Category Archives: Culture

MexicoWatch: Fueling conflict, protests, and pols


We begin with a very interesting story from Al Jazeera America:

Terror in Coahuila: Gas reserves beneath turf war in northern Mexico?

  • Texas researchers link spike in murders and disappearances to land grab in energy-rich Burgos Basin

Mexico’s northern border area is full of semidesert lands with small cities, towns and ranches dedicated to livestock and forage crops. Under this inhospitable surface lies the world’s fourth-largest reserves of shale gas and 95 percent of Mexico’s coal.

The cycle of great violence began here — as in the nearby states of Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas and Veracruz — in 2009. From 2005 to 2009, there were 788 homicides in the state. In 2010 and 2011, Coahuila reported 1,067 homicides, according to the Executive Secretariat of the National Public Security System.

The prevailing explanation for the violence is that the ruthless Zetas cartel established control of the area while overwhelmed authorities did little to oppose them. But growing analysis links the violence to a corrupt group of government officials in whose jurisdiction lie millions of pesos in hydrocarbons.

“Energy Reform and Security in Northeastern Mexico,” a report published by the Mexico Center at Rice University, places the regional violence in the context of powerful economic interests. It is not the government’s version, that of a war among cartels for routes to the U.S., nor is it the concept of la plaza, or territorial control by criminal organizations. Rather, the struggle is for control of the more than 70,000 square miles of the Burgos Basin and its enormous gas reserves.

From the Latin American Herald Tribune, questions and reassurances:

Mexican AG: Outside Experts Have Resources Needed in Missing Students Case

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, or IACHR, experts investigating the disappearance of 43 education students in the southern city of Iguala last year have all the resources they need to do their work, Mexican Attorney General Arely Gomez said.

“We are providing all the facilities so they can carry out their work plan,” Gomez told Radio Formula.

Gomez said that after taking office last week, she met with the IACHR experts, who are from Spain, Chile, Colombia and Guatemala. The IACHR team arrived in Mexico last week to investigate the disappearance of the 43 students, who went missing on Sept. 26.

And from teleSUR, an occupation:

Ayotzinapa Families ‘Occupy’ Mexican TV Station

  • The parents of the disappeared 43 students protested against television giant, Televisa, demanding ethical coverage of their movement.

Parents and family of the disappeared 43 Ayotzinapa students led a march in the Mexican Capital to symbolically occupy the headquarters of the private television giant, Televisa, demanding that the media company offer them a so-called “right of reply.”

According to the families of the youth, Televisa, which owns more than 70% of the televised market in Mexico, has portrayed them and their movement under an editorial line that “criminalizes” them.

The families demand that a commission of parents be given access to the broadcaster to make more visible their movement to secure truth and justice in the enforced disappearance of their children which occurred in September in Iguala, Guerrero.

Via Rebeluis, our Ayotzinapa image of the day, featuring one of the mothers of the missing students:

BLOG Ayotz

Reuters covers a release:

Mexico court frees vigilante leader involved in fatal firefight

A judge in the violent Mexican state of Michoacan has ordered that a jailed vigilante leader involved in a firefight late last year that killed 10 people should be freed, a spokeswoman for the state judiciary said on Monday.

Hipolito Mora and his followers clashed in mid-December with a band led by Luis Antonio Torres, alias “El Americano,” a former vigilante leader turned rural police commander.

The shootout took place in La Ruana, a town about 150 miles (240 km) from Morelia, the state capital. Both men and 35 others were arrested in January and they have been behind bars ever since. Mora’s son was among the 10 killed in the shootout.

On Monday, a Michoacan state judge ordered that Mora and his 26 followers should be released, arguing they had acted in legitimate self-defense, said the spokeswoman, who asked not to be identified.

And from the Latin American Herald Tribune, an assassination foiled:

Gunmen Try to Kill Mayor of Mexican Border City

Matamoros Mayor Leticia Salazar Vazquez was not hurt in an attack by gunmen over the weekend, Mexican officials said. Four suspects have been arrested in connection with the attack, the Tamaulipas Coordination Group said.

Salazar Vazquez was “entering Matamoros from the western sector” around 8:10 p.m. Sunday when she was attacked, the security agency said.

The gunmen, who were riding in an automobile and an SUV, opened fire “on a vehicle carrying her bodyguards,” the Tamaulipas Coordination Group said.

The News.mx covers another problem:

Mexico open to eradicate torture

Mexico government reaffirmed its commitment to “prevent and eradicate cases of torture and mistreatment” and “punish all those who disobey their obligations to enforce human rights,” said Mexico’s permanent representative to the United Nations offices in Geneva, Jorge Lomónaco.

Juan Méndez, the United Nations Special Investigator Against Torture, submitted a report Monday to the Human Rights Council detailing his findings during his visit to Mexico between April 21 and May 2. He recommended that the Mexican government publicly recognize the size of this problem.

According to Méndez, whose report was debated in the Council Monday, torture and mistreatment “are generalized” in Mexico and occur “during the moments following detention and before standing trial,” with the purpose of “punishing or extracting confessions or information.”

And to close, via teleSUR English, another sellout temporarily halted:

Mexico: Vote delayed on water privatization law

Program notes:

A vote in Mexico’s House of Representatives on the new water administration and distribution bill scheduled for Tuesday has been delayed for the official purpose of clearing up “doubts and misunderstandings.” Critics say the initiative backed by private industry, especially the mining and energy sectors, is an attempt to privatize the resource. At issue is the practice of hydraulic fracturing, which requires enormous amounts of water. A protest demonstration was organized outside the House of Representatives today. Clayton Conn reports from Mexico City for teleSUR.

InSecurityWatch: Divisions, warfare, militarism


We begin with a real source of InSecurity, via the Independent:

Britain’s divided decade: the rich are 64% richer than before the recession, while the poor are 57% poorer

The gap between richest and poorest has dramatically widened in the past decade as wealthy households paid off their debts and piled up savings following the financial crisis, a report warns today.

By contrast, the worst-off families are far less financially secure than before the recession triggered by the near- collapse of several major banks. They have an average of less than a week’s pay set aside and are more often in the red.

Younger workers have fallen behind older people while homeowners – particularly those who have paid off their mortgages – have become increasingly affluent compared with their neighbours who are paying rent.

From the New York Times, more real InSecurity:

U.N. Finds ‘Alarmingly High’ Levels of Violence Against Women

The evidence is ubiquitous. The gang rape of a young woman on a bus in New Delhi sets off an unusual burst of national outrage in India. In South Sudan, women are assaulted by both sides in the civil war. In Iraq, jihadists enslave women for sex. And American colleges face mounting scrutiny about campus rape.

Despite the many gains women have made in education, health and even political power in the course of a generation, violence against women and girls worldwide “persists at alarmingly high levels,” according to a United Nations analysis that the Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is scheduled to present to the General Assembly on Monday.

About 35 percent of women worldwide — more than one in three — said they had experienced physical violence in their lifetime, the report finds. One in 10 girls under the age of 18 was forced to have sex, it says.

From the Guardian, Netanyahu’s acolytes:

Republicans threaten Iran nuclear deal may not survive Obama tenure

  • Letter from 47 senators says nuclear accord needs congressional backing to last
  • White House accuses Republicans of ‘rush to war’ with Iran

Forty-seven Republican senators warned on Monday that any agreement the Obama administration strikes with Iran to limit Tehran’s nuclear programme may be short-lived unless Congress approves the deal. The White House accused the Republicans of advocating a “rush to war”.

In an open letter to Iranian leaders, freshman Senator Tom Cotton and 46 other Republicans said that without congressional approval any deal between Iran and the US would be merely an agreement between President Barack Obama and Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

“The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen,” they wrote, “and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”

From StarAfrica, plumbers summoned:

S/Africa probes leaking of spy docs to Al Jazeera

South Africa’s State Security Agency (SSA) has launched a full investigation into the leaking of documents detailing its operations following the recent leakage of sensitive documents to the Qatar-based Al Jazeera TV news network, APA learnt on Sunday.

“A full investigation has been launched into the purported leakage, its veracity and verification will be handled in terms of the protocols governing the management of classified information,” State Security Minister David Mahlobo said.

The probe follows the web of dealings between the South African spy agency and several foreign agencies which have been revealed through hundreds of documents leaked to Al Jazeera, which broadcast the items last week.

Among other issues the documents, dated from 2006 to 2012, included an alleged assassination plot against African Union (AU) Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Iran’s efforts to use Pretoria to work around its international sanctions imposed by Western powers and the flawed capabilities of the country’s intelligence, according to the Al Jazeera, which did not reveal who leaked the documents to it.

From Deutsche Welle, did you Hope™ for this Change™?:

US deploying 3,000 troops to the Baltics

  • The US announced it is deploying 3000 troops to the Baltics to take part in military exercises over the next three months. The Baltic states and other eastern European nations are wary of renewed Russian aggression.

The United States is sending 3,000 troops to the Baltic states to partake in joint military exercises with NATO partners in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania over the next three months, US defense officials announced Monday.

The mission, part of “Operation Atlantic Resolve” is designed to reassure NATO allies concerned over renewed Russian aggression amid the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.

Around 750 US Army tanks, fighting vehicles and other military equipment arrived in Latvia Monday, and US ground troops are expected to begin arriving next week, US Army Col. Steve Warren told reporters.

According to a US military source speaking on condition of anonymity, the military equipment will remain in the Baltics even after the US troops return to base.

From the Guardian, suppression:

Saudi Arabia accused of blocking criticism of human rights record

  • Sweden’s foreign minister, Margot Wallström, has said the kingdom stopped her addressing an Arab League meeting

Sweden’s foreign minister has reportedly accused Saudi Arabia of blocking her speech at an Arab League meeting to stop her highlighting human rights cases such as the imprisonment of a blogger for insulting Islam.

Speaking in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, on Monday, Margot Wallström told the TT news agency: “The explanation we have been given is that Sweden has highlighted the situation for democracy and human rights and that is why they do not want me to speak.

“It’s a shame that a country has blocked my participation.”

An Arab diplomat confirmed to Agence France-Presse that Riyadh had stopped her making the speech.

A sharp Saudi response to flogging condemnation, via the Independent:

Raif Badawi: Saudi Arabia accuses western media of attacking its sovereignty

Saudi Arabia has finally responded to the international outcry over the treatment of jailed blogger Raif Badawi, accusing the western media of launching an unjustified attack on its sovereignty under the “pretext of human rights”.

In its first official statement on the case, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it would not allow outside interference with Saudi Arabia’s judicial system and that pressure from the media and human rights groups would have no impact on his punishment.

Mr Badawi has been sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes – of which so far only 50 have been carried out – for using his liberal blog to criticise Saudi Arabia’s clerics. Judges in the country’s criminal court want him to undergo a retrial for apostasy, which carries the death sentence.

From the Guardian, Indian free speech suppression:

Activist arrested for showing rape documentary in Indian village

  • Ketan Dixit used borrowed equipment and bedsheets to screen India’s Daughter, which has been banned by the authorities, to 60 people

A young activist who defied the Indian government’s ban on the documentary India’s Daughter and screened the film for a village audience near the northern city of Agra has been apprehended by police.

Ketan Dixit was quoted on Monday as saying he was ready to “face any action that was initiated” after showing the documentary on Sunday on a makeshift screen made of white bedsheets in the compound of a journalist’s family home in Roopdhanu, around 30km from the Taj Mahal.

Around 60 men, women and children watched the film, which has been the subject of furious controversy since the Indian authorities’ decision to pull it from the air last week. The film, by British documentary-maker Leslee Udwin, is about the fatal gang rape of a young woman in Delhi in December 2012.

From BBC News, a German mayor resigns facing xenophobic agitation:

German Mayor Markus Nierth resigns over NPD protest fears

A village mayor in eastern Germany has resigned after threats to march on his house from far-right protesters angry about plans to house asylum seekers.

Markus Nierth, who was honorary mayor of Troeglitz in Saxony-Anhalt, south of Berlin, said he quit because local authorities refused to ban the march. He said he would not expose his family to “racist and hate-filled chants”.

Saxony-Anhalt’s Interior Ministry said it opposed “all forms of xenophobia and racism’‘.

After the jump, Netanyahu adopts a harder line as a former spy boss declares him the country’s biggest threat, on to the ISIS war, first with advances in the battle for Tikrit, and fears of retribution if ISIS withdraws, Germany mulls an Islamist military checkup, on to Africa and an advance on Boko Haram, Islamist oil field kidnapping in Libya, Pakistan extends its nuclear missile reach to all of India, on to Japan as Shinzo Abe pushes for rapid legislative realization of his remilitarization agenda, Merkel urges Abe to hold to the traditional apology for World War II actions, and Tokyo issues a testy response, and Abe wins metadata enabling legislation. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Ills, climate, toxins, water, nukes


We begin with an outbreak from Outbreak News Today:

Ecuador city declares chikungunya ‘state of emergency’

The northwestern Ecuadorian city of Esmeraldas has declared a state of emergency due to the spread of chikungunya, according to a Globedia report (computer translated).

Esmeraldas mayor, Lenin Lara, declared the state of emergency to allocate resources to combat the spread of the mosquito borne viral disease.

Since the first autochthonous transmission of chikungunya reported was reported in the country in December, Ecuador has seen in excess of 200 cases, with approximately half being reported from the city of Esmeraldas, which borders Colombia.

Another epidemic via Outbreak News Today:

Dengue fever in the Americas: 100,000 cases through February

Brazil has reported the most cases in the Americas with 72,254 of the 106,465 suspected and confirmed cases, or 68 percent.

Following Brazil in case burden is Colombia, which has seen 11,242 cases to date. Paraguay and Peru have reported in excess of 1,000 cases this year.

Central America and Mexico account for more than 17,500 cases with Mexico (6391), Nicaragua (3823) and Honduras (4302) seeing the most.

From the Associated Press, a connection:

UNICEF warns lack of toilets in Pakistan tied to stunting

More than 40 million people in Pakistan do not have access to a toilet, forcing them to defecate in the open, which in turn is a major contributor to stunting in the country, a top UNICEF official said.

“There are 41 million people who do not have access to a toilet in Pakistan and as a result they are defecating in the open. And open defecation has significant health and nutritional consequences,” said Geeta Rao Gupta, deputy executive director at UNICEF. She recently spoke to The Associated Press during a trip to Pakistan to draw attention to the problem.

“Open defecation is a major contributor to stunting and that’s why we’ve got to do all we can to stop it,” she said.

Pakistan is the third-largest country when it comes to people going to the bathroom in the open, behind India and Indonesia. The problem can spread disease and lead to intestinal infections, which can contribute to stunting in young children, she said.

And from BBC News, a canine diagnostician:

Frankie the dog ‘sniffs out thyroid cancer’

A dog has been used to sniff out thyroid cancer in people who had not yet been diagnosed, US researchers say. Tests on 34 patients showed an 88% success rate in finding tumours.

The team, presenting their findings at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society, said the animal had an “unbelievable” sense of smell.

Cancer Research UK said using dogs would be impractical, but discovering the chemicals the dogs can smell could lead to new tests.

From the Guardian, accelerating:

Global warming ‘set to speed up to rates not seen for 1,000 years’

  • By 2020 the average temperature rise per decade will be 0.25C in the northern hemisphere, more than double the 900 years preceding the 20th century

People need to brace themselves for accelerating climate change that could alter the way we live even over short time scales, scientists have warned.

New evidence suggests the rate at which temperatures are rising in the northern hemisphere could be 0.25C per decade by 2020 – a level not seen for at least 1,000 years.

The analysis, based on a combination of data from more than two dozen climate simulation models from around the world, looked at the rate of change in 40-year long time spans.

Lead scientist Dr Steve Smith, from the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, said: “We focused on changes over 40-year periods, which is similar to the lifetime of houses and human-built infrastructure such as buildings and roads.

“In the near term, we’re going to have to adapt to these changes.”

And from the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, Republican insanity:

In Florida, officials ban term climate change

The state of Florida is the region most susceptible to the effects of global warming in this country, according to scientists. Sea-level rise alone threatens 30 percent of the state’s beaches over the next 85 years.

But you would not know that by talking to officials at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the state agency on the front lines of studying and planning for these changes.

DEP officials have been ordered not to use the term “climate change” or “global warming” in any official communications, emails, or reports, according to former DEP employees, consultants, volunteers and records obtained by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.

The policy goes beyond semantics and has affected reports, educational efforts and public policy in a department with about 3,200 employees and $1.4 billion budget.

“We were told not to use the terms ‘climate change,’ ‘global warming’ or ‘sustainability,’” said Christopher Byrd, an attorney with the DEP’s Office of General Counsel in Tallahassee from 2008 to 2013. “That message was communicated to me and my colleagues by our superiors in the Office of General Counsel.”

Homeland Security News Wire adds a complication:

Sea level rise causing changes in ocean tide levels, tidal ranges

Scientists have found that ocean tides have changed significantly over the last century at many coastal locations around the world. Increases in high tide levels and the tidal range were found to have been similar to increases in average sea level at several locations.

Scientists from the University of Southampton have found that ocean tides have changed significantly over the last century at many coastal locations around the world. Increases in high tide levels and the tidal range were found to have been similar to increases in average sea level at several locations.

The findings of the study are published online in the journal Earth’s Future.
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/enhanced/doi/10.1002/2014EF000282/

While the New York Times discovers greener ag in the heartland:

Farmers Put Down the Plow for More Productive Soil

Gabe Brown is in such demand as a speaker that for every invitation he accepts, he turns down 10 more. At conferences, like the one held here at a Best Western hotel recently, people line up to seek his advice.

“The greatest roadblock to solving a problem is the human mind,” he tells audiences.

Mr. Brown, a balding North Dakota farmer who favors baseball caps and red-striped polo shirts, is not talking about disruptive technology start-ups, political causes, or the latest self-help fad.

He is talking about farming, specifically soil-conservation farming, a movement that promotes leaving fields untilled, “green manures” and other soil-enhancing methods with an almost evangelistic fervor.

Such farming methods, which mimic the biology of virgin land, can revive degenerated earth, minimize erosion, encourage plant growth and increase farmers’ profits, their proponents say. And by using them, Mr. Brown told more than 250 farmers and ranchers who gathered at the hotel for the first Southern Soil Health Conference, he has produced crops that thrive on his 5,000-acre farm outside of Bismarck, N.D., even during droughts or flooding.

From the Guardian, a call to clear the air:

‘Environmental racism’: Bronx activists decry Fresh Direct’s impact on air quality

Whites and minorities in the US breathe different quality air, with the latter exposed to 38% higher levels of nitrogen dioxide. And it is decisions like the one to place trucking operations for Fresh Direct in the Bronx, says activist group South Bronx Unite, that exacerbate the problem

A comprehensive 2006 study carried out by NYU researchers found a direct correlation between the air pollution (diesel fumes in particular) in [Danny] Chervoni’s neighborhood and the high rates of asthma among residents. The densely populated area – there are over 90,000 people living within 2.2 sq miles – is surrounded by four major highways funneling commercial and other traffic in and out of Manhattan. And the waterfront, where as a child Chervoni and his friends used to swim in the river and pick fruit from the apple and pear trees, is now home to several fossil fuel plants, a 5,000-ton-a-day waste transfer station, a sewage treatment facility, a FedEx hub and a Wall Street Journal/New York Post printing and distribution center.

One of the key recommendations of the NYU study was to curb pollution from truck exhaust. So when state and local officials proposed in 2012 to subsidize the relocation of Fresh Direct, a major trucking business, to one of the few remaining vacant lots on the waterfront – a move that would add an estimated 1,000 more truck trips through the neighborhood every day – a variety of community groups decided enough was enough. They joined together to form South Bronx Unite, and they’ve been fighting the proposal ever since.

The group contends that the levels of pollution their community is being subjected to is “environmental racism”. It is a claim echoed by many low-income communities of color around the country, whom research has shown are disproportionately impacted by polluting industries – specifically trash incinerators, landfills and fossil fuel power plants.

From the Guardian, more water woes ahead:

Why fresh water shortages will cause the next great global crisis

  • Last week drought in São Paulo was so bad, residents tried drilling through basement floors for groundwater. As reservoirs dry up across the world, a billion people have no access to safe drinking water. Rationing and a battle to control supplies will follow

Water is the driving force of all nature, Leonardo da Vinci claimed. Unfortunately for our planet, supplies are now running dry – at an alarming rate. The world’s population continues to soar but that rise in numbers has not been matched by an accompanying increase in supplies of fresh water.

The consequences are proving to be profound. Across the globe, reports reveal huge areas in crisis today as reservoirs and aquifers dry up. More than a billion individuals – one in seven people on the planet – now lack access to safe drinking water.

Last week in the Brazilian city of São Paulo, home to 20 million people, and once known as the City of Drizzle,drought got so bad that residents began drilling through basement floors and car parks to try to reach groundwater. City officials warned last week that rationing of supplies was likely soon. Citizens might have access to water for only two days a week, they added.

In California, officials have revealed that the state has entered its fourth year of drought with January this year becoming the driest since meteorological records began. At the same time, per capita water use has continued to rise.

On to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with the Mainichi:

Radiation decontamination volunteers not supported by national gov’t

At least 30,000 volunteer workers have been involved in forays into areas in Fukushima Prefecture that fall under direct management of the national government due to high level of radiation, it has been learned from volunteer organizations.

These volunteer workers, who are not given any support by the national government for the management of their radiation levels, have engaged in decontamination work such as cutting grass over 2,500 times, efforts supposed be carried out by the government.

While the national government introduces volunteers to work in areas of relatively low radiation that are being decontaminated by municipal governments, it has little awareness of volunteer work in areas under its own direct jurisdiction.

From JapanToday, a continuing conflict:

Fukushima residents torn over nuclear waste storage plan

Norio Kimura lost his wife, father and 7-year-old daughter Yuna in the March 2011 tsunami.

Now, he fears he may lose his land, too, as Japan’s government wants to build a sprawling radioactive waste storage site in the shadow of the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant.

Like many here, Kimura is angry the government is set to park 30 million tons of radioactive debris raked up after the nuclear accident on his former doorstep. Few believe Tokyo’s assurances that the site will be cleaned up and shut down after 30 years.

“I can’t believe they’re going to dump their trash here after all we’ve been put through,” said Kimura, 49, standing near the weathered planks on a shrub-covered hill that represent all that’s left of his home.

From the Asahi Shimbun, piling up:

FOUR YEARS AFTER: Radioactive debris continues to stack up at Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant

With nowhere to put it, refuse and debris contaminated with radioactive materials continue to pile up at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant here.

A total of 258,300 cubic meters of radioactive debris was produced from the March 2011 accident to the end of this January in the plant, where decommissioning work is under way.

The amount is equivalent to the capacity of about 650 25-meter-long swimming pools.

NHK WORLD covers a delay:

Public housing for Fukushima facing delays

Construction of public housing in Fukushima Prefecture is facing significant delays. The housing is meant for those forced to leave their homes after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, and the ensuing nuclear accident.

Fukushima Prefecture plans to build around 2,700 units for people affected by the earthquake and tsunami. 4,900 are planned for those affected by the nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant.

But only 44 percent of the units for quake and tsunami victims were ready for occupancy at the end of February. Only 5 percent has been completed for the nuclear evacuees.

And from the Mainichi, a symbolic move:

Evacuated Fukushima town to remove ironic nuclear signboards

The town of Futaba, which has been evacuated since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident, decided Monday to remove street signboards propagating the positive aspects of nuclear power.

The signboards in desolated streets carry slogans promoting atomic energy, including one reading, “Nuclear power: the energy for a bright future.” Town officials said they will be removed because they have become decrepit.

The town authority on the same day submitted to the municipal assembly the fiscal 2015 draft budget earmarking some 4.1 million yen for the removal. If the budget is approved, the removal will begin from as early as in August, the officials said.

EbolaWatch: Numbers, politics, orphans, burials


We begin with the latest case counts, via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

BLOG Ebola

Next, via the New York Times, a diagnosis:

Ebola-Stricken Countries Lagged in Health Systems

The world has spent more than $4 billion fighting Ebola, but according to a new report from Save the Children, it would have cost only $1.6 billion to bring health care systems up to minimum standards in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, which might have prevented the outbreak or ended it faster.

Even before Ebola struck West Africa, more than 25 countries had health care systems worse than those in impoverished Liberia and Sierra Leone, the report also found.

The assessment, released last week, relied on typical health measures like infant mortality, childhood immunization rates and numbers of health care workers per capita. But it also included assessments of fairness, such as government health spending and how often the poorest of the poor had doctors, nurses or midwives present at births.

On to Liberia with numbers from StarAfrica:

Liberia’s deaths at 6,097 since Ebola epidemic – official

A total of 6,097 deaths were recorded nationwide since the outbreak of the deadly Ebola epidemic in Liberia, according to an official of the Incident Management System (IMS).

Dehwehn Yeabah who heads, the Dead Body Management Team of the IMS told the Ministry of Information’s daily briefing in Monrovia on Monday that the figure represents the combined total of both Ebola and non-Ebola deaths from March 2014 to February 2015 nationwide.

Yeabah explained that of this figure, 2,711 bodies were cremated, while 3,386 bodies were safely buried by burial teams around the country. According to Yeabah, oral swab procedures were performed on a total of 70.61 percent of the recorded bodies.

Next, via Sputnik, a declaration nears:

Liberia is Close to Be Declared Ebola-Free

Good news is coming from Liberia, as the country may soon be declared Ebola-free. To mark this, the government in Monrovia decided to dismantle a crematorium and remove drums containing the ashes of over 3,000 Ebola victims.

The Liberian government decided to dismantle a crematorium and remove drums that contain the ashes of more than 3,000 Ebola victims who were cremated at the height of the deadly epidemic.

Liberia began to cremate the bodies of Ebola victims after communities across the country rejected traditional burials, fearing that the deadly virus could contaminate the soil and spread further. At the same time, traditional burial practices include customs, like washing and touching of the dead, which could further spread the disease. Therefore, it was decided that it would be safer for everyone to cremate the bodies of the dead.

From the Associated Press, a major landmark:

Liberia removes Ebola crematorium as outbreak is contained

Marking the progress in controlling its Ebola outbreak, the Liberian government dismantled a crematorium and removed drums containing the ashes of more than 3,000 Ebola victims cremated during the height of the epidemic, whose last patient was discharged last week.

Liberia resorted to cremating the bodies of Ebola victims when communities rejected burials in their areas for fear the disease could spread and contaminate their soil and affect them. The cremations were very controversial because they were against traditional burial practices. But those customs, including washing and touching the dead, spread the deadly Ebola which brought the government to impose cremations.

Religious leaders gathered Saturday at the former crematorium outside Monrovia and prayed for the victims who came from many different religious groups, Acting Information Minister Isaac Jackson told The Associated Press.

More from FrontPageAfrica:

‘Gross Disrespect’: Ebola Victims Get Befitting Burial

It was a scene of grief and sorrow as the remains of nearly 3,000 victims of the deadly Ebola Virus were transferred from the Boys Town crematorium to the new cemetery specifically for Ebola burials, located at Disco Hill on the Roberts International Airport highway. Relatives of the dead showed up in their numbers clad in white suits and red head ties as the drums of bones were lifted from pickup trucks dripped with white and red binding cloths.

Cecelia Parker lost three of her relatives to the deadly Ebola virus, as she saw the drums filled with ashes, she broke down in tears. Like many of the families who showed up at the site the grief was difficult to endure. “I lost three persons and their ashes are in there; my sister, my two sisters, and a cousin and it hurts and you see me; my two sisters left eight children with me. Right now, I just need the government to help me with the education of the children,” she said weeping bitterly.

Marvin Wesley came all the way from Bomi County to see the last resting place of his relatives who succumbed to the deadly virus last year. He was in tears and said his heart was heavy because he lost two of his family members to the virus at the Island Clinic Ebola Treatment Unit. But Wesley said he is relieved that the ashes of his brothers have finally found a proper and decent resting place.

From the New Dawn, a political verdict:

Saah Joseph on Sierra-Leone’s Ebola Response

The head of the First Response Ebola Team from Liberia to Sierra Leone, Montserrado County Representative Saah Joseph, says his team in Sierra Leone was making all mobilization efforts in villages for awareness on the Deadly Ebola Virus.

Representative Joseph told the Truth FM Breakfast show on Monday that members of his the team walk were trekking from village to village and home to home to create awareness on the necessary preventive measures against Ebola, saying the First response has made a difference towards these efforts, and that the people of Sierra Leone were positively responding, as well as showing respect and trust in the team.

He added that the people of Sierra Leone see the entire team as the representative of the Government and people of Liberia. He noted that five members from the Team have been deployed to the border between Sierra Leone and Liberia to test anyone coming and going out of the two countries, not only for Ebola cases, but any other related disease.

From AllAfrica, a call for support:

Liberia: Health Official Wants Support for Ebola Survivors

The Coordinator of the Ebola Survivors Network at the Ministry of Health, Rev. Meekie Glayweon, says the ministry is currently collaborating with partners to provide care for the estimated 2,000 Ebola survivors in the country.

Rev. Glayweon said more than 900 of the Ebola survivors reside in Montserrado County, the capital, according to the Liberia News Agency.

She disclosed that the World Food Program (WFP) is providing food items and cash support through mobile money to 2,000 survivors across the country for a period of three months.

Another political judgment, via the News:

‘Liberia Is Not Out Of The Woods’

…Ellen Tells ACP-EU Parliamentarians

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has told parliamentarians of the Asian, Caribbean, Pacific (ACP) and European Union (EU) Joint Parliamentary Assembly that Liberia is not out of the ‘’woods’‘ yet but has made tremendous progress since the outbreak of the Ebola virus disease.

According to a Dispatch from Brussels, President Sirleaf made the statement when she addressed the ACP-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly in Brussels on Wednesday, March 4, 2015.

The Liberian leaders said though there has been no new case in recent days, Liberians remain cautiously optimistic about progress made thus far in the fight against the disease. She said through a concerted regional approach that will handle clear surveillance programs, border monitoring, rapid response, upgrade of health facilities and systems, share health data and other information, the situation in the most affected countries will be addressed.

From the Monrovia Inquirer, a plea:

Ebola Orphans Cry For Help

Some Ebola orphans from the Taffi Dollars Children’s Welfare Center (TDCWC) yesterday gathered in front of the Ministry of Gender with placards requesting for support from government to enable them get back to school.

The children had lots of placards like “I am Joshua Kangar; I am from Dolo Town; my father, Rev. Brown Kangar died of Ebola so please help me.” Another one stated, “Thank God for Taffi Dollar Children’s Welfare Center (TDCWC).” Another placard read, “We are 100 children orphaned by Ebola sponsored by ALC at TDCWC.”

The Spokesperson for Taffi Dollars Children Academy, Julius S. Jarwood, in an interview with the Press also expressed concern over how the children have been left alone after their parents have died from the deadly Ebola virus.

AllAfrica covers a denial:

Liberia: Ebola Survivor Denied of Properties in Fuamah District, Lower Bong County

An Ebola Survivor is calling on the Government of Liberia and the International Communities to come to her aid by helping her in order to claim her late mother’s properties. Speaking to the Inquirer recently at the C.H. Rennie Hospital, Helena Henry said after the death of her mother, she also came down with the virus and was later taken to the Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU) at ELWA in Monrovia but survived by the grace of God.

She further narrated that eight persons along with her mother died from the virus, and as such, she is the only survivor in her family.

Madam Henry added that since the death of her mother, she has been asked by some citizens of Bong Mines in Fuamah District, Lower Bong County not to step in that part of the county, because they alleged that it was her mother who took the virus to the District, something she said, the situation has made it difficult for her to get her late mother properties back.

And from the Thomson Reuters Foundation, a Sierra Leonean tragedy abroad:

Sierra Leone athlete freed in Britain, appeal raises 23,000 pounds

Jimmy Thoronka, a Sierra Leonean sprinter who competed in the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and spent the winter sleeping rough in London after hearing his family had died of Ebola, was weighing up his options on Monday.

Thoronka was arrested on Friday for overstaying his visa, but was released from police custody a day later – to find that an online appeal had raised thousands of pounds to help him.

While competing in the Games last summer, Thoronka heard that his whole family had died in the Ebola epidemic ravaging the west African country.

After the Games, he wanted to go to London but his passport and money were stolen and he was afraid to go the police in case he was arrested, press reports said. Since reaching London, he had been sleeping rough.

Is there Spam in that refrigerator of yours?


By which we don’t mean this:

BLOG Spam

No, we mean that other kind, the one that even Hawaiians can’t stomach.

And what could be more symbolic of the 21st Century than this, via CNET:

Fridge caught sending spam emails in botnet attack

  • In the first documented attack of its kind, the Internet of Things has been used as part of an attack that sent out over 750,000 spam emails

With the rise of the Internet of Things comes a lot of convenience, such as smart fridges that let you access the internet and call for service in the case of malfunction, or devices that can monitor your energy usage and send you Twitter updates.

It also comes with a new problem: many of these internet-connected devices don’t have malware protection. And it’s now been documented that someone is taking advantage. Security company Proofpoint has discovered a botnet attack — that is, a cyber attack whereby the attacker hijacks devices remotely to send spam — incorporating over 100,000 devices between 23 December and 6 January, including routers, multimedia centres, televisions and at least one refrigerator.

The attack sent out over 750,000 spam emails, in bursts of 100,000 emails at a time, three times a day, with no more than 10 emails sent from any one IP address, making them difficult to block. Over 25 per cent of the emails were sent from devices that weren’t conventional computers or mobile devices. It is the first documented case of common appliances being used in a cyber attack — but that doesn’t necessarily mean it was the first time it occurred, and it certainly won’t be the last.

Chart of the day: Partisan news consumption


BLOG News

From the Pew Research Center [PDF], which notes:

Two stories drew far more interest from Republicans than Democrats: 34% of Republicans followed reports about Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email address as secretary of state very closely, compared with just 16% of Democrats. Similarly, about twice as many Republicans (34%) as Democrats  (18%) closely followed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress last Tuesday.

There are smaller partisan differences in interest in the week’s other stories. For instance, comparable percentages of Democrats (26%) and Republicans (22%) paid very close attention to arguments at the Supreme Court over the Affordable Care Act; 30% of Democrats and 24% of Republicans very closely followed news about the Department of Justice report on race and policing in Ferguson, Mo.

Update: A relevant story from the Independent:

Fox News named ‘most trusted’ news network in America

Fox News, the American network that hosts experts believing Birmingham is a “totally Muslim” city and analysts who believe the uncovering of the CIA’s use of torture was actually designed to tell Americans they’re “not awesome,” has been voted the most trusted news network in the US.

In a new and independent poll from Quinnipiac University, 29 per cent of Americans said Fox News offered the most trusted news coverage of the network and cable broadcasters, with CNN, NBC and CBS News close behind.

Unsurprisingly, the network is overwhelmingly supported by Republican voters, with 58 per cent of GOP backers staying that they trust Fox News the most of any networks, while only three per cent of Democrats could say the same.

InSecurityWatch: Spooks, vandals, war, hacks


We begin with consideration from the New York Times:

Holder Weighs Dismantling the Ferguson Police Dept.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. vowed a firm response on Friday to what he called “appalling” racial misconduct by law enforcement officials in Ferguson, Mo., suggesting he was prepared to seek the dismantling of the police force there if necessary.

“We are prepared to use all the powers that we have, all the power that we have, to ensure that the situation changes there,” Mr. Holder told reporters here after returning from Columbia, S.C., where he appeared with President Obama at a town hall-style meeting at Benedict College. “That means everything from working with them to coming up with an entirely new structure.”

Asked if that included dismantling the police force, Mr. Holder said: “If that’s what’s necessary, we’re prepared to do that.”

From the Intercept, notable spooky news:

Documents Shine Light on Shadowy New Zealand Surveillance Base

Near the heartland of New Zealand’s renowned wine country, there is a place that visitors are not allowed to go. The peculiar large white domes that protrude from the earth in the Waihopai Valley are surrounded by razor wire and shrouded in secrecy.

But now, newly revealed documents from the National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden shine a light on what is behind the security perimeter. The buildings there are crammed with sophisticated NSA spying technology, used by New Zealand to sweep up text messages, emails, phone calls, and other communications in bulk across the Asia-Pacific.

The documents, revealed Saturday by the Sunday Star-Times in collaboration with The Intercept, show how closely New Zealand has worked with the NSA to maintain surveillance coverage of the region. The files also offer an unprecedented insight into the Waihopai base, exposing how it’s been integrated into a global eavesdropping network.

The spying station intercepts data from satellites, and is operated by Government Communications Security Bureau, or GCSB, New Zealand’s equivalent of the NSA. Waihopai is part of a group of surveillance stations used by the so-called Five Eyes, an alliance that New Zealand is part of alongside the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada.

CBC News covers options exercised:

Counter-terrorism work has ‘sidetracked’ 300 RCMP criminal probes

  • RCMP head Bob Paulson says he hopes full, unedited Zehaf-Bibeau video will be released eventually

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson says he thinks the full, unedited version of Parliament Hill shooter Michael Zehaf-Bibeau’s self-filmed video will eventually be released.

In an interview airing Saturday morning on CBC Radio’s The House, host Evan Solomon asked Paulson if 18 seconds from the beginning and end of the video made on the day of the shooting would one day be made public by police.

“I think so, eventually. I would like to think so,” he said. “I can’t give you a time estimate, I don’t think anything is lost in terms of what Canadians are seeing from Zehaf-Bibeau.”

Next, a fusion, via BBC News:

Nigeria’s Boko Haram pledges allegiance to Islamic State

Nigerian militant group Boko Haram has pledged allegiance to Islamic State (IS), according to an audio statement. The message, which could not immediately be verified, was posted on Boko Haram’s Twitter account and appeared to be by the group’s leader.

Boko Haram began a military campaign to impose Islamic rule in northern Nigeria in 2009. The conflict has since spread to neighbouring states. It would be the latest in a series of groups to swear allegiance to IS.

Boko Haram’s insurgency has threatened Nigeria’s territorial integrity and triggered a humanitarian crisis. It has carried out frequent bombings that have left thousands dead and has also attacked targets in the capital, Abuja.

From the Guardian, yet another attempt to reboot history — a UNESCO World Heritage Site:

Isis militants destroy remains of Hatra in northern Iraq

  • 2,000-year-old city has been demolished, says tourism and antiquities ministry

Islamic State militants have bulldozed ancient remains of the 2,000-year-old city of Hatra in northern Iraq.

An official said the tourism and antiquities ministry had received reports from its employees in Mosul, which is controlled by the radical Islamist group, that the site at Hatra had been demolished.

A nearby resident said he heard a powerful explosion early on Saturday and that neighbours had reported that Isis militants had destroyed some of the larger buildings in Hatra and were bulldozing other parts.

The destruction follows a similar incident this week when Isis fighters bulldozed the ancient Assyrian archaeological site of Nimrud, south of Mosul. Some of the works had survived for more than 1,500 years.

Here’s a video tour of what once was, via UNESCO:

Hatra (UNESCO/NHK)

Program notes:

A large fortified city under the influence of the Parthian Empire and capital of the first Arab Kingdom, Hatra withstood invasions by the Romans in A.D. 116 and 198 thanks to its high, thick walls reinforced by towers. The remains of the city, especially the temples where Hellenistic and Roman architecture blend with Eastern decorative features, attest to the greatness of its civilization.

From the Observer, archaeological anxiety spreads:

Isis vandalism has Libya fearing for its cultural treasures

  • With five World Heritage sites and historical remains stretching back to before Roman times, archaeologists worry a unique legacy may be lost

The Libyan capital of Tripoli lies more than 1,700 miles from the ancient Iraqi city of Nimrud. But for Mustafa Turjman, head of archaeological research at the University of Tripoli, the reported destruction of Nimrud’s ruins last week by the bulldozers of Islamic State (Isis) must have seemed rather closer to home.

For Libya, like Iraq, is home to a prized array of temples, tombs, mosques and churches, including five Unesco world heritage sites. And Libya, like Iraq, is racked by a complex civil war in which Isis plays a key role.

“Everything is unpredictable,” Turjman told the Observer. “But our heritage is in danger and it’s very difficult to protect it. We [academics] can protect it through restoration, but to protect it from people and explosions is very difficult. Sites, in particular in the centre and populated areas, are very endangered and very much at risk.”

The Washington Post covers the predictable:

Strains plague Iraqi, U.S. assessments of long-term fight against Islamic State

Signs of strain have emerged recently between the United States and Iraq over the timetable and military components of a campaign to retake major population centers occupied by the Islamic State.

Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter told Congress this week that the U.S. Central Command was “inaccurate” when it told reporters recently that an offensive in Mosul could begin as early as April. But that timeline had already provoked a retort from Carter’s Iraqi counterpart, who said the United States was “not familiar” with Iraq’s battle plan for the northwestern city.

Speaking at a news conference late last month, Iraqi Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi said that Baghdad would determine the timing for the Mosul offensive.

From VICE News, more cadaverous messaging:

Islamic State Hangs Corpses Over Iraq City Entrance During Tikrit Battle

Islamic State militants hung the bodies of men believed to be Iraqi soldiers at the entrance to the town of Hawija in northern Iraq. In a video posted to Youtube, the corpses are shown strung from Hawija’s gates as vehicles passed below.

Witnesses quoted by local Iraqi reports said the bodies, strung upside down, were bodies of Iraqi government soldiers killed while battling ISIS forces in Tikrit, located about 74 miles away.

The gruesome display comes as Iraqi troops and allied Shiite militias mount a massive push to retake Tikrit from Islamic State fighters. Approximately 30,000 troops used jets and helicopters to try to push into the Islamic State-held city that is only 100 miles from Baghdad. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the assault on Tikrit last Sunday during a press conference.

The Washington Post considers things to come:

U.S. sees even bigger test for Iraq and Iran in the aftermath of Tikrit battle

The top U.S. military officer will press the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi during a visit to Iraq this week about its plans for avoiding sectarian fallout once the Iranian-backed operation to dislodge the Islamic State from the city of Tikrit concludes.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he was confident that Iraq would ultimately defeat the Sunni militants in Tikrit, a largely Sunni city north of Baghdad. He said the group’s fighters numbered only in the hundreds there, while the force of Iraqi troops and Iranian-backed militia fighters advancing on the city stands around 23,000.

“The important thing about this operation in the Tikrit in my view is less about how the military aspect of it goes and more about what follows,” he told reporters ahead a visit to Iraq, where he will meet with Iraq’s Shiite-led government. “Because if the Sunni population is then allowed to continue to live its life the way it wants to, and can come back to their homes … then I think we’re in a really good place.”

Mediterranean escalation, via Reuters:

EU considers bigger naval presence to tackle Libya security issues

The European Union is discussing with the United Nations ways to bolster security in Libya, including a naval presence, if U.N.-backed peace talks lead to a settlement, the EU’s foreign policy head said on Saturday.

Libya’s warring factions had held talks on Thursday in an effort to end a conflict between two rival governments that threatens to drive the country into full-blown civil war.

The EU currently has ships that patrol the Mediterranean Sea to help rescue migrants trying to flee from Libya and other North African countries. But Federica Mogherini said this presence could go further.

From Reuters again, more Libyan anxiety:

U.N. experts concerned Libya arms could be diverted to militias

U.N. sanctions monitors said on Friday they are concerned that if a United Nations Security Council committee approves a request by Libya’s government for weapons, tanks and jets, some of the equipment could be diverted to militias supporting them.

The experts, who monitor violations of an arms embargo imposed on Libya in 2011, said in a letter – obtained by Reuters – that arms could also end up in the hands of other militia after battles or if Libyan troops lose control of stockpiles.

Libya’s internationally-recognized government of Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni has operated out of the east since a rival armed faction called Libya Dawn took over Tripoli in fighting last year and set up its own administration.

After the jump, Morsi supporters executed in Egypt, the U.N. Human Rights Council takes up the cause of privacy, the Internet of [hacked] Things, a lie-detecting app for corporate execs, the Saudis spurn blogger-flogging critics, on to the Boko Haram front with a suicide bombing assault in Nigeria and women protesting in Niger, the lynching of an alleged Indian rapist results in a trucker boycott, China jails women activists on the eve of International Women’s Day, an anti-hijab warning in eastern China, on to Tokyo and a hint Shinzo Abe may scale back remilitarization legislation, support for Abe’s agenda on the rise, Tokyo and Taipei ink a Game of Zones fishing pact, and mixed messaging inn the Okinawa/Tokyo feud over a U.S. base move, plus hints the Pope may help solve a four-decade-old murder mystery. . . Continue reading