Steven W Thrasher:

The symptoms of structural racism stain America everywhere, but its execution is particularly perverse in places like Ferguson. It’s not just that black drivers are stopped more often for alleged crimes than white drivers, despite the Missouri attorney general’s report that white people break the law more often. It’s not that Ferguson’s police force is 94% white in a town that’s two-thirds black. It’s not even, as Jeff Smith wrote in Monday’s New York Times, that black people – many unemployed – “do more to fund local government than relatively affluent whites” by way of those stops and the subsequent fines.

The real perversion of justice by way of modern American racism is that black people in Ferguson – like black people in the greater St Louis metropolitan area and nationally – are marginalized economically and physically from day one. That is the real looting of Ferguson.

We are consistently twice as likely to be unemployed – and in and near St Louis, “47 percent of the metro area’s African-American men between ages 16 and 24 are unemployed”. Our men are more likely to be convicted and our women are more likely to be evicted. We are more likely to be victims of predatory loans. Our children are twice as likely to have asthma (even before you teargas them). Our babies are twice as likely to die before the age of one – and their mothers are three or four times more likely to die as a result of bearing them.

In America, as Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote in the Atlantic,“White flight was a triumph of social engineering, orchestrated by the shared racist presumptions of America’s public and private sectors.” But that engineering was perfected in St Louis, which Al Jazeera reported “has spent enormous sums of public money to spatially reinforce human segregation patterns”.

Read the rest.

EnviroWatch: Ebola, water, toxic sperm, nukes


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

First up, a declaration via Reuters:

Guinea declares public health emergency over Ebola

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

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

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

Global Times covers a clean bill of health:

No confirmed Ebola cases in S. Africa: health authorities

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

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

The Associated Press mulls a quandary:

Liberia gets Ebola drug; ponders who should get it

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

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

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

A related story from the Yomiuri Shimbun:

Doctors: Ebola drug poses dilemma

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

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

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

Xinhua ads context:

Ebola crisis could continue for months: health official

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

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

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

The Wire covers a patient cured:

Ebola-Stricken Doctor Could Be Released From Atlanta Hospital Soon

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

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

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

From Channel NewsAsia Singapore, another false alarm:

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

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

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

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

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

Reuters covers an exodus:

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

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

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

From Global Times, a prohibition:

Filipino seafarers prohibited from disembarking in Ebola-stricken countries

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

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

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

From Reuters, a suspension:

Korean Air suspends flights to Kenya over Ebola worries

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

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

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

From the Yomiuri Shimbun, another ounce of prevention:

Airport steps up measures against Ebola

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

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

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

Anxiety-inducing historic precedent from the Associated Press:

25 Years Ago, a Different Ebola Outbreak in Va.

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

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

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

Global Times reassures:

Outbreak of Ebola in China unlikely: expert

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

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

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

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

NewLink Genetics: Ready to test Ebola vaccine

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

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

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

MintPress News adds a dimension:

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Chinese company’s venture from Shanghai Daily:

Biotech firm develops kit for diagnosing Ebola

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ebola And Climate Change: How Are They Connected?

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

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

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

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

From the Guardian, our first water woe:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A food perspective from Global Times:

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

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

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

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

Another water woe, via Homeland Security News Wire:

Ingredients in “fracking” fluids raise concerns

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

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

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

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

Is Baltimore City’s Water Supply Up For Privatization?

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

BBC News covers iDetox:

Apple bans two hazardous chemicals from assembly lines

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

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

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

China Daily bans dosed up American pig meat:

US pork halted, additives feared

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

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

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

From Spain, poisoned sperm via TheLocal.es:

Judge demands study on ‘Spain’s worst semen’

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

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

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

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

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

Fukushima’s legacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tony Abbott adviser warns of threat of ‘global cooling’

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

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

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

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

EnviroWatch: Ebola, water woes, frackin’ toxins


Today’s events from the interface of people and planet begins, once again, with the latest Ebola news, first from the New York Times:

Using a Tactic Unseen in a Century, Countries Cordon Off Ebola-Racked Areas

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is so out of control that governments there have revived a disease-fighting tactic not used in nearly a century: the “cordon sanitaire,” in which a line is drawn around the infected area and no one is allowed out.

Cordons, common in the medieval era of the Black Death, have not been seen since the border between Poland and Russia was closed in 1918 to stop typhus from spreading west. They have the potential to become brutal and inhumane. Centuries ago, in their most extreme form, everyone within the boundaries was left to die or survive, until the outbreak ended.

Plans for the new cordon were announced on Aug. 1 at an emergency meeting in Conakry, Guinea, of the Mano River Union, a regional association of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, the three countries hardest hit by Ebola, according to Agence France-Presse. The plan was to isolate a triangular area where the three countries meet, separated only by porous borders, and where 70 percent of the cases known at that time had been found.

The Guardian add complications:

Ebola epidemic heightened by poor facilities and distrust of healthcare

Children are dying of preventable diseases all the time in Africa. The nastiness of the Ebola outbreak shouldn’t let us forget that

In June and July approximately 5,000 women and children in Sierra Leone died of diseases. The vast majority of these deaths were avoidable. For women and children in Sierra Leone, June and July were just like any other month: unnecessarily dangerous and largely forgotten.

The Ebola outbreak in the country killed 233 people during the same period, and the story made headlines around the world. Why do the relatively small number of people dying of Ebola occupy the world’s media while the thousands of women and children who die of other illnesses barely get mentioned? Is it an attempt to raise awareness, mobilise resources and halt the epidemic? Or is sensationalism to blame? Children dying in Africa is old news, while an Ebola outbreak sounds like the setting for a Hollywood blockbuster.

The people in the global health community, a nebulous conglomerate of UN agencies, NGOs, charities and academic institutes, who spend most of their lives in relative obscurity desperately tying to raise awareness and funds, now appear on news bulletins and in the newspapers. Understandably, the focus of their discourse is the pathophysiology, containment and treatment of the Ebola outbreak. There are the predictable calls for more funding to be allocated to neglected tropical diseases.

BBC News identifies the latest addition to the at-risk list:

The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified Kenya as a “high-risk” country for the spread of the deadly Ebola virus.

Kenya was vulnerable because it was a major transport hub, with many flights from West Africa, a WHO official said. This is the most serious warning to date by the WHO that Ebola could spread to East Africa.

The number of people killed by Ebola in West Africa has risen to 1,069, the WHO said in its latest update.

The Guardian adds a donation:

Ebola: Canada to donate experimental vaccine to the WHO for use in Africa

  • Canada has so far produced only about 1,500 doses of vaccine, which has not been tested on humans

Canada will donate a small quantity of an experimental Ebola vaccine developed in its government laboratory to the World Health Organization for use in Africa, the country’s health minister said on Tuesday.

The decision to donate the vaccine came after the WHO said on Tuesday that it was ethical to offer untested drugs to people infected by the virus.

The Canadian government will donate between 800 to 1,000 doses of the vaccine, with the final number dependent on how much Canada holds back for research and clinical trials. The government will also keep a small supply in case it is needed domestically.

The Hill plays catch-up:

Governments scramble to develop Ebola drugs

Governments and drugmakers are scrambling to develop new treatments for the Ebola virus now that the World Health Organization (WHO) has eased restrictions on untested vaccines.

The United States government is putting cash into experimental treatments, and on Tuesday, gave $4.1 million to the drugmaker BioCryst to advance its Ebola drug BCX4430, the company announced Wednesday.

The North Carolina pharmaceutical company in 2013 had received a five-year, $22 million contract from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop the drug but is now being given extra funding to speed up trials.

China Daily makes a plea:

Ebola collaboration urged

  • US, China teamwork in Africa could leverage both countries’ strengths

With teams of researchers and medical experts in West Africa, the US and China should concentrate their efforts on working together to combat the Ebola epidemic, showing that the two countries can cooperate for the common good, experts said.

“The US and China have comparative advantages: China has medical teams on the ground and the US has advanced technologies and disease-control expertise,” said Yun Sun, a fellow at the Stimson Center who previously focused on China-Africa relations at the Brookings Institution.

“Through inter-governmental coordination, it is possible to coordinate their individual aid efforts to maximize results.”

Deutsche Welle issues an evacuation call:

Germany urges citizens to leave Ebola-hit nations

The German government has urged nationals to leave three countries in west Africa affected by the Ebola virus. The outbreak has now killed more than 1000 people, including a second prominent physician in Sierra Leone.  

Following a meeting of a crisis unit working to stem the ongoing Ebola outbreak, Germany on Wednesday updated its travel warnings for the hardest-hit regions.

“It was decided that all German nationals who are in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia are called upon to leave due to the still-critical situation,” foreign ministry spokesman Martin Schäfer told reporters, adding that German medical personnel needed on the ground were “explicitly exempt.”

German embassies and consulates in the three countries would remain open, Schäfer also said.

Want China Times calls an alert:

Customs alert against Ebola in China

The Chinese customs authority said Tuesday it has asked customs checkpoints across the country to strengthen inspections to prevent the deadly Ebola virus from entering China.

The General Administration of Customs (GAC) said customs inspectors were told to carry out stricter inspections on transportation facilities, goods and materials from regions affected by Ebola.

Customs checkpoints nationwide were also asked to closely cooperate with the quarantine authority in case of any suspected infections.

The Christian Science Monitor poses a question:

Ebola and ethics: Are rich nations doing enough to fight the outbreak?

  • The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is a matter of justice and ethics, experts said Tuesday. This has to do with medical testing and international funding.

The battle to contain the Ebola virus is not just about disease control in West Africa, it’s also about global ethics.

The ethical issues include questions about when experimental treatments should be used in the current outbreak and who gets them. But they also include whether greater global coordination is needed on health policy before such an outbreak occurs.

That’s partly a matter of money. In this case, a public-health emergency is centered in some of the world’s poorest nations – Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. These are countries that haven’t set up the basic disease-response infrastructure called for by the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO).

And for our final Ebola item, there’s this from Nextgov:

Hacked Yahoo News Tweet Reports Atlanta Ebola Outbreak

A prominent publication’s Twitter feed announced Sunday afternoon the Ebola disease had spread beyond an Atlanta hospital where two infected Americans are quarantined, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

“BREAKING: EBOLA OUTBREAK IN ATLANTA!” a Yahoo News tweet blared. “Estimated 145 people infected so far since Doctors carrying the disease were flown in from Africa.”

Few of the hundreds of people who retweeted the message seemed to take it seriously.

SINA English opens today’s water woes:

N. China province suffers worst drought in 63 years

North China’s Liaoning Province is suffering the harshest drought in 63 years, and things could get worse.

Since July, the province has received the least precipitation since meteorological records began in 1951, the provincial meteorological bureau said in a statement.

The lingering drought has affected a majority of the province,devastating 2 million hectares of crops. The drought may affect more crops with forecasts predicting less-than-normal rainfall for the remainder of August, the statement said.

The San Francisco Chronicle brings it closer to Casa esnl:

California drought: San Francisco puts caps on watering

San Francisco on Tuesday joined a growing number of cities that are rationing water amid a statewide drought, imposing a mandatory 10 percent reduction on outdoor watering.

The mandate, which requires customers to use no more than 90 percent of what they used outdoors in 2013, is meant for all the agency’s customers. But it will be enforced mostly on large accounts that use water outside exclusively, including golf courses, shopping malls and office parks.

Enforcement is limited because water meters at most homes and businesses don’t distinguish between indoor and outdoor consumption.

And the Contra Costa Times brights it to our doorstep:

EBMUD outlaws wasting water, but sets no fines for violators

Two of the Bay Area’s largest water agencies on Tuesday took steps to reduce outdoor water use, but stopped short of penalizing residential customers.

Responding to a state water board push for stronger conservation measures statewide, the East Bay Municipal Utility District Board outlawed water wasting practices such as flooding gutters and watering lawns more than twice a week — practices it previously only asked customers to avoid.

The board, however, said it wouldn’t fine customers as is done in some other areas with more severe water shortages such as Dublin, Santa Cruz, and Sacramento.

From the Los Angeles Times, another kind of water woe:

Oil companies fracking into drinking water sources, new research shows

Energy companies are fracking for oil and gas at far shallower depths than widely believed, sometimes through underground sources of drinking water, according to research released Tuesday by Stanford University scientists.

Though researchers cautioned their study of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, employed at two Wyoming geological formations showed no direct evidence of water-supply contamination, their work is certain to roil the public health debate over the risks of the controversial oil and gas production process.

Fracking involves high-pressure injection of millions of gallons of water mixed with sand and chemicals to crack geological formations and tap previously unreachable oil and gas reserves. Fracking fluids contain a host of chemicals, including known carcinogens and neurotoxins.

And an earlier story by the same Los Angeles Times reporter, Neela Banerjee:

Hormone-disrupting chemicals found in water at fracking sites

Water samples collected at Colorado sites where hydraulic fracturing was used to extract natural gas show the presence of chemicals that have been linked to infertility, birth defects and cancer, scientists reported Monday.

The study, published in the journal Endocrinology, also found elevated levels of the hormone-disrupting chemicals in the Colorado River, where wastewater released during accidental spills at nearby wells could wind up.

Tests of water from sites with no fracking activity also revealed the activity of so-called endocrine-disrupting chemicals, or EDCs. But the levels from these control sites were lower than in places with direct links to fracking, the study found.

From the Guardian, another fracking anxiety:

Fracking’s impact on wildlife remains unknown, study finds

  • Lack of data on pollution and habitat loss makes it hard to gauge wider effect of shale gas development in North America

A decade into North America’s fracking boom, the impact on wildlife and the environment remains largely unknown, according to a new study.

“We’re conducting a giant experiment without even collecting the important data on the water, air, land or wildlife impacts,” said Sara Souther, an ecologist at the University of Wisconsin, one of the co-authors of the peer-reviewed research examining the environmental impacts of shale gas development in the US and Canada.

Although the technique of hydraulic fracturing shale has been used for at least 20 years, there is “surprisingly little research” on impacts, found the study, published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

“We do know chemical contamination of ground and surface water is happening all the time but no one knows what the impacts are because the data isn’t being collected,” Souther said.

After the jump, another fracking woe, a petro protest, poison in the home, Canada’s lax environmental laws, a poisonous alien invader, and pot-powered batteries. . .. Continue reading

Gullible’s Travels: John Oliver dissects a U.S. myth


What is it that most distinguishes Britons from Americans?

It’s what one might call [A]merito-utopianism, the dysfunctional adherence of the mass of the American people to believe that material well-being — defined by the media as extravagant and lavishly photographic consumption of corporate-produced goods, ranging from telephoto shots of yachting celebrity down to the suburban tenth-grader’s Tweeted and YouTubed selfies.

Wealth, the media imply or declare overtly [Fox being merely the most blatant], results from talent or some other form of merit, a legacy in part of Calvinism, thought vastly reinforced by corporate media shaped by the sales needs of other corporations who often spend more on producing a thirty-second commercial than entertainment companies spend producing sixty-minute programs.

And then there’s that American that we’re really a classless society, a view unsustainable in a history-burdened Britain, as John Oliver explains in this segment from his HBO series.

What makes his debunking delightful is the final section, an upending of tropes so vividly illustrated.

Enjoy. . .

From Last Week Tonight with John Oliver:

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Wealth Gap (HBO)

Program note:

John Oliver discusses America’s growing wealth gap and why it may be a problem in the future.

And yes, it’s froim last month, but we only chanced upon it only yesterday.

Chart of the day: Grim Obama ‘recovery’ news


While total jobs have recovered to the pre-crash levels, new jobs pay a lot less than those lost — an average of 23 percent less, according to Wage Gap Widens From Recession as Income Inequality Grows [PDF], a new report from the United States Conference of Mayors:

USCM.MetroReport.July.03

From wiseguys to banksters, nasty payday loans


Wiseguys call it “the vig,” those extortionate rates guys with names like Vinny or Frankie Fists used to collect on loans you got from your friendly neighborhood loan shark.

But wiseguys have fallen on hard times because Uncle Sam has legitimated those muscular interest rates. And now you get ‘em from your friendly neighborhood corporate bankster.

Indeed, the guys who used to hand out in candy stores and dimly lit pool halls have been replaced by grinning hucksters who operate out of brightly lit storefronts that now outnumber Starbucks and Mickey Ds.

But fear not, John Oliver and Sarah Silverman are on the cash.

From HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver:

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Predatory Lending

Program notes:

Payday loans put a staggering amount of Americans in debt. They prey on the elderly and military service members. They’re awful, and nearly impossible to regulate. We’ve recruited Sarah Silverman to help spread the word about how to avoid falling into their clutches.

What a world! There’s now no separation between underworld and upperworld.

The new America: College campus soup kitchens


From RT [yes, we know that stands from Russia Today], a telling example of the consequences of rigging the game.

Food for Thought: US students struggle with hunger as tuition skyrockets

Program notes:

Skyrocketing tuition fees in America are now forcing many students to struggle to find any food for thought. So some universities are now setting up soup kitchens, to make sure their pupils can make it through the day.

Quote of the day: Call it celestial navigation


From essayist and Baffler contributing editor George Scialabba, writing in the Los Angeles Review of Books about the late, great Alexander Cockburn, journalist provocateur and resident of Petrolia, California:

ON CHRISTMAS EVE, 2010, Alexander Cockburn began a journal entry, or letter, or short column for his newsletter Counterpunch in this fashion: “The prime constant factor in American politics across the last six decades has been …”

Let us pause for a moment to conjecture how commentators of diverse political complexion might have completed that sentence. The exercise may give us some sense of Cockburn’s place in the culture of late-20th/early-21st century journalism.

A Tea Partier might say: “… the ever-increasing tyranny of federal bureaucracies.” A paleoconservative might say: “… the expulsion of God from the public square.” A neoconservative might say: “… the weakening of American resolve and the global decline of American power.” A neoliberal might say: “… increasing recognition that markets work better than government intervention.” A feminist or gay activist might say: “… the gradual extension of equal rights.” A civil libertarian might say: “… the gradual erosion of civil liberties.” An environmentalist might say: “… a blind emphasis on economic growth at all costs.” A social democrat might say: “… the dwindling of social solidarity from its high point just after World War II.”

All these perspectives have at least a grain of truth. But Cockburn’s answer cuts deepest: “… a counterattack by the rich against the social reforms of the 1930s.” Class warfare is not the only kind of struggle, nor is it always and everywhere the most important. But it is the most intractable and invisible kind, and Cockburn was one of very few American journalists who never lost sight of it.

Corporate medicine and Ebola injustice


A much-needed perspective on the implications of corporate control of the medical sector from The Real Network in the form of a Jessica Desvarieux interview of Harriet A. Washington, medical ethicist and author of notable books on the intersection of race, class, and the corporate sector in medicine.

From The Real News Network:

Economic Justice and the Ebola Outbreak

From the transcript:

DESVARIEUX: So, Harriet, the big news is that this serum that is ZMapp that I mentioned in the introduction was offered to the two American health care workers, and now they seem to be recovering. Why hasn’t it been made more widely available?

WASHINGTON: Well, what we’re told is that it’s not been made more widely available because there were initially only three doses. Of course, my first question was, why wasn’t it given to Sheik Umar Khan, the chief ebola health care worker in Sierra Leone who died just a week or so ago of Ebola?

DESVARIEUX: Then at the root of this would you say that the serum was—-essentially, whose interest is it for it not to be more widely available?

WASHINGTON: Well, it’s a very complex question. And I think–I’m not inclined to personalize it. Rather than asking whether a person has an inclination to deny it to Africans, my question is: what forces tend to separate drugs like this from Africans? There are networks, informal networks sometimes, of availability that are available to Westerners and not to Africans.

And there are also economic pressures. Decisions about the expense of producing large enough quantity of doses of this drug to give it to Africans is an expensive proposition, as it always is, and that is a factor as well. There’s a feeling among some that it would be too expensive to produce for African Americans. But my point is I always notice that they talk about the cost, but with they’re actually referring to is the price: it’s a manufacturer’s decision to impose a certain price, and that is what puts it out of the reach of people in the developing world.

DESVARIEUX: Yeah. And being out of reach for people in the developing world, I mean, there are going to be some real consequences. As I mentioned in the introduction, 1,700 people have been affected. More than 900 people have died from Ebola. So can we name some names here? Which kind of pharmaceutical companies are we talking about?

WASHINGTON: I’m not inclined to single them out by name, because what’s interesting about this is although most pharmaceutical companies are guilty of an economic mentality that tells them not to produce drugs for the needs of people in the developing world, an economist at Harvard, Michael Kremer, wrote some time ago about this tendency of pharmaceutical companies not to even test drugs for diseases of the tropical lands, because people there, quote-unquote, cannot afford them. In fact, if you look at the data, between 1975 and 1997, there were 1,233 drugs developed by pharmaceutical companies. Guess how many were intended for the use of people who lived in developing countries?

DESVARIEUX: How many?

WASHINGTON: Four.

DESVARIEUX: Wow. Only four.

Chart of the day: Blood on the newsroom floor


From Pueblo Lands and drawn from data from the California Employment Development Department, a look at projected job growth and decline anticipated during the current decade in the Golden State, with journalism jobs continuing to fall while corporate, NGO, and government PR jobs continue to growth. Call it a clear win for the spin amidst the ongoing strangulation of what’s left of the free press [which continues to be swallowed up corporate giants and banksters with their fellows than with the public and the notion of an informed electorate], with spinners outnumbering the spun by a five-to-one ratio:

BLOG Media

Accompanying the job growth/decline rate was another sober reminder of the power of spinners, and one of the key reasons the nation’s journalism school graduates no longer flock to jobs in the pitifully diminished press corps[e]:

BLOG Press pay

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


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

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

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

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

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

More on the crisis from Deutsche Welle:

Lagos overwhelmed, Nigeria asks for Ebola outbreak help

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

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

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

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

BBC News takes action:

Ebola virus: Guinea shuts Liberia and S Leone borders

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

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

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

The Guardian has more from on the ground:

Ebola crisis in Liberia brings rumours, hygiene lessons and hunger

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

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

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

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

And from the Independent, fears coming closer:

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

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

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

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

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

National Post covers another phase of the crisis:

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

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

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

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

From the Associated Press, an interesting aside:

US bots flagged Ebola before outbreak announced

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

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

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

The Economic Times covers another front:

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

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

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

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

Homeland Security News Wire rationalizes:

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

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

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

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

And from the Los Angeles Times, the more mundane:

Ebola outbreak causes postponement of taekwondo tournament

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

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

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

From the Hindu, Indian precautions:

No Ebola case has been reported in India: Harsh Vardhan

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

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

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

South China Morning Post covers another Asian response:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spreading Ebola epidemic has widening economic ramifications

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

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

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

From the Guardian, a dismal dietary dispatch:

Salmonella trial reveals US food safety relies on self-reporting

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

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

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

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

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

InSecurityWatch: Bombs, blather, zones, spooks


Lots of ground to cover, and we’ll start with the biggest story, the latest violent blowback for American violence, the little war we waged on a false pretext to satisfy deeper geopolitical motivations.

First, we turn to the Los Angeles Times for the latest in imperial hubris:

Obama sets ambitious goals for Iraq intervention

President Obama said Saturday that U.S. forces will seek to deny a safe haven to “barbaric terrorists” in Iraq and will help create a humanitarian corridor to rescue thousands of religious refugees trapped on a mountaintop, broadening his goals for the latest U.S. intervention in Iraq.

Speaking on the White House South Lawn, the president also suggested that the airstrikes by U.S. Navy fighter jets and Predator drones against Islamist militants that began Friday near the major city of Irbil won’t be a short-term operation.

The U.S. is prepared, he said, to continue bombing the fighters of Islamic State, an Al Qaeda breakaway group, as long as thousands of Americans living and working in Irbil are threatened. “We’re going to maintain vigilance and ensure that our people our safe,” the president said, before departing for Martha’s Vineyard on a family vacation.

More from Deutsche Welle:

Obama declines to put timeframe on Iraq operation

  • US President Barack Obama has declined to say how long the current American military operations in Iraq will likely continue. He also said the crisis could only be resolved after a unified Iraqi government is in place

Speaking to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House on Saturday, President Barack Obama said airstrikes, which US forces began carrying out on Friday, had “successfully destroyed arms and equipment “ used by a group of militants who call themselves the “Islamic State” (IS). Obama said that the US had “stepped up” military assistance to Kurdish forces fighting the Sunni extremists near the northern Iraq city of Irbil.

The US president said an operation to provide humanitarian aid through airdrops to members of Iraq’s Yazidi religious minority trapped on Sinjar mountain would continue. The Yazidis were left without food or water after taking refuge on the mountain to escape IS militants advancing into the city of Sinjar one week ago.

Obama also said he had secured the support in that humanitarian operation of British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande.

And the predictably belligerent response from the London Daily Mail:

‘A message from ISIS to the US’: Islamist militants tweet gruesome images of dead American soldiers and vow to blow up embassies as terrorist convoy is wiped out in SECOND round of airstrikes

WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT: Militants who support the terror group ISIS tweeted threats to America on Friday after Barack Obama began airstrikes in Iraq

  • Some warn of car bombs at embassies while others taunt US military personnel with death threats
  • A handful of biting retorts have mocked the ham-fisted attempt to use social media as a tool of war
  • Tweets coincided with first U.S. airstrikes authorized by Obama to protect American staff and relief efforts
  • Food and water supplies have been airdropped to 50,000 refugees trapped on mountain
  • ISIS have been accused of taking hundreds of women hostage

Supporters of the ISIS terror group tweeted thousands of messages on Friday bearing the hashtag #AmessagefromISIStoUS featuring gruesome photos and threats to U.S. soldiers and citizens after American airstrikes took out terrorist targets in Iraq for the first time.

Some tweeted photos depict dead U.S. Army soldiers, U.S. marines hung from bridges in Fallujah, decapitated men, human heads on spikes, and the twin towers in flames on September 11, 2001.

‘This is a message for every American citizen,’ read one message sent with the hashtag. ‘You are the target of every Muslim in the world wherever you are.’

From the McClatchy Washington Bureau, a question:

New Iraq mission’s tough question: What does U.S. do if Islamic State survives?

“The words ‘limited’ and ‘deterrence’ don’t belong in the same sentence. There has to be the threat of a disproportionate size,” said Christopher Harmer, a senior naval analyst for the Washington-based Institute for the Study for War. “ISIS is not going to respond to limited strikes. They understand the West is reluctant to get involved.”

Senior military officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak to a reporter, conceded as much, with one explaining: “There is probably some gray area” in the latest U.S. effort in Iraq.

Part of the concern is based on the most recent “limited” mission the Obama administration undertook on behalf of a besieged group: Libya. In 2011, as residents of Benghazi, Libya, faced an imminent attack from forces loyal to the country’s leader, Moammar Gadhafi, the U.S. announced it would intervene as part of a NATO mission to protect civilians from harm. The effort was billed as humanitarian, but it ended up toppling Gadhafi and leading to his death and empowering Islamist militias that now control much of the country. Libya is convulsed in a civil war between those Islamists and secular forces, the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans were killed in an attack in Benghazi in 2012, and last month the United States evacuated its embassy in Tripoli, the country’s capital.

And from the McClatchy Washington Bureau again, another question:

When is it genocide? U.S. interests help decide

Obama’s use of the word genocide _ which was echoed on Thursday by Secretary of State John Kerry _ is extremely unusual, said Jonas Claes, a conflict analyst for the United States Institute of Peace.

Claes couldn’t recall any other time during Obama’s presidency when he had used the term to describe current events.

Usually presidents dance around the word because it implies a legal responsibility to act, Claes said.

Meanwhile, the tragic legacy of using vaccination programs as covers for spooky operations continues to unfold, reports the Express Tribune in Karachi, Pakistan:

Unavailability of security cover forces polio drive in Quetta to be postponed

Despite the first reported case of polio in over a year in Balochistan surfacing last month, the government has been forced to postpone its immunisation drive in parts of the crisis hit province since it cannot provide security.

A three day anti-polio drive scheduled for Quetta and Pishin from August 11 to August 13 has been postponed.

With the security focus on Independence’s day celebrations, the government apparently can’t spare enough forces to safely oversee the immunization drive.

From the London Daily Mail, fuel poised for a toss into the flames:

The Spark that ignites quite a fire:’ Imminent release of CIA ‘torture’ report could put Americans and embassies in harm’s way, warn intelligence officials

  • National Intelligence Council pressures White House against the release of information on CIA interrogation techniques
  • Officials say the report could inflame anti-US passions in the Middle East
  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein remains locked in battle with the Obama administration over redactions that ‘obscure key facts’ in the report
  • The report shows CIA techniques were ‘far more brutal than previously understood’

American citizens and embassies could be at risk of attacks if the US Senate releases a lengthy intelligence report on CIA interrogation techniques.

The warning comes from the National Intelligence Council, which is pressuring the White House to keep the report under wraps to avoid inflaming anti-US passions abroad, lest more violence breaks out throughout the Middle East, reported Yahoo News.

‘It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out if you release a report like this at a time when terrorism is surging all over the Mideast you are handing the other side a recruitment tool,’ ex-CIA Director John McLaughlin told the news outlet. ‘It’s blindingly obvious.’

On to the desperation of the outfit once dubbed No Such Agency, via Reuters:

NSA, struggling to recruit top talent, turns to Silicon Valley

The U.S. National Security Agency is turning to Silicon Valley for topflight talent, but first it has to rebuild trust.

Anne Neuberger, special assistant to NSA Director Michael Rogers, said this week she feared the agency would no longer be able to recruit top technologists, since former contractor Edward Snowden blew the lid off the extent of its spying activities.

At a seminar organized by the non-profit LongNow Foundation in San Francisco, she extended a plea to an audience replete with tech workers to consider a career in government, or at least apply for a fellowship.

And some NSA blowback from TheLocal.de:

Berlin seeks names of secret service agents

Berlin has asked all foreign diplomatic missions to provide names of secret service agents working in Germany, according to a media report on Friday, amid a rift with Washington over allegations of US spying.

Contacted by AFP, the German foreign ministry did not refute the report, originally published in Der Spiegel, which said that a note has been sent to embassies asking them for “lists of names of all active agents”.

The move came about a month after Germany ordered the Berlin CIA station chief to leave the country in an unprecedented show of anger after uncovering two cases of suspected US spying, hot on the heels of mass surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA).

The Spiegel report said the circular to embassies was sparked by Berlin’s frustration over Washington’s repeated denials that its agents were operating in Germany.

For a change, some increased security from El País:

Ministry to cut bodyguard protection to minimum levels as ETA threat recedes

  • Protection will gradually be withdrawn from more than 1,500 public figures, saving millions of euros

The Spanish Interior Ministry says that it is to begin withdrawing armed protection for senior members of the former Socialist Party administration, along with that given to other public figures and journalists. The announcement reflects confidence that Basque terrorist organization ETA no longer represents a threat, and will see some 200 police bodyguards and around 30 vehicles return to normal duties.

When Popular Party Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy took office in late 2011, more than 1,600 officials were under police protection. In most other European countries, that figure is usually around 30, and applies only to senior members of government and other institutional posts.

In March 2012, the secretary of state for security said that “given the ostensible reduction in the threat from ETA,” it would be cutting back on the number of bodyguards, a process that has gradually been underway since.

The Latin American Herald Tribune covers security sought:

Busy Mexican Highway Blocked by Protesters

The expressway linking the Mexican capital with the Pacific resort city of Acapulco was re-opened early Friday after being blocked for more than 10 hours by peasants demanding that authorities do more to fight crime, the Guerrero state government said.

Members of the Union of Towns and Organizations of Guerrero blocked the expressway outside Chilpancingo, the state capital, at some 200 kilometers (120 miles) south of Mexico City.

Authorities agreed to install a round-table to review the peasants’ demands, as a result of which the blockade was removed after about 10 hours, the Guerrero Public Safety Office said.

And from the Mainichi, digital stalking:

Stalkers use GPS devices to track down victims

In recent years, there have been multiple instances of stalkers using global positioning system (GPS) devices to track down victims and police are urging people who feel they are being stalked to quickly contact authorities.

According to Akiko Kobayakawa, head of the anti-stalking NPO Humanity, even when victims take all the steps available for them to flee, such as putting restrictions on the viewing of their resident’s card, there have been many instances recently where stalkers have located them. “There has been an increase in cases where GPS trackers are used,” says Kobayakawa.

Many GPS devices can be found for sale in Tokyo’s Akihabara district. Their original purpose is to, for example, keep track of the locations of people like children or the elderly. A store employee introduced one such product, saying, “The battery lasts four days. As long as this device is above ground, you will know where it is.”

From TechWeekEurope, and will the outcome be real or ornamental?:

Yahoo And Google To Work Together On Encrypted Email

  • Yahoo promises to implement end-to-end PGP encryption by 2015

Yahoo is planning to introduce end-to-end encryption and advanced privacy features into its email service by 2015, helping customers avoid both cyber criminals and government surveillance. The company will collaborate with Google, which detailed its efforts in June after contributing its encryption implementation to the open source community.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Yahoo’s email encryption will rely on the Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) standard developed by Phil Zimmerman, currently the president of secure communications provider Silent Circle. This means even Yahoo itself won’t be able to access the contents of the messages.

The sudden popularity of encrypted messaging services is seen as a response to the mass surveillance practices employed by government agencies such as US National Security Agency (NSA) and UK’s GCHQ, revealed by Edward Snowden last year.

On a related note, this from Ars Technica:

Father of PGP encryption: Telcos need to get out of bed with governments

  • Zimmermann’s Silent Circle working with Dutch telco to deliver encrypted calls

Phil Zimmermann, the creator of Pretty Good Privacy public-key encryption, has some experience when it comes to the politics of crypto. During the “crypto wars” of the 1990s, Zimmermann fought to convince the US government to stop classifying PGP as a “munition” and shut down the Clipper Chip program—an effort to create a government-mandated encryption processor that would have given the NSA a back door into all encrypted electronic communication. Now Zimmermann and the company he co-founded are working to convince telecommunications companies—mostly overseas—that it’s time to end their nearly century-long cozy relationship with governments.

Zimmermann compared telephone companies’ thinking with the long-held belief that tomatoes were toxic until it was demonstrated they weren’t. “For a long time, for a hundred years, phone companies around the world have created a culture around themselves that is very cooperative with governments in invading people’s privacy. And these phone companies tend to think that there’s no other way—that they can’t break from this culture, that the tomatoes are poisonous,” he said.

The Verge covers corporate resistance:

Google, Microsoft, others backing Facebook in fight over user privacy in New York

  • Tech companies and civil liberties unions are trying to fend off warrants

Facebook’s getting some company in its fight with the New York district attorney’s office over the protection of user data from government investigations, something that has quickly become a battle over constitutional rights. Today, a number of major tech companies including Dropbox, Foursquare, Google, Kickstarter, LinkedIn, Meetup, Microsoft, Pinterest, Twitter, Tumblr, and Yelp, along with the New York Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU, filed amicus briefs in support of Facebook.

In a trio of filings today, the groups collectively argue that bulk warrants like the one that required Facebook to hand over user data for 381 users over to the NYDA are problematic, especially when attached to so-called “gag orders” that keep companies from alerting users that they are under investigation.

“Unless Facebook is able to assert its subscribers’ constitutional rights — and any of its own rights — the legality of the government’s actions with respect to those subscribers will escape review altogether. And had the government chosen to indict no one, no one would have been the wiser,” reads the opener of a filing from Google, Pinterest, Microsoft, Twitter, and Yelp.

From Channel NewsAsia Singapore, a major unLike:

Malaysia to study whether Facebook should be blocked

The Malaysian government will study whether it is necessary to block Facebook following a case of abuse involving the social website, said Communication and Multimedia Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Shabery Cheek.

He said his ministry was conducting studies to gather public views on the matter. “If the people are of the opinion that Facebook should be closed, we are prepared to look into the matter but it is a radical approach,” he told reporters after closing the Cheras Wanita Umno Delegates Meeting on Saturday (Aug 9).

Also present were Cheras Umno head Datuk Seri Syed Ali Alhabshee and Cheras Wanita Umno chief Datuk Hajah Zurainah Musa.

From TheLocal.ch, old school spookery? Journalism? Curiosity?:

Swiss man arrested in Tunisia for ‘spying’

A Swiss man is under arrest in Tunisia for suspected spying activities in Kasserine, a city in the North African country.

Tunisian police arrested the tourist on Thursday afternoon, according to media reports from Tunisia picked up by media in Switzerland.

He was apprehended after being caught attempting to take pictures of the house of Tunisia’s interior minister, Lotfi Ben Jeddou, and military posts in Lasserine, local radio station FM Express reported.

In the man’s camera police discovered hundreds of images of police stations, government buildings and other structures with strategic objectives, the radio station said.

From Ars Technica, less than reassuring:

Hacking is simple, says author claiming role in breach of spyware firm

  • DIY guide provides instructions for carrying out similar muckraking exploits

An anonymous author who claims to be the hacker who penetrated controversial UK-based Gamma Group International and aired 40 gigabytes of its dirty laundry has published a how-to guide for other hacktivists.

“I’m not writing this to brag about what an 31337 h4x0r I am and what m4d sk1llz it took to 0wn Gamma,” wrote the author, who rightly cautions that the unauthorized access of other people’s networks is illegal. “I’m writing this to demystify hacking, to show how simple it is, and to hopefully inform and inspire you to go out and hack shit. If you have no experience with programming or hacking, some of the text below might look like a foreign language. Check the resources section at the end to help you get started.”

The do-it-yourself guide explains how hackers can map entryways into a target’s network, scan for vulnerable services and exploit any that are found. It also lists some of the most common methods hackers use to keep their IP addresses and other digital fingerprints off their attacks. Among other things, the how-to suggests installing Whonix inside a hidden encrypted volume created by TrueCrypt and carrying out all operations from there. It also counsels against using Tor and instead using hacked servers. Again, this is illegal.

From the Associated Press, maple leaf imperialism sure to inflate an Arctic Game of Zones, one abetted by icecaps shrinking because of dependence on the same resources being sought in the Far North:

Canada sends icebreakers to Arctic to gather data

Canada is sending two icebreakers to the High Arctic to gather scientific data in support of its plan to bid for control of the sea floor under and beyond the North Pole.

The coast guard vessels have set out on a six-week journey that will take them to the eastern side of the Lomonosov Ridge.

The undersea ridge starts near Ellesmere Island and runs northward over the pole. Some say the ridge could give Canada a claim on a vast section of Arctic sea floor.

From the Associated Press, allegations with a certain resonance in those Ivy Bells of yesteryear:

Russia: Apparent US sub driven from Barents Sea

Russian state news agencies say the country’s navy claims to have driven away a submarine believed to be American that entered Russia’s northern waters.

The reports Saturday cited an unnamed representative of the navy’s general staff as saying the incident occurred Thursday in the Barents Sea. The Barents Sea lies off northwest Russia and the Russian navy’s Northern Fleet is based on its shores.

The reports said the fleet sent several vessels and an anti-submarine Il-38 aircraft to drive the submarine away.

After the jump, the Asian Game of Zones intensifies with hacks, web crackdowns, rhetorical and military hardware escalations, espionage arrests, deep political plays, and a sudden German love of the good old-fashioned sound of a typewriter key hitting platen-encircling paper. . . Continue reading

And now for a word from our sponsor. . .


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EnviroWatch: Faith, Ebola, water, toxins, Fuku


Whilst we continue our focus on Ebola, we begin with an important dose of reality from Pacific Standard:

Faith in Scientific Progress Decreases Eco-Friendly Behavior

A new study finds affirming belief in scientific progress appears to reduce the likelihood of acting in environmentally responsible ways.

Advocates for environmental action also tend to be strong believers in science. Could this explain why they’ve had so little success in persuading people to change their behaviors?

That provocative question is raised by a newly published paper, which suggests faith in science takes some of the pressure off of us to behave responsibly.

“When media outlets paint a picture of omniscient science and unconditional and ongoing progress, one consequence may be that people become passive and less motivated to behave in environmentally friendly ways,” University of Amsterdam researchers Marijn Meijers and Bastiaan Rutjens write in the European Journal of Social Psychology.

And on to Ebola, first with an interesting headline from SINA English:

No Ebola cases spotted in China: official

The Chinese health authority has confirmed no Ebola cases have been reported in China so far.

Song Shuli, spokeswoman of China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission (NHFPC), made the remarks at a press conference held Thursday, adding a series of preventative measures have been taken to stop the virus from entering China.

Song said NHFPC has strengthened its communication with World Health Organization (WHO) to better monitor and predict the spread of the Ebola virus and has ordered border control authorities to intensify their checks of inbound travellers from related countries.

Next, concerns in the country next door via India Today:

EXCLUSIVE: Ebola virus could enter India through Delhi and Mumbai

Officials at the IGI International Airport and Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport are a worried lot these days. Immigration and Custom officials are on their toes. There are strict instructions to keep a hawk eye on all the passengers coming from Ethiopian Airways, Kenya Airways and Emirates. The fear is passengers with Ebola virus could enter India through the Indira Gandhi International Airport or the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport.

Alert notification has been issued for airports at Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Kochi as well. Alert has also been sounded for various airports under Airport Authority of India. The government has also roped in Indian Medical Association to coordinate the efforts and be ready for any eventuality. This after the government learnt that 50 to 60 Indians in Liberia were in the process of returning to India.

Indian Medical Association spokesperson Dr. Rajinder Saini said, “We are coordinating with the government. The situation isn’t bad but then we have a huge population and resources could be limited.” Dr Saini added that people from African nations come to India not just for travel purpose but to get medical treatment as well and hence it was all the more important for the various airport authorities and hospitals in various metros to be careful of the situation and also be equipped to tackle the situation.

Homeland Security News Wire covers high anxiety:

Ebola outbreak could inspire African terrorist groups to weaponize the virus: Experts

Recent discussions about Ebola have mainly focused on the disease as a public health hazard, but counterterrorism officials are concerned that the new outbreak could inspire terror groups, specifically those based in West Africa, to weaponize the virus. The fear of weaponized Ebola dates back decades to when the Soviet Union’s VECTOR program, aimed at researching biotechnology and virology, was thought to have researched the creation of Ebola for warfare. In 1992 a Japanese cult group called Aum Shinrikyo tried, but failed, to collect samples of the Ebola virus in Zaire.

Recent discussions about Ebola have mainly focused on the disease as a public health hazard, but counterterrorism officials are concerned that the new outbreak could inspire terror groups, specifically those based in West Africa, to weaponize the virus. The Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) has been working with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and biotech firm Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc. to develop a treatment for Ebola.

While GlobalPost sounds concerns:

How the Ebola outbreak turned into a racism and responsibility debate

  • Should the experimental drugs that have been given to two Americans be sent to Liberia?

Should untested, experimental drugs to combat Ebola be made widely available? This potentially life-and-death debate is raging as the disease continues to claim lives in West Africa, where the death toll has now reached 932, according to the World Health Organization.

Two American missionaries who contracted Ebola while working in Liberia have shown a marked improvement in the past week after being given an experimental drug called ZMapp that had up until then only been tested on monkeys.

This past weekend, Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol were flown to the United States where they are receiving medical care at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian charity they were working with, said the two “had received a dose of experimental serum while still in Liberia.”

The news has sparked an ethical debate over equality of access to medical care and racism as two white Americans were given potentially life-saving treatment denied to hundreds of Africans.

More on that concern from Techdirt:

Ebola Cure Not Fully Developed Because Big Pharma Not Interested In Saving Lives Of Poor People In Africa

  • from the back-burner dept

As you may have heard, there’s been a somewhat scary Ebola outbreak in western Africa. You may have also heard about what some are calling a “secret miracle serum” that effectively stops the impact of the virus for those who catch it. It’s an experimental drug that hasn’t undergone human clinical trials yet, but it was apparently given to a couple of Americans and appears to be working. There’s some indication that it would take a couple months to produce a larger number of doses — though, again, the lack of testing here means that people really aren’t sure if it will work (or if there are serious side effects).

That said, as one article notes, a big reason that there hasn’t been much testing on this is because treating poor people in Africa just isn’t very profitable for the drug companies:

“These outbreaks affect the poorest communities on the planet. Although they do create incredible upheaval, they are relatively rare events,” said Daniel Bausch, a medical researcher in the US who works on Ebola and other infectious diseases.

“So if you look at the interest of pharmaceutical companies, there is not huge enthusiasm to take an Ebola drug through phase one, two, and three of a trial and make an Ebola vaccine that maybe a few tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people will use.”

And still more from International Business Times:

US Cuts Resources For Project Involved In Ebola Battle In Sierra Leone

The U.S. government will not renew funding for a major research project into Lassa fever, a decision that will, in turn, cut resources for a facility in Sierra Leone that is at the forefront of the current battle against the Ebola virus.

The National Institutes of Health rejected a proposal from New Orleans-based Tulane University to renew the five-year contract which expires in November, according to a July 30 letter from NIH reviewed by Reuters. The expiring contract is worth $15 million.

NIH declined to comment on the decision, citing “federal government procurement integrity rules.”

While Raw Story brings us the despicable:

Conservatives rip Ann Coulter for blaming Ebola doc’s illness on ‘Christian narcissism’

Conservative gadfly Ann Coulter drew widespread condemnation for attacking a Christian missionary who contracted the Ebola virus while serving in Africa.

Coulter suggested in her column Wednesday that Dr. Kent Brantly chose to help the poor in Liberia instead of the United States because “serving the needy in some deadbeat town in Texas wouldn’t have been ‘heroic.’”

“American Christians go on ‘mission trips’ to disease-ridden cesspools [because] they’re tired of fighting the culture war in the U.S., tired of being called homophobes, racists, sexists, and bigots,” Coulter wrote. “So they slink off to Third World countries, away from American culture to do good works, forgetting that the first rule of life on a riverbank is that any good that one attempts downstream is quickly overtaken by what happens upstream.”

The Washington Post covers a poignant aspect of the crisis:

People are struggling to bury the Ebola dead.

Those treating Ebola victims are especially at risk of infection: When a Liberian-American government official named Patrick Sawyer managed to fly to Nigeria with the disease, which is spread only by direct contact with the bodily fluids of a symptomatic victim, several health workers in Lagos fell ill after treating him. Both Sawyer and one of his nurses have since died of the disease and the Nigerian government has declared a health emergency.

But there is a second group of people especially at risk for infection: those who treat and bury the bodies of the dead, which are even more contagious than living Ebola patients.

And a combination of inadequate infrastructure, logistical issues, conflicts with Western health care workers and burial traditions has contributed to widespread difficulties in containing the spread of the disease among mourners and those caring for the dead.

And on the the latest on the Gold State’s drought the latest and grim report from the United States Dought Monitor, which reveals no improvement despite the recent showers in parts of the state. Click on the image to enlarge:

BLOG Drought

One of the consequences [call it “Form pee to thee”], via the Guardian

Get used to toilet-to-tap water, Californians told

  • Drought-hit state plans $140m expansion at world’s biggest treatment facility to recycle more waste water

The golden state’s historic drought is forcing once-squeamish Californians to take a new look at “toilet-to-tap” water re-use. Or as they prefer to call it in Fountain Valley, “showers to flowers”.

The town in conservative Orange County is home to the largest water recycling plant in the world and an example during this epic drought of the life-altering changes California will have to make to avoid running out of water.

The first would be to get over the idea that water is an infinite resource, or that it pours out of the tap straight from a pristine, underground spring.

The San Francisco Chronicle keeps it dry:

Drought-busting El Niño looking less likely

Hope of an El Niño rescuing California from its devastating drought this year appears to be just about gone.

Not only have climate scientists downgraded the strength of a potential El Niño, but a report released Thursday by the U.S. Climate Prediction Center indicates that the odds of an El Niño happening at all have decreased.

El Niño is a warming of the Pacific Ocean that tends to influence worldwide weather. Strong El Niños have often been associated with wet winters in Northern California, something the state could use after three straight years of below-average rainfall.

Meanwhile, the Guardian covers another water problem:

Pollution triples mercury levels in ocean surface waters, study finds

  • Toxic metal threatens marine life as it accumulates faster in shallow layers than in deep sea due to human activity

The amount of mercury near the surface of many of the world’s oceans has tripled as the result of our polluting activities, a new study has found, with potentially damaging implications for marine life as the result of the accumulation of the toxic metal.

Mercury is accumulating in the surface layers of the seas faster than in the deep ocean, as we pour the element into the atmosphere and seas from a variety of sources, including mines, coal-fired power plants and sewage. Mercury is toxic to humans and marine life, and accumulates in our bodies over time as we are exposed to sources of it.

Since the industrial revolution, we have tripled the mercury content of shallow ocean layers, according to the letter published in the peer-review journal Nature on Thursday. Mercury can be widely dispersed across the globe when it is deposited in water and the air, the authors said, so even parts of the globe remote from industrial sources can quickly suffer elevated levels of the toxic material.

And Arctic News has a really, really alarming water problem:

Warm waters threaten to trigger huge methane eruptions from Arctic Ocean seafloor

The evidence of abrupt high methane releases in the Arctic Ocean is accumulating. The graph below shows in situ methane measurements taken at the Barrow Observatory, including recent levels as high as close to 2200 parts per billion (ppb).

Satellite data picture a similarly dire situation. Global mean methane levels as high as 1831 ppb were recorded on the morning of July 30, 2014, while peak methane levels as high as 2330 ppb were recorded that morning. More recently, peak methane levels as high as 2522 ppb were recorded (on August 2, 2014).

IPCC/NOAA figures suggest that methane levels were rising by some 5 to 6 ppb annually, reaching 1814 ppb in 2013. While methane levels at lower altitudes have indeed shown little rise, much larger rises have been recorded at higher altitudes, as illustrated by the image below.

And just how alarming? From Motherboard:

If We Release a Small Fraction of Arctic Carbon, ‘We’re Fucked’: Climatologist

This week, scientists made a disturbing discovery in the Arctic Ocean: They saw “vast methane plumes escaping from the seafloor,” as the Stockholm University put it in a release disclosing the observations. The plume of methane—a potent greenhouse gas that traps heat more powerfully than carbon dioxide, the chief driver of climate change—was unsettling to the scientists.

But it was even more unnerving to Dr. Jason Box, a widely published climatologist who had been following the expedition. As I was digging into the new development, I stumbled upon his tweet, which, coming from a scientist, was downright chilling:

Jason Box @climate_ice

If even a small fraction of Arctic sea floor carbon is released to the atmosphere, we’re f’d.

8:43 AM – 29 Jul 2014 Copenhagen, Danmark

Box, who is currently a professor of glaciology at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, has been studying the Arctic for decades. His accolade-packed Wikipedia page notes that he’s made some 20 expeditions to the Arctic since 1994, and served as the lead author on the Greenland section of NOAA’s State of the Climate report from 2008-2012. He also runs the Dark Snow project and writes about the latest findings in the field at his blog, Meltfactor.

More water problems from MintPress News:

Lake Erie Isn’t The Only One In Trouble

Climate change and an unwillingness to regulate have led to a vicious algae bloom that could spread to other Great Lakes and threaten the nation’s major drinking water supply.

The Great Lakes hold 84 percent of the nation’s fresh water and one-fifth of the world’s drinking water supply. With inland lakes from Minnesota to California being polluted with toxic algae, and with an oxygen-free zone the size of New Jersey being discovered in the Gulf of Mexico last year, the issue of industrial phosphorous runoff has grown to be an issue that can no longer be ignored or left to voluntary actions.

“We’ve worked with farmers, and we know it works,” Jordan Lubetkin, a Great Lakes spokesman for the National Wildlife Federation, told The New York Times regarding voluntary measures imposed to control oxygen-destroying runoffs. “Voluntary programs will take you so far. But at the end of the day, you need numeric standards. You’ve got to limit the amount of phosphorus coming into the lake. That’s why you see what we’re seeing in Toledo.”

From the New York Times, when opportunity knocks, run like hell:

A Texas County Sees Opportunity in Toxic Waste

Loving County is big, dry and stretches for miles, and is the perfect place, local officials say, to store high-level radioactive waste.

Officials here hope to entice the federal government — with $28 billion to spend on the disposal of high-level radioactive waste — into considering the possibility.

“With the money that this would generate for the county, we might even be able to pay the taxpayers back,” said the county judge, Skeet Jones. “We could build some roads. We could bring in some more water. We could have a town that’s incorporated, have a city council, maybe even start a school.” Loving County had a school, but it has been boarded up for years, and students are bused to neighboring Winkler County.

“Maybe even have a Walmart,” Mr. Jones mused.

And for our first Fukushimapocalypse Now! Item, this from the Japan Times:

Tepco to collect toxic groundwater at Fukushima, dump in ocean after treatment

Tokyo Electric Power Co. is planning to pump contaminated groundwater from drainage wells at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant and dump it into the ocean after removing almost all radioactive materials, company officials said Thursday.

The plan is aimed at reducing the amount of toxic water building up at the complex, a problem that has been plaguing Tepco since it started trying to clean up the stricken power plant in 2011.

An estimated 400 tons of untainted groundwater is seeping into the shattered reactor buildings and mixing with toxic water generated in the process of cooling the reactors.

While the Mainichi looks ahead:

Accident at Tokai nuke plant could force 520,000 to evacuate outside Ibaraki Pref.

A serious nuclear accident at the Tokai No. 2 Power Station in Ibaraki Prefecture could result in about 520,000 people living within 30 kilometers of the plant taking shelter in other prefectures, according to a prefectural evacuation draft.

Some 960,000 people live within the urgent protective action planning zone (UPZ) within a 30 kilometer radius of the plant in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture. Of these, some 520,000 would likely take shelter in five neighboring prefectures, while the remaining 440,000 would evacuate to other areas within Ibaraki Prefecture, according to the draft released on June 6 by the Ibaraki Prefectural Government.

Cities, towns and villages are expected to devise concrete evacuation plans to respond to a serious nuclear accident, but the large number of evacuees is expected to make it difficult to formulate plans securing places for them to stay while avoiding confusion.

Another fuel, another problem, via the Guardian:

Illegal coal mine encroaching on nature reserve in north-west China

  • Coalfield 14 times the size of the City of London turns alpine meadows into craters in Qinghai, Greenpeace investigation reveals

A Chinese coal company has been operating illegal open-pit mines in alpine meadows on the far-western Qinghai plateau, potentially endangering one of the country’s largest rivers, a new investigation has found.

Four opencast mines on the Muli coalfield, operated by the private corporation Kingho Group, could seriously endanger a fragile ecosystem high on China’s far north-western Qinghai-Tibetan plateau, according to an investigation by Greenpeace East Asia released on Thursday. The coalfield is 14 times larger than the City of London, Greenpeace said. Two of its mines overlap with a protected nature zone, making them illegal, and another two are preparing to expand into the zone.

“China’s natural reserve law says you shouldn’t be doing any large-scale operations within national parks,” said Li Shuo, the organisation’s climate and energy campaigner. “This is a clear violation.”

And from the Guardian, our final item, hardly a surprise:

The corporatisation of US green energy: a double-edged sword worth billions

  • As tax breaks and incentives for renewable energy increase, corporations are entering the green energy landscape

There’s a popular meme that surfaces on green energy blogs, forums, and Facebook pages. The gist is that large corporations love oil and gas because they can own and control it. They’re against renewable energy because no-one can own the sun or wind.

The problem for anti-corporate green-energy campaigners is, increasingly: the meme isn’t true.

As the materials for producing wind and solar energy become cheaper, tax breaks and incentives for renewable energy increase, and the prospect of finding more oil and gas becomes weaker, corporations are entering the green energy landscape to the tune of billions of dollars.

Chart of the day II: One percenters, gettin’ richer


From Bloomberg, proving that, for the one percenters, crisis is opportunity to pile up more.

BLOG One percenters

The accompanying report notes that some fared even better:

The richest of America’s rich — the top 0.1 percent with at least $20 million in net wealth — held 23.5 percent of all U.S. wealth in 2012 after adding in estimates of how much was hidden in offshore tax havens, said Zucman, a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley. That compares with his previous estimate of 21.5 percent.

EnviroWatch: Ebola, toxins, Fuku, folly


Today’s compendium about the world and our troubled relationship with it opens with an Ebola digest, starting with this from the Guardian:

Barack Obama pushes for ‘global effort’ to combat spread of Ebola

  • President claims Ebola can be controlled and contained with the right resources, despite claiming 900 lives in west Africa

Barack Obama has said a global effort is required to combat the spread of Ebola which he blamed on weak and overwhelmed health systems in west Africa.

Speaking at the end of a summit of African leaders in Washington, the president said the disease – which has claimed the lives of more than 900 people in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea – can be controlled and contained with the right resources. A single case has also been confirmed in Nigeria.

“The Ebola virus both currently and in the past is controlled if you have a strong public health infrastructure in place and countries that have been affected are first to admit that what’s happened here is their public health systems have been overwhelmed. They weren’t able to identify and then isolate cases quickly enough,” he said. “You did not have a strong trust relationship between some of the communities that were affected and health workers. As a consequence it spread more rapidly.”

From the Washington Post, deadly scapegoating:

‘God is angry with Liberia,’ local religious leaders say, blaming Ebola on ‘homosexualism’

Amid the reports emerging out of Liberia, it’s difficult to discern what is true and what isn’t. But the fear they carry is undeniable: Fear of the disease, fear of dead bodies, fear that God himself has sent down a terrible plague to blight the people of Liberia for their transgressions.

There are local reports that “armed men” are allegedly trying to poison wells “to kill in the name of Ebola.” There are reports that the government is dumping bodies by the truckload at a mass grave on the west bank of a river and nearby residents fret over water contamination. And there are Reuters reports of bodies lying in the streets of Liberia’s capital Monrovia for days.

The Ebola pandemic — which has killed 887 in West Africa including 255 in Liberia — has terrified people so much that some local leaders discern divine meaning in it. According to Front Page Africa and the Daily Observer, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf called on Tuesday for all residents to fast for three days and pray for forgiveness.

The London Daily Mail treats the story with typical restraint:

Now Ebola victims are left to rot in the streets: Terrified relatives dump them outside for fear of catching deadly virus

  • Relatives of Ebola victims are dragging their bodies onto streets of Liberia
  • Disease-ridden bodies are left to rot in view of everyone, including children
  • In doing so, relatives hope they will avoid being quarantined by authorities
  • They view Ebola isolation wards in country as death traps, officials claim
  • Last week, Liberia announced raft of tough measures to contain the virus
  • Include imposing quarantines on victims’ homes and tracking their relatives
  • Ebola has claimed the lives of nearly 900 people across West Africa so far

From BBC News, the inevitable:

Liberia declares state of emergency over Ebola virus

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has declared a state of emergency as the country grapples with an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus.

Speaking on national television she said some civil liberties might have to be suspended.

Announcing a state of emergency for 90 days, President Sirleaf said in a statement that the government and people of Liberia required “extraordinary measures for the very survival of our state and for the protection of the lives of our people”.

El País brings it on home:

Spanish priest infected with ebola to be treated in Madrid’s Carlos III hospital

  • Miguel Pajares, 75, contracted the virus while treating another patient

A priest who has been confirmed as the first Spaniard to be infected by the current outbreak of the ebola virus is soon to be brought back to Spain for treatment. Miguel Pajares, aged 75, is one of the 1,600 cases to have been confirmed since March, when the most deadly wave of the condition began. As well as Liberia, where Pajares was based, the epidemic is also affecting Sierra Leone and Nigeria, with nearly 900 deaths reported so far.

The Spanish Health Ministry announced that the government has put into place a plan to repatriate Pajares, “in accordance with the highest security protocols from the World Health Organization.” These include a medical plane staffed by specialized personnel, and strict isolation measures.

According to the Defense Ministry, the aircraft that will collect the priest has been prepared at the Torrejón airbase in Madrid. It is expected to take off at around midday on Wednesday.

From the Los Angeles Times, a call for action:

Three leading Ebola experts call for release of experimental drug

Three leading experts on the Ebola virus said Wednesday that experimental drugs should be provided to Africa, and that if the deadly virus was rampant in Western countries it would be “highly likely” that authorities would give people access to the medications.

A decision to allow two American health workers infected in Liberia to have access to an experimental treatment — while dozens of African doctors and nurses have perished — has ignited a controversy over the ethics of the decision, which reportedly side-stepped Liberian health regulations.
Rise in reported African Ebola cases

The latest figures, through Aug. 4, show that 1,711 people in West Africa have been diagnosed with the disease and 932 have died, the World Health Organization announced.

Bloomberg evaluates:

Ebola Drug Panel Set by WHO to Weigh Unproven Drugs Use

The World Health Organization will convene a panel of medical ethicists next week to explore the use of experimental treatments for Ebola amid the worst outbreak of the disease on record.

An experimental antibody cocktail developed by Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc. was used to treat two infected American health workers whose conditions have improved. The WHO’s announcement came after Nigeria’s health ministry said it has written to the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to request access to the drug.

Use of the drug, called ZMapp, is raising questions about whether a medicine that hasn’t been shown as safe in humans should be distributed more widely during the outbreak and, given the limited amount of medicine available, who should get it, the WHO said in a statement.

The Los Angeles Times gives the go-ahead:

FDA approves Ebola virus test; vaccine will probably take until 2015

The FDA has authorized use of an unapproved Ebola virus test under a special emergency-use provision, although efforts to develop a vaccine for the deadly illness are unlikely to bear fruit until 2015, officials say.

The test-tube diagnostic test was developed by the U.S. military and is used to detect the Zaire strain of Ebola, which has infected at least 1,711 and killed 932 in West Africa.

“The test is designed for use in individuals, including Department of Defense personnel and responders, who may be at risk of infection as a result of the outbreak,” FDA spokeswoman Stephanie Yao said in a statement.

And Al Jazeera America adds more context:

Costs have delayed Ebola vaccine for years

  • Promising treatments have never been tested on humans because of expense, not lack of potential

Since March, the Ebola virus has killed at least 932 people in West Africa, the deadliest ever outbreak of the disease, and as the lethal hemorrhagic fever continues its spread, governments are taking drastic measures — from quarantining villages to closing schools — to stem the epidemic.

But perhaps there could have been another option to fight the virus. More than four years ago, a team of U.S. government scientists developed vaccine candidates that shielded monkeys from multiple strains of Ebola. Those vaccines, however, were never tested in human clinical trials — and not because the science wasn’t promising. One small trial on the monkeys, for example, had a 100 percent success rate of protecting the animals from the disease.

The factor preventing such trials in humans, though, has been cost, said Dr. Daniel Bausch, an associate professor of tropical medicine at the Tulane University School of Public Health who is currently stationed at the U.S. Naval Medical Research Unit 6 in Lima, Peru.

MIT Technology Review takes a step back:

Challenges Remain for Technologies to Fight Ebola

  • Efforts to contain Ebola in West Africa suffer from a lack of effective tools to treat and prevent the disease, although several are in development.

Technologies that might prevent the spread of Ebola beyond West Africa are under development, and work could accelerate if the outbreak continues to worsen. But even if a vaccine were available today, deploying it could prove surprisingly difficult.

As of last week, the Ebola outbreak had claimed the lives of 88 percent of the more than 1,000 people who had contracted the virus. The virus causes fever, headache, sore throat, and other symptoms, followed by vomiting and diarrhea. It can lead to internal and external bleeding, and often death.

Ebola has affected relatively small populations in Africa since it was discovered in the 1970s. There has therefore been little incentive for companies to invest in developing treatments or vaccines, experts say. One treatment that has shown promise in animals but has not yet been tested in humans is called ZMapp—a combination of three monoclonal antibodies manufactured in tobacco plants by Mapp Biopharmaceuticals in San Diego. These antibodies are designed to mimic the antibodies the human body naturally produces as part of an immune response that’s typically disabled by the Ebola virus. The monoclonal antibodies attach to a part of the Ebola virus and trigger an immune response that neutralizes any virus particles floating around in the body to keep them from doing additional damage.

Urgent measures from the Associated Press:

Nigeria rushes to get isolation tents for Ebola

Nigerian authorities rushed to obtain isolation tents Wednesday in anticipation of more Ebola infections as they disclosed five more cases of the virus and a death in Africa’s most populous nation, where officials were racing to keep the gruesome disease confined to a small group of patients.

The five new Nigerian cases were all in Lagos, a megacity of 21 million people in a country already beset with poor health care infrastructure and widespread corruption, and all five were reported to have had direct contact with one infected man.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization began a meeting to decide whether the crisis, the worst recorded outbreak of its kind, amounts to an international public health emergency. At least 932 deaths in four countries have been blamed on the illness, with 1,711 reported cases.

People’s Daily reassures, sort of:

Health staff at games on lookout for Ebola virus

Citing feasible plans and disease control precautions, the Jiangsu provincial epidemic prevention agency is urging the public not to worry about the Ebola virus during the Nanjing Youth Olympic Games.

With 10 days before the Youth Olympics kick off in Nanjing, the number of international visitors has been surging, raising public concern that the crowds – particularly with people from Ebola-hit West Africa – could cause the virus to spread.

“The public doesn’t need to panic as we are sufficiently prepared against the virus, which now remains contained in limited areas of the world,” Tang Fenyang, director of the center’s acute-disease institute, told China Daily on Tuesday.

The New York Times has another Golden State drought story:

Dry California Fights Illegal Use of Water for Cannabis

Amid the state’s crippling drought, many communities are fighting not the mere cultivation of cannabis — which is legal in the state, though subject to myriad restrictions — but the growers’ use of water. Marijuana is a thirsty plant, and cultivating it at a time when California residents are subject to water restrictions has become a sticky issue.

When a statewide drought emergency was declared in January, “the first thing we wanted to address was water theft and marijuana,” said Carre Brown, a supervisor in Mendocino County, a major cannabis hub west of Lake County.

By mid-July, the sheriff there, Thomas D. Allman, had already caught growers siphoning water from springs because wells had run dry too early in the season. “I have told my marijuana team, ‘I want you to fly the rivers, fly the tributaries; let’s prioritize the water diversion,’ “ Sheriff Allman said.

Grist has another:

Don’t worry, Californians can paint their dead lawns green

When California regulators approved $500-a-day fines for overwatering lawns, suburbanites across the state gasped, “However will I keep my neighbors in check without a superior lawn to lord over them??”

Now, a solution: Slap on a fresh coat of green paint. The specially formulated (and supposedly nontoxic) grass dye lasts three to six months. It’s catching on. “Companies that promise to paint lawns are cropping up all over California,” National Journal reports. “The service lets homeowners cut back on water use without sacrificing curb appeal.”

The resulting “glittering shade of emerald green” might be even flashier than the real deal. “People think it sounds ridiculous when they first hear about it,” Jim Power, operations manager for LawnLift, told National Journal. “But then they try it, and they’re instantly hooked.”

From Truthout, about damn time:

Feds to Phase Out GMO Farms and Neonicotinoid Pesticides at Wildlife Refuges

After facing a series of legal challenges from environmental groups, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service will phase out the use of genetically modified (GMO) crops and controversial neonicotinoid pesticides at farming projects on national wildlife refuges.

National Wildlife Refuge System chief James Kurth has directed the agency to stop using GMO crops and neonicontinoids on refuge farms by January 2016, according to a July 17 memo obtained by activists last week. The Fish and Wildlife Service is the first federal agency to restrict the use of GMOs and neonicotinoids in farming practices.

Neonicitinoids are a class of insecticides related to nicotine that act as nerve agents and are typically sprayed on crop seeds to kill insects. Scientists suspect that some neonicitinoids are responsible for declining populations of pollinating insects, and researchers in the Netherlands recently linked neonicotinoids to deaths among farmland birds.

And an environmental setback Down Under, via the Guardian:

Repeal of Queensland’s Wild Rivers Act is a ‘tragedy’, Wilderness Society says

  • Queensland government argues repeal was necessary after federal court decision and new protections would be brought in

The Wilderness Society says the passage of Queensland government legislation to repeal the state’s Wild Rivers Act is a tragedy for some of the last free-flowing rivers on the planet.

But the Newman government says it reflects a federal court decision earlier this year, and a new framework will ensure river systems are protected.

The Queensland environment minister, Andrew Powell, has told parliament that all former sites protected under the act would now be declared “strategic environmental areas”.

CBC News covers and environmental disaster closer to home:

Mount Polley mine tailings pond breach: Local state of emergency declared

  • Imperial Metals president says crews were working all night to stabilize debris and close the dam

A local state of emergency has been declared in an area where a B.C. tailings pond wall collapsed, sending millions of cubic metres of mine waste water and metals-laden sand into local waterways.

The Cariboo Regional District (CRD) made the declaration roughly 48 hours after the Mount Polley mine’s tailings pond wall gave way.

The breach sent 10 million cubic metres of water and 4.5 million cubic metres of metals-laden sand out into local waterways, scouring away the banks of Hazeltine Creek and sending debris flowing into Quesnel Lake and Polley Lake, which rose 1.5 metres.

On to Japan and a Fukushimapocalypse Now! admission from the Japan Times:

Fukushima reactor 3 meltdown was worse than estimated: Tepco

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Wednesday that its new estimate shows that all the fuel rods in reactor 3 at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant apparently melted down and fell onto the bottom of the containment vessel.

In November 2011, the company had said it believed only about 63 percent of reactor 3’s fuel core had melted.

The utility updated its estimate as part of an effort to probe unclear points about the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 plant caused by a megaquake and monstrous tsunami in March 2011.

The revised estimate is based on the finding that an emergency cooling system, known as HPCI, of reactor 3 stopped working six hour earlier than previously thought, and that the meltdown had also started more than five hours earlier.

A major Oops! from NHK WORLD:

Tsunami projections for nuclear plant to be redone

The operator of a nuclear power plant in central Japan has been found to have miscalculated the simulated maximum height of a tsunami that could hit the complex.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority once approved tsunami projections submitted by Kansai Electric Power Company for the now-offline Takahama plant in Fukui Prefecture.

The estimates include tsunami heights and tremor intensity associated with earthquakes of the largest conceivable magnitude in the area.

From The Hill, another fuel, another problem:

Ethanol explosive for Cruz, Paul

Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Rand Paul (Ky.) are trying to avoid an ethanol landmine in Iowa.

Both Republican senators have criticized federal subsidies for ethanol, which are popular in Iowa, the state hosting the first Republican contest in the 2016 race for the White House.

Iowa kingmakers in the party such as Sen. Chuck Grassley want the Republican presidential nominee in 2016 to champion ethanol. That’s a problem for Cruz and to a lesser extent for Paul, who are both crisscrossing the state this week in advance of possible campaigns for the presidency.

Cruz has introduced legislation that would repeal the renewable fuel standard over the next five years. The standard mandates that gasoline contain 10 percent ethanol by volume.

And for our final item, from Grist, yet another fracktacular impact:

Frackers are strip-mining the Midwest for sand

There’s a new gold rush: sand. The golden-brown stuff has become the latest, hottest commodity on the market — actually, that’s inaccurate. It’s Northern White sand that’s all the rage now, according to The Wall Street Journal, because it can withstand intense heat and pressure underground. Why is that important? Because what’s driving the white sand demand is fracking.

The process of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas involves blasting a mixture of sand, water and chemicals into the underground shale rock. It can take millions of gallons of water for a fracking operation (which can result in poisoned groundwater). But dig the numbers on sand: It can take 4 million pounds of sand to frack a single well, according to WSJ’s Alison Sider.

Which is why sand prices and stock values are going up and mining activities for sand are expanding, notably in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

New York Times: Pot or not; a tale of two towns


The New York Times, in a rare burst of sanity, has issued a call for repeal of the federal marijuana prohibition in a series of editorials and op eds over the course of a week.

Here’s how editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal described the paper’s ground-breaking rationale in a discussion with Margaret Sullivan, the paper’s public editor [read semi-ombudsperson]:

“We decided we wanted to shout something out, to really crank up the volume,” said Andrew Rosenthal, the editorial page editor.

The topic deserved the big play “not because we want everybody to go out and smoke all the pot they can,” Mr. Rosenthal said, but because of the effect laws against marijuana have on society — particularly the harm they do to young black men. The decision to sign the editorials, he said, was an experiment, and he noted a distinction: “These are not columns. The authors are writing on behalf of the editorial board.” The use of the Review section front was another way to increase visibility and a signal that this was something unusual.

Mr. Rosenthal is aware that there is a possibility of going too far. But he said, the chance to make a societal difference provided adequate justification.

Read the rest.

Accompanying the editorials online were videos, including a fascinating brief documentary about the two opposing stances taken by a pair of small towns we’d come to know during frequent father/son road trips back in our junior high and high school.

Gunnison is the agricultural town and county seat, and Crested Butte is a ski resort, frequented by college students and jet-setters alike. You can already guess which town opted for legal weed earlier this year when voters opted to go green.

And to our mind one of the most notable consequences has been that it seems to have gotten harder for high schoolers to lay hands of the weed — what one might call a doobie-less distinction.

From the New York Times:

The Marijuana Divide | Op-Docs | The New York Times

Program notes:

In Colorado, two towns near each other have divergent reactions to their state’s legalization of marijuana.

Produced by: Elaine McMillion Sheldon

EnviroWatch: Ebola, drought, nukes, fracktiousness


Plus the latest from Fukushimapocalypse Now!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vocativ covers the social media response:

Manhattan Ebola Rumor Causes New York Twitter Freakout

And from thinkSPAIN, one European nation prepares:

Spain gets ready for possible arrival of Ebola haemorrhagic virus

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

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

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

The Guardian covers another case with an American connection:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resources needed to tackle this Ebola epidemic

Program notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

US Army Corps ordered to disclose more information about dam pollution

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

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

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

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

From the Independent, violence hits the Irish fracking industry:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Berkeley’s billionaire Asian patron assailed


Li Ka-shing, the billionaire who paid millions to replace an illustrious Chief Justice on the university’s public health building, is drawing considerable fire back home in his native China.

Li is one of those nouveaux riche who gets his kicks by throwing around cash to place his brand on campuses around the globe.

Asia’s richest man and a real estate tycoon [as well as a tar sands oil baron], Li bought the naming rights for the new edifice built to replace the campus’s ailing Earl Warren Hall, a gift he made even though he’d never even been in Berkeley [he did finally make it to town for the dedication].

But now he’s drawing considerable fire in his native China, as Want China Times reports:

Li Ka-shing attacked for hoarding land with impunity

Hutchison Whampoa and Cheung Kong Holdings, both chaired by Hong Kong business tycoon Li Ka-shing, have recently been blamed for hoarding land as the development of several of their projects has made slow progress.

Chinese media criticized the conglomerates headed by Li and alleged they had hoarded land in over ten mainland cities, including Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhongshan, Nanjing, Changchun, Dalian and Wuhan.

Authorities have reportedly started investigating developers who acquire large pieces of land without doing much to develop them.

Local governments have also been accused of turning a blind eye to land hoarding on the part of Hutchison Whampoa and Cheung Kong Holdings. The former is an investment holding company owned by the Cheung Kong Group and the latter is the group’s flagship firm and one of the largest real estate developers in Hong Kong.

Unlike Earl Warren Jr., Li didn’t graduate from Cal, now did he rise from the matrix of GOP politics to preside over the nation’s highest court and steer its policies to the most comprehensive expansion of civil rights in the nation’s history.

No, he’s notable for two things: Getting rich and as global branding effort of the likes not seen since the days of Andrew Carnegie.

And now, apparently, he’s adding to his pile by driving up real estate prices in his homeland.