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EbolaWatch: Numbers, Britain, responses, mines


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

BLOG Ebola

Next, from the World Health Organization, Old Blighty nears a clearance:

United Kingdom is declared free of Ebola virus disease

WHO commends the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland on its diligence in containing the transmission of Ebola virus disease (EVD). According to WHO guidelines, the United Kingdom is now free of Ebola virus disease.

On 28 December 2014, a health-care worker returned to Glasgow in the United Kingdom after volunteering at an Ebola treatment centre in Sierra Leone. The health-care worker, who had displayed no symptoms of EVD during the journey, developed a fever and myalgia on 29 December and was placed in strict isolation at the specialist Brownlee Unit for Infectious Diseases on the Gartnavel Hospital campus.

On the afternoon of 29 December 2014, laboratory testing using reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) confirmed that the health-care worker had EVD. WHO was notified of the case. The patient was transferred for treatment in isolation at the Royal Free hospital in London on 30 December 2014 and remained there until fully recovered.

All passengers who travelled on the same flights as the health-care worker from Freetown, Sierra Leone, to Casablanca, Morocco, and then to London Heathrow and Glasgow were contacted and monitored for any symptoms of EVD for 21 days. By 18 January, they all had completed the 21-day follow-up period without developing EVD.

From SciDev.Net, insurance:

View on Private Sector: Insurance for the next Ebola

As a result of the Ebola crisis in West Africa, World Bank president Jim Yong Kim has proposed an insurance policy to cover regional and worldwide disease outbreaks. According to the BBC, he said this could work like fire insurance: “The more you are prepared for a fire, like having several smoke detectors, the lower the premium you pay.” The implication is that the insurance market could be a force that drives countries to build up their health infrastructure.

Another organisation separately considering epidemic insurance is African Risk Capacity (ARC), a special agency of the African Union that helps member states plan for and respond to extreme weather. In 2013, the organisation established ARC Insurance Company, a firm that offers insurance against drought, and soon floods and cyclones, to 25 AU member states. Five countries have taken up the offer, with seven more planning to join them in May. The firm is a mutual, so any profits are reinvested in providing its service.

In January, the AU asked ARC to look into also insuring against epidemics such as Ebola. ARC programme director Joanna Syroka tells me she thinks it will be possible to offer such insurance schemes to one or two member states by 2017.

And from the Associated Press, a reassessment:

WHO creates independent panel to assess its Ebola response

The World Health Organization says it has created a panel of independent experts to assess its response to the biggest-ever Ebola outbreak in history.

In a statement Tuesday, the U.N. health agency said the panel was commissioned after a resolution passed by its executive board. The panel will be chaired by Barbara Stocking, a former chief executive of Oxfam GB. A preliminary report is due in May.

WHO’s handling of the Ebola outbreak that has killed over 9,900 people in West Africa has been heavily criticized. WHO admitted in an internal draft report that it fumbled early attempts to curb the outbreak, blaming incompetent staff and a lack of real-time information. Others also criticized WHO for not declaring an international health emergency until nearly 1,000 people had died.

On to Sierra Leone and a call for diversity from the Guardian:

Ebola crisis could force Sierra Leone to diversify away from mining

  • Crisis in mining industry could bring economic benefits and opportunities for other sectors and place greater emphasis on corporate social responsibility

As Sierra Leone looks to rebuild after the Ebola epidemic, it may be forced to diversify from a mining-heavy economic base. Falling iron ore prices and the effects of Ebola on the industry signal the need for change, according to the chairman of the Chamber of Mines, who said the diversification could be beneficial.

John Bonoh Sisay said mining companies will also have to change the way they interact with local people, placing a greater emphasis on supporting healthcare systems as part of corporate social responsibility.

“In the long term, it’s not a bad thing to mature the economy in that way. There are other opportunities especially in agriculture, which, from a stability point of view, really does create a lot of jobs very quickly [and the] skills base is minimal,” said Sisay, who is also chief executive officer of Sierra Rutile, a mineral sands producer with a rutile mine in the south-west.

Prices for iron ore have dropped as demand in China has slumped, and amid a global glut, causing a shakeup in Sierra Leone’s mining industry, which has also been battered by costs associated with the outbreak of Ebola.

And from StarAfrica, a handoff:

China hands over Ebola lab to S/Leone govt

Chinese has officially handed over a newly constructed EVD BSL 3 laboratory to the government of Sierra Leone. The lab was installed and tested in January and the Sierra Leone government said in a statement on Tuesday that the project took six months to complete.

The head of the Chinese Centers for Disease Control team, Professor Dong, took the Sierra Leonean leader on an inspection tour of the facility before the official handing over ceremony which took place at the China-Sierra Leone Friendship Biological Safety Lab at Jui, a few km outside the capital, Freetown.

Chinese Ambassador to Sierra Leone, Zhao Yanbo, disclosed at the ceremony plans to send Sierra Leoneans working with the China CDC team to Beijing to improve on their capacity in handling viral haemorrhagic fevers.

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.

InSecurityWatch: Assault, leaks, hacks, war, more


We begin with a violence in South Korea, via SINA English:

US ambassador to South Korea attacked and hurt: local media

U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert was attacked by a man wielding a razor and screaming that the rival Koreas should be unified, South Korean police and media said Thursday. TV images showed Lippert bleeding from his head and wrist, but his injuries weren’t immediately clear. He was taken to a hospital for treatment.

YTN TV reported that the man screamed “South and North Korea should be reunified” during the attack. The rival Koreas have been divided for decades along the world’s most heavily armed border. The U.S. stations 28,500 troops in South Korea as a deterrent against North Korea, and some South Koreans see the U.S. presence as a barrier toward a unified Korea.

YTN TV said Lippert’s injuries weren’t seen as life threatening. Police confirmed that Lippert was attacked and a suspect was detained and being questioned but didn’t have other details, including the type of weapon and the extent of Lippert’s injuries. YTN said a man only identified by his surname, Kim, was detained after the attack.

BBC News covers a clearance:

Darren Wilson will not face US charges over Brown killing

The US Justice Department has said it will not charge former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson over the killing of black teenager Michael Brown.

But the same department has accused city’s police and court system of widespread racial bias.

The investigation found no evidence to disprove Mr Wilson’s testimony that he feared for his safety or other evidence enough to bring civil rights charges.

A Missouri grand jury also declined to charge him with murder in November.

From United Press International, blowback:

One Ferguson official fired, two suspended in wake of DOJ report

“This type of behavior will not be tolerated in the Ferguson Police Department or any other department. We must do better not only as a city, but also as a state and country.” — Ferguson Mayor James Knowles.

In the wake of a scathing U.S. Justice Department report accusing the Ferguson judicial system of systematic racism, one police official was fired and two others were suspended, the city’s mayor said Wednesday.

Mayor James Knowles spoke to reporters Wednesday evening after Attorney General Eric Holder presented the results of two investigations stemming from the August shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson.

The department determined no charges would be brought against Wilson but found evidence of racism and misconduct in Ferguson’s police department and municipal court system.

Knowles said one police official was fired and two others were suspended in response to the Justice Department uncovering several racist emails sent by police and court employees.

The Atlantic Monthly‘s headline notes the distinction:

Officer Cleared, City Indicted

In two sweeping reports, the Justice Department cleared former officer Darren Wilson, but lambasted Ferguson’s police department for discriminatory practices.

Almost seven months after Michael Brown was shot and killed by officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, the Justice Department cleared Wilson of civil-rights violations in a report released on Wednesday. But the tenor of the report— along with a separate 105-page report that excoriated the Ferguson Police Department for “racial bias”—was hardly tame.

“There is no evidence upon which prosecutors can rely to disprove Wilson’s stated subjective belief that he feared for his safety,” the report read, in a cutting use of negative space. It also concluded that there were no “prosecutable violations” by Wilson and that witness accounts of Brown surrendering with his hands up, a gesture that became the inspiration for the protests that followed his death, “are inconsistent with the physical evidence.”

The more incendiary details came from the investigation into Ferguson’s police department and its municipal court, the practices of which “both reflect and exacerbate existing racial bias, including racial stereotypes,” the report read. “Ferguson’s own data establish clear racial disparities that adversely impact African Americans. The evidence shows that discriminatory intent is part of the reason for these disparities.”

From Reuters, a stacked deck asserted:

Snowden says U.S. not offering fair trial if he returns

Edward Snowden, the fugitive former U.S. spy agency contractor who leaked details of the government’s mass surveillance programs, said on Wednesday he is not being offered a fair trial if he returns to the United States.

“I would love to go back and face a fair trial, but unfortunately … there is no fair trial available, on offer right now,” he said in a live question and answer discussion organized by Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, Ryerson University and the CBC.

“I’ve been working exhaustively with the government now since I left to try to find terms of a trial.”

More context from the Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald:

The “Snowden is Ready to Come Home!” Story: a Case Study in Typical Media Deceit

Most sentient people rationally accept that the U.S. media routinely disseminates misleading stories and outright falsehoods in the most authoritative tones. But it’s nonetheless valuable to examine particularly egregious case studies to see how that works. In that spirit, let’s take yesterday’s numerous, breathless reports trumpeting the “BREAKING” news that “Edward Snowden now wants to come home!” and is “now negotiating the terms of his return!”

Ever since Snowden revealed himself to the public 20 months ago, he has repeatedly said the same exact thing when asked about his returning to the U.S.: I would love to come home, and would do so if I could get a fair trial, but right now, I can’t.

His primary rationale for this argument has long been that under the Espionage Act, the 1917 statute under which he has been charged, he would be barred by U.S. courts from even raising his key defense: that the information he revealed to journalists should never have been concealed in the first place and he was thus justified in disclosing it to journalists. In other words, when U.S. political and media figures say Snowden should “man up,” come home and argue to a court that he did nothing wrong, they are deceiving the public, since they have made certain that whistleblowers charged with “espionage” are legally barred from even raising that defense.

From CBC News, weakness north of the U.S. border:

Edward Snowden says Canadian intelligence gathering has ‘weakest oversight’

  • NSA whistleblower says he would return to U.S. to face charges but can’t be guaranteed a fair trial

U.S. National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden says Canada has one of the “weakest oversight” frameworks for intelligence gathering in the Western world.

Snowden made the comments during a teleconference discussion hosted by Canadian Journalists for Free Expression and the Ryerson School of Journalism, moderated by CBC Radio host Anna Maria Tremonti. He was speaking via video link from Russia.

“Canadian intelligence has one of the weakest oversight frameworks out of any Western intelligence agency in the world,” he said.

Snowden said he wouldn’t specifically weigh in on the government’s new anti-terror legislation, saying that whether it is good or bad is ultimately up for Canadians to decide.

Bill C-51 provides for a sweeping range of measures that would allow suspects to be detained based on less evidence and lets CSIS actively interfere with suspects’ travel plans and finances.

Critics say the legislation is too broad and lacks oversight.

CBC News covers a needed resource:

Edward Snowden archive aims to ‘piece together the bigger picture’

  • Canadian project to create fully searchable database began last summer

A Canadian team has created a searchable database of all the publicly released classified documents leaked by former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden in hopes it’ll help citizens better understand the complex files trickling out around the world.

The Canadian Journalists for Free Expression and the Politics of Surveillance Project at University of Toronto’s faculty of information revealed the archive on Wednesday before hosting a live Q&A with Snowden, the U.S. whistleblower and subject of the Oscar-winning documentary Citizenfour.

“What we’re hoping this database can do is start to piece together the bigger picture,” said Laura Tribe, CJFE’s national and digital programs lead.

The database may be found online here.

Advice from one who knows, via CBC News:

The apps Edward Snowden recommends to protect your privacy online

There are a host of free, easy-to-use apps and programs that can help protect your privacy online, and if everybody uses them it can provide a sort of “herd immunity” said Edward Snowden in a live video chat from Russia on Wednesday.

Snowden recommended using programs and apps that provide end-to-end encryption for users, which means the computer on each end of the transaction can access the data, but not any device in between, and the information isn’t stored unencrypted on a third-party server.

“SpiderOak doesn’t have the encryption key to see what you’ve uploaded,” said Snowden, who recommends using it instead of a file-sharing program like Dropbox. “You don’t have to worry about them selling your information to third parties, you don’t have to worry about them providing that information to governments.”

“For the iPhone, there’s a program called Signal, by Open Whisper Systems, it’s very good,” said Snowden. He also recommended RedPhone, which allows Android users to make encrypted phone calls, and TextSecure, a private messenging app by Open Whisper Systems.

“I wouldn’t trust your lives with any of these things, they don’t protect you from metadata association but they do strongly protect your content from precisely this type of in-transit interception,” said Snowden.

The Guardian covers a franchise operation:

New Zealand spying on Pacific allies for ‘Five Eyes’ and NSA, Snowden files show

  • Secret papers show NZ spy agency GCSB is collecting calls and internet traffic in bulk and sending it to the US National Security Agency

New Zealand is spying indiscriminately on its allies in the Pacific region and sharing the information with the US and the other “Five Eyes” alliance states, according to documents from the whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The secret papers, published by the New Zealand Herald, show that the New Zealand Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) collects phone calls and internet communications in bulk in the region at its Waihopai Station intercept facility in the South Island.

Since a 2009 upgrade, Waihopai has been capable of “full take” collection of both content and metadata intercepted by satellite, the documents showed. The data is then channelled into the XKeyscore database run by the US National Security Agency, where it also becomes available to agencies in each of the “Five Eyes” countries: the US, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

A leaked NSA memo credits the GCSB with providing “valuable access not otherwise available to satisfy US intelligence requirement”.

From TheLocal.de, intention or irony?:

NSA inquiry chief suffers phone tampering

Patrick Sensburg, chairman of the Bundestag (German parliament) inquiry into spying by the US National Security Agency (NSA), asked security experts to examine his phone after suspecting he might have been hacked – only for it to be tampered with in the post.

Die Welt reported on Wednesday that Christian Democratic Union (CDU) MP Sensburg’s encrypted Blackberry Z30 wasn’t working properly in February.

Parliamentary officials immediately packed it in a lead-lined container (to block wireless signals) and sent it for testing at the Federal Office of IT Security (BSI) in Bonn by ordinary DHL parcel post.

It was the first time an MP’s phone had had to be transported in this way. But the Bundestag confirmed to Die Welt that the BIS found the signal-proof container had been opened before the phone arrived at their offices.

From Nextgov, a panopticon deadline looms:

Time is Running Out to Reform NSA Mass Surveillance

There’s another national security clock ticking in Congress.

Lawmakers have less than 100 days left to decide whether they want to reform the National Security Agency’s controversial bulk collection of U.S. call data—or risk losing the program entirely. Core provisions of the post-9/11 Patriot Act are due to sunset on June 1, including Section 215, which grants intelligence agencies the legal authority they need to carry out mass surveillance of domestic metadata—the numbers and timestamps of phone calls but not their actual content.

Government officials have said they have no backup plan for replacing the intelligence void if Congress fails to reauthorize the law in some fashion. And earlier this week, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper suggested lawmakers should bear the brunt of blame if the program lapses and the homeland is struck by terrorism.

After the jump, a 2014 U.S. identity theft tally, a GoDaddy-based hack attack spree, Merkel issues a Russian sanctions threat, a Pakistani convicted of a Big Apple bomb plot, Charlie Hebdo arson arrests in Germany, France faces a long-term attack-level terror alert as drones send Paris into another flurry, the House of Lords lays out a British drone boom, another Colombian journalist assassinated, on to the ISIS front and a major strike at Syrian Air Force Intelligence, America’s top soldier welcomes Iran’s involvement in the ISIS war, and ISIS grows desperate for cash, Libyan fundies grab oil fields, on to the Boko Haram front and an ultimatum from Chad, and more than a million Nigerian refugees, ISIS threatens a Pakistani university, India’s prime minister bans a powerful lethal gang rape documentary, a leak reveals a self-serving Sri Lanka hyperbole, Indonesian press limitations, China ups its military budget again and an admiral calls for more aircraft carrier to control the Indian Ocean, China reassures tech firms over new cyber-backdoor demands and inaugurates a crackdown on foreign NGOs, Japan marks a distancing from South Korea, the Comfort Women issue sparked a South Korean visit, Japan announces a watch of the Chinese military budget, and a debate erupts over allegations of Shinzo Abe media meddling. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Outbreaks, autism, fracking, nukes


And more. . .

We begin with a new outbreak from Outbreak News Today:

Norovirus: Dozens of staff and patients sickened at Phoenix VA

At least 35 people, including 16 patients and 19 staff members at The Carl T. Hayden Veterans Affairs Medical Center have contracted norovirus. According to a hospital press release, everyone infected was from two inpatient mental health units and to date, all but three have fully recovered.

The Phoenix VA hospital stopped taking new patients at two mental health units with 48 beds on the hospital’s fifth floor. VA officials have embarked on a cleaning regimen to rid the hospital of the highly-contagious virus. Some steps included limiting staff members who are allowed to access the affected floors and using paper trays to deliver food, according to Phoenix VA Health Care spokeswoman Jean M. Schaefer.

Norovirus is a highly contagious viral illness that often goes by other names, such as viral gastroenteritis, stomach flu, and food poisoning.

From Al Jazeera America, deadly outbreaks from an instrument of healing:

Medical scope now tied to Wisconsin superbug outbreak

  • Congressman considers bill to force states to notify federal agencies of superbug outbreaks and medical device failures

A medical device called a duodenoscope that’s been linked to recent deadly superbug infections across the country was also connected to a 2013 outbreak at a Wisconsin medical facility that infected five people, America Tonight has learned.

Health officials at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services confirmed the five patients were sickened with NDM1 – a subgroup of an antibiotic-resistant “superbug” known as carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, that’s responsible for two deaths at UCLA’s Ronald Reagan Medical Center in Los Angeles since October and dozens of serious infections around the country in recent years.

Meanwhile, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, another Los Angeles hospital, announced Wednesday that four patients there were infected with the deadly superbug due to a dirty duodenoscope and that 64 more patients may have been exposed since August.

From the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control [PDF], measles numbers on another continent:

Germany- update

A large measles outbreak is ongoing in Berlin. As of 24 February 2015, media report nearly 600 cases. The outbreak that started in October 2014 initially affected asylum seekers from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia but has now spread to the general population. According to media, at least two cases in Berlin have been linked to the United States. One involved a woman who developed symptoms in the United States before travelling to Berlin. A second involved a child who developed the infection after returning from the United States of America. There has been one death in an 18 months old unvaccinated toddler. The child fell ill in the Reinickendorf district of Berlin on 12 February with fever and cough and later rash. The child was hospitalised due to worsening condition on 14 February and died in hospital on 18 February. The child was not vaccinated against measles and had no pre-existing conditions.

Denmark

Media report two epidemiologically linked cases of measles in children in Copenhagen.

Serbia- update

Since November 2014 and as of 13 February 2015, 228 cases of measles have been reported in Serbia in several outbreaks affecting numerous areas of the country. This is an increase of 105 cases since 26 January 2015, the last monthly update.

Kyrgyzstan – update

According to WHO, Kyrgyzstan has reported 7477 cases between May 2014 and February 2015. The first case was identified in Bishkek city on 3 May 2014, but the number increased dramatically in 2015.

From BBC News, causation:

Autism is largely down to genes, twin study suggests

Autism is caused by genetic make-up in 74-98% of cases, a Medical Research Council study of 516 twins indicates.

The King’s College London team said 181 of the teenagers had autism, but the rate was far higher in the identical twins, who share the same DNA. The researchers told JAMA Psychiatry tens if not hundreds of genes were involved, and they do not rule out environmental factors entirely.

Both twins in each pair had been raised by their parents in the same household.

The World Health Organization issues a call:

WHO calls on countries to reduce sugars intake among adults and children

A new WHO guideline recommends adults and children reduce their daily intake of free sugars to less than 10% of their total energy intake. A further reduction to below 5% or roughly 25 grams (6 teaspoons) per day would provide additional health benefits.

Free sugars refer to monosaccharides (such as glucose, fructose) and disaccharides (such as sucrose or table sugar) added to foods and drinks by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates.

“We have solid evidence that keeping intake of free sugars to less than 10% of total energy intake reduces the risk of overweight, obesity and tooth decay,” says Dr Francesco Branca, Director of WHO’s Department of Nutrition for Health and Development. “Making policy changes to support this will be key if countries are to live up to their commitments to reduce the burden of noncommunicable diseases.”

The WHO guideline does not refer to the sugars in fresh fruits and vegetables, and sugars naturally present in milk, because there is no reported evidence of adverse effects of consuming these sugars.

Much of the sugars consumed today are “hidden” in processed foods that are not usually seen as sweets. For example, 1 tablespoon of ketchup contains around 4 grams (around 1 teaspoon) of free sugars. A single can of sugar-sweetened soda contains up to 40 grams (around 10 teaspoons) of free sugars.

From the Los Angeles Times, kicking the habit. . .sort of:

McDonald’s to phase out serving chicken raised with antibiotics

McDonald’s Corp. will phase out over the next two years the use of chickens raised with antibiotics important to human health in a step to combat resistance to antibiotics.

The Oak Brook, Ill. fast food giant said Wednesday that later this year it will also begin selling only milk from cows that are not treated with the artificial growth hormone rbST.

Farmers in the company’s supply chain can continue to use ionophores, a type of antibiotic not used for humans, on their chickens.

From the Guardian, Aussie bananas threatened:

Queensland banana farm quarantined after testing positive for fungal disease

  • Biosecurity experts warn Panama TR4 disease could pose a serious threat to the banana industry in Australia

A north Queensland banana farm has been quarantined after testing positive for a potentially destructive fungal disease.

Biosecurity Queensland has warned that the Panama TR4 disease would have serious consequences for the state’s banana industry if it spread from the plantation near Tully, south of Cairns.

Panama, a soil fungus, was found in the Northern Territory in 1997 and has since spread to a number of areas in the Top End, but this is the first time it has been detected at a Queensland plantation.

Science covers sewer diagnostics:

Pollution, human health tracked with sewage microbes

Microbiologists have a new way to tell whose sh-t is dirtying the waters. A survey of sewage across the United States shows that every city has a distinct microbial character that can reveal signs of health, such as how obese its residents tend to be. Dozens of the microbes identified in the survey are common throughout the United States, and could provide better ways to tell whether bacterial pollution comes from humans.

The human gut is filled with microbes that are proving ever more important to health and disease. To understand the diversity of these bacteria—collectively called the gut microbiome—and how their numbers and types vary through time, microbiologists have isolated and sequenced DNA from stool samples of hundreds of individuals. But Mitchell Sogin, a molecular evolutionist at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and Sandra McLellan, a microbiologist at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, wanted to take a much broader view and study the microbiomes of entire human communities. In addition, they were looking for a better indicator of human fecal pollution.

To do that, they needed to figure out how to assess the microbiomes of large numbers of people at once. They recruited wastewater treatment plant operators from 71 U.S. cites to collect more than 200 samples of incoming sewage. They then sequenced DNA in the samples and determined its origin. About 15% of the isolated sewage DNA belonged to microbes found in humans, Sogin and McLellan’s team reported online last week in mBio. Many of the rest are microbes that live in sewer pipes. Using a technique developed by Sogin and his colleagues, which can more precisely determine which bacteria are present in a large sample of feces, the researchers identified about 60 types of bacteria that were common to people in all of the cities. Because they seem to be found wherever humans are, these 60 may be a more reliable way to determine if human feces are contaminating a waterway, McLellan says.

From StarAfrica, African climate change costs:

Africa’s climate adaptation costs to hit $50 billion -UNEP

Africa, the continent with warming deviating most rapidly from “normal” conditions, could see climate change adaptation costs rise to $50 billion per year by 2050, even assuming international efforts keep global warming below 2°C this century, according to a new United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report.

Released on Wednesday at the 15th African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN), Africa’s Adaptation Gap builds on UNEP’s Emissions Gap Report 2014, which showed that the world is not currently headed in the right direction for holding global warming below 2°C.

This latest Africa Adaptation Gap report also builds on UNEP’s Global Adaptation Gap Report 2014, which found that adaptation costs in all developing countries together could climb as high as $250-500 billion per year by 2050.

Produced in collaboration with Climate Analytics and the African Climate Finance Hub, the report says deep global emissions reductions are the best way to head off Africa’s crippling adaptation costs.

After the jump, California beach town voters nix downtown oil drilling, groundwater-endangering oil wells ordered to close in the Golden State, a vote to overturn Obama’s Keystone veto fails, Canadian frackers cast eyes on Spain, Chinese media invoke a foggy Cone of Silence, termites saving the soil, an endangered Cuban bat, on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with massive numbers on a radioactive water leak, an order to look for all possible sources, and a long time remains before a watery resolution, and very slow progress in securing land for interim radioactive soil storage, lifelong monitoring ordered for Fukushima cleanup workers, massive dissatisfaction over the government’s handling of the disaster, more delays for another reactor restart, and desperate dreams of a nuclear power economic boom zone. . . Continue reading

EbolaWatch: Numbers, pols, cases, economics


We begin with the latest case numbers for the three African nations hardest hit by the crisis, via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

BLOG Ebola

From FrontPageAfrica, screening countries:

New Tool Can Help Identify Nations Vulnerable To Ebola

Public health experts can identify nations that are vulnerable to the occurrence and impact of future outbreaks of Ebola or other emergencies by using a screening tool that evaluates a nation’s strengths across a wide range of measures such as political strength and health care capabilities, according to a new analysis from the RAND Corporation. The process is part of a suite of “proof-of-concept” tools developed to help policymakers prepare for and respond to health disasters, such as Ebola.

“While these tools need further refinement, our work suggests these methods can be useful to identify future ‘hot zones’ before they develop and help emergency workers evaluate their options for response,” said Dr. Melinda Moore, the project’s leader and a senior natural scientist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization.

The tool uses widely available statistical indicators to assess nations across four broad domains — political, economic, socio-cultural and health. Individual topics that make up each of the domains include items such as government effectiveness, availability of communications, and the status of a nation’s health care infrastructure and workforce. RAND researchers used the preliminary tool to show how it could help identify possible future hot zones for Ebola. For illustrative purposes, they selected a handful of nations to examine in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, South Asia and Southeast Asia.

On to Liberia and a deal, via Monrovia’s Liberian Observer:

Liberia, EU Sign €279m for Development

Liberia and the European Union (EU) have signed a €279 million development package under the European Union National Indicative Program (NIP) for EU 11th Development Cooperation in Liberia.

The EU cooperation program with Liberia, which covers 2014 to 2020, will seek to address key priority areas that are essential to growth and recovery from the medium to the long-term.

According to a dispatch from Brussels, Belgium, at the ceremony, which was witnessed by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia’s National Authorizing Officer and Finance and Development Planning Minister, Amara M. Konneh, signed on behalf of the Liberian Government while the European Union Commissioner for International Development, Neven Mimica signed on behalf of the EU. The event took place on the sidelines of the high-level international conference on Ebola.

The New York Times covers not unreasonable reticence:

Trickle of Liberian Children Returning to School Reflects Lingering Ebola Fears

About eight months after governments in the region closed schools to stop the spread of Ebola, uniformed and backpack-carrying schoolchildren have returned to the streets of Monrovia, the capital, perhaps the most visible sign of the epidemic’s ebb.

Though Ebola cases have all but disappeared in Liberia, with the Health Ministry saying Wednesday that the last patient in treatment had tested negative for the virus, lingering fear and a depressed economy have dampened the turnout at schools. Many have yet to reopen, having failed to meet the minimum requirements put in place to prevent transmission of the virus.

Many of those that have reopened are struggling. Just as Liberia’s weak health care system collapsed as Ebola began raging across the country, many people here worry that the nation’s schools may be ill equipped to handle even the tail end of the epidemic.

And a university prepares to reopen, via the News in Monrovia:

UL Resumes Classes March 17

An official of the University of Liberia has disclosed that plans are underway to re-open the institution on March 17 with the resumption of classes for only junior and senior students.

UL Vice President for Media Relations, Norris Tweah, said this is to afford pending and would-be graduating seniors the opportunity to complete their courses, while awaiting the timetable for graduation later this year.

Speaking on the Truth FM ((96.1) Breakfast Show Wednesday, Mr. Tweah further disclosed that the entity would endeavor to reopen for regular classes, including the freshman and sophomore students, by September this year.

In July 2014, the Liberian Government ordered the closure of all academic and vocational institutions as part of measures to stop the spread of the deadly Ebola Virus Disease (EVD).

From the Liberian Observer, claims of a clean slate:

Liberia Discharges Only Confirmed Ebola Case Today

Liberia will today discharge the only confirmed Ebola case remaining in the country, according to the Incident Management System (IMS) boss and Assistant Minister for Preventive Service, Tolbert Nyenswah.

Making the disclosure yesterday at the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism on Capitol Hill in Monrovia, Minister Nyenswah explained that with the current status of the fight against the Ebola virus in the country, Liberia is close to reaching zero Ebola case, but “we need to be vigilant in our fight against the virus throughout the country.”

“Liberia has clearly passed 12 days without any new confirmed Ebola case. The only patient remaining in an ETU will be discharged from the Chinese ETU as a special event.

But another story, this time from StarAfrica, casts doubt on the official account:

Refugees in Liberia record seven Ebola deaths- official

The Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission (LRRRC) has disclosed that a total of seven refugees residing in former refugee camps and host communities in Montserrado County have succumbed to the deadly Ebola Virus Disease (EVD).

LRRRC Executive Director Cllr. [Counseloresnl] Abla Williams said of the total number of deaths, six were Sierra Leonean nationals, while one was a Ugandan doctor, all of whom were residents of communities that previously hosted refugee camps in Montserrado County.

Cllr Williams made the disclosure at the Ministry of Information daily Ebola press conference in Monrovia on Wednesday.

The LRRRC boss noted that there were also several cases of Ebola infection in the former refugee communities of VOA, Low Cost Village, Banjor and Samukai Town in Montserrado county, but indicated that none of the infected persons had died from the virus.

And from the Monrovia Inquirer, another remedial measure:

Cash Assistance To Former Bush Meat Sellers Enters Third Phase

One Hundred and Twelve marketers, mainly women, have benefitted from cash transfer assistance from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The marketers, former Bush Meat Sellers, each received US$100. They are from the Rally Time market, one of four markets in Monrovia, designated to benefit from the cash transfer assistance. The other markets are Red-light, Waterside, and Duala.

The cash assistance is to help women in this category, find alternative livelihoods in the wake of the ban placed on the sale of bush meat. According to health authorities, Bush meat is one of the major sources for the rapid spread of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD).

On to Sierra Leone with the Guardian:

Ebola ‘leaves 12,000 orphans in Sierra Leone’

  • UK charity’s survey shows scale of crisis caused by disease, with children who lost parents facing a dire future

The devastating impact of the Ebola crisis was laid bare this week with a report showing more than 12,000 children have been orphaned by the disease in Sierra Leone.

They have been identified in the first national survey of orphans, which was conducted by the British charity Street Child. It says the future for these children is dire. Many are living in fear without the support and security of parents, but the charity says there is light at the end of the tunnel “if the international aid community works together”.

The charity found that some children, rejected by their friends because of the stigma of Ebola, have tried to take their own lives, while girls are being forced into commercial sex work to earn money for food their parents would have previously provided.

Its case studies expose the vulnerability of those left behind without an adult for support.

CCTV Africa covers economic impacts:

Ebola’s Devastation on Sierra Leone’s Economy

Program notes:

Sierra Leone is to receive more than 80 million dollars immediately to help the country end the Ebola outbreak and recover from its effects. The IMF pledged a 187 million dollars financial aid package for Sierra Leone to support the country’s struggling economy.

And StarAfrica offers some criticism:

S/Leone CSOs fault post-Ebola plan

Three civil society organizations have criticized the Sierra Leone government`s approach towards its post Ebola development plan, describing it as deeply flawed.

Health Alert, Health for All Coalition and WASHNet Sierra Leone in a joint statement released Wednesday said the government’s failure to engage local communities in drawing the plan, which is being presented at the ongoing anti-Ebola conference in Brussels, makes it unlikely to succeed.

“We noticed that the engagement process has been going on but not participatory. There is no real involvement of community people,” said Victor Lansana Koroma, Executive Director of Health Alert.

EnivroWatch: Illness, pols, climate, water, nukes


We begin with the latest measles update from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, first with the numbers:

BLOG Measles graf

Then the distribution:

From January 1 to February 27, 2015, 170 people from 17 states and the District of Columbia were reported to have measles [AZ (7), CA (113), CO (1), DC (2), DE (1), GA (1), IL (15), MI (1), MN (1), NE (2), NJ (2), NY (3), NV (8), PA (1), SD (2) TX (1), UT (2), WA (7)]†. Most of these cases [125 cases (74%)] are part of a large, ongoing multi-state outbreak linked to an amusement park in California.

From January 1 to February 27, 2015, 170 people from 17 states and the District of Columbia were reported to have measles [AZ (7), CA (113), CO (1), DC (2), DE (1), GA (1), IL (15), MI (1), MN (1), NE (2), NJ (2), NY (3), NV (8), PA (1), SD (2) TX (1), UT (2), WA (7)]†. Most of these cases [125 cases (74%)] are part of a large, ongoing multi-state outbreak linked to an amusement park in California.

From the United Nations News Center, another global health tragedy:

Over 5 billion people worldwide lacking access to essential medicines, says UN Report

Three quarters of the world population has no access to proper pain relief treatment, according to a report by the United Nations body charged with overseeing Governments’ compliance with international drug control treaties, which was released in London today.

Around 5.5 billion people still have limited or no access to medicines containing narcotic drugs such as codeine or morphine the Vienna-based International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) says in its Annual Report for 2014, which went on to point out that around 92 per cent of all morphine used worldwide is consumed by only 17 per cent of the world population, primarily living in the United States, Canada, Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

The report, which calls on Governments to address the discrepancy in order to comply with International Drug Control Conventions, notes that natural disasters and armed conflicts around the world can further limit access to essential medicines and the Board stressed that in cases of emergency medical care, simplified control measures can be applied.

For example in the Philippines following the destruction by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, the Board pointed out to all countries as well as to providers of humanitarian assistance the simplified procedures for the export, transportation and delivery of medicines containing substances under international control.

In its Report, the INCB notes that drug control measures do not exist in a vacuum and that, in their implementation of the drug control conventions, States must also comply with obligations under other treaties, including international humanitarian law and their international human rights obligations, such as allowing civilians to have access to medical care and essential medicines during armed conflicts.

Additionally, the INCB noted that States were charged with deciding specific sanctions for drug-related offences, but should avoid application of the death penalty for such cases.

Newswise covers a question of costs:

U.S. Spends More on Cancer Care, Saves Fewer Lives than Western Europe

  • Dartmouth study finds costly U.S. cancer care may provide less value than previously thought

Despite sharp increases in spending on cancer treatment, cancer mortality rates in the United States have decreased only modestly since 1970, Samir Soneji, PhD of Dartmouth’s Norris Cotton Cancer Center and The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy & Clinical Practice has found. Refuting previous studies, Soneji published his paper “New Analysis Reexamines the Value of Cancer Care in the United States Compared to Western Europe,” today in the March issue of Health Affairs.

“Our results suggest that cancer care in the U.S. did not always avert deaths compared to Western Europe and, when it did avert deaths, it often did so at substantial cost,” explained Soneji. “The greatest number of deaths averted occurred in cancers for which decreasing mortality rates were more likely to be the result of successful prevention and screening rather than advancements in treatment.”

U.S. cancer mortality rates decreased by 12 percent since 1970, compared to a 62 percent decrease for heart disease. Such findings have raised questions about the additional value of U.S. cancer care derived from the additional spending, in comparison to the situation in other high-income countries. This study compared U.S. and Western European spending between 1982 and 2010 for 12 of the most common cancers.

Compared to Western Europe, the U.S averted 67,000 breast cancer deaths, 265,000 colorectal cancer deaths, and 60,000 prostate cancer deaths between 1982 and 2010. The U.S. experienced 1,120,000 excess lung cancer deaths in this study period compared to Western Europe. The ratio of incremental cost to quality-adjusted-life-years saved equaled $402,000 for breast cancer, $110,000 for colorectal cancer, and $1,979,000 for prostate cancer. These amounts exceed most accepted thresholds for cost-effective medical care. The U.S. lost quality-adjusted-life-years despite additional spending for lung cancer where the cost was negative $19,000 per quality-adjusted-life-year saved.

From the Washington Post, a medical enigma:

Mystery paralysis in children is perplexing parents — and researchers

For most of the children who fell ill last year during an outbreak of enterovirus, the symptoms were relatively mild — fever, runny nose, coughing and sneezing.

But then there was this mystery: More than 100 kids suffered an unexplained, polio-like paralysis that struck quickly but even now continues to stump researchers and upend the lives of the families across the country.

For Priya Duggal and her colleagues at Johns Hopkins University, the biggest puzzle is why those children became paralyzed while their brothers and sisters, who also were exposed to the virus, escaped largely unscathed.

From the Times of India, tallying an outbreak’s toll:

40 more dead as swine flu toll climbs to 1,115

Swine flu claimed the lives of 40 more people in the country as the toll from the disease reached 1,115 while the total number of cases breached the 20,000 mark.

The Health Ministry said that 1,115 persons have succumbed to the H1N1 virus while the number of those affected by it stands at 20,795 on March 1.

With heavy rainfall lashing Delhi and other parts of the north, health officials said it was difficult to ascertain whether the rains will have any effect on the incidence of swine flu.

However, the officials said that, during monsoon, the virus increases and it was possible that whatever decline was being seen over the last few days in the intensity of the disease may not continue. They said that there will be no decrease in the virus due to the rains and added that high temperatures are a deterrent for the virus.

Outbreak News Today covers an online virus of another sort:

Colorado: Craigslist kitten turns out rabid, 20 people get rabies prophylaxis

A 6-month-old kitten obtained on Craigslist has turned out positive for the nearly 100 percent lethal virus, rabies, requiring nearly two dozen people to receive rabies post-exposure prophylaxis.

The family of four from northeast Colorado Springs named the kitten Jello. The owners said the cat was fine for 2 weeks and then the black cat “took a turn for the worse” and got very sick. The family’s two other dogs and a cat had to be put down since they were exposed.

El Paso County Public Health officials say the kitten tested positive for rabies late last week.  The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Laboratory performed the initial test and the CDC is in the process of determining the type of rabies the kitten had.

Another group of Liberian healthcare workers asks for hazard pay, via the Liberian Observer:

Health Workers at TB Annex Demand Hazard Benefits

At least 101 workers at the TB Annex Hospital are demanding payment of hazard benefits owed them by the Ministry of Health for the past six months.

The patients at the hospital, located directly behind the Health Ministry in Oldest Congotown, are infected with tuberculosis which is a very highly contagious disease.

The health workers told this paper that their benefits are due for the period September 2014 to February 2015.

They stated that during the heat of the Ebola virus disease (EVD) crisis, they did not close the hospital but remained there at their own risk, taking care of hundreds of TB patients who came in daily when most other health centers and hospitals were closed.

GMOoooos, via BBC News:

Scientists produce TB-resistant cows

Scientists in China have produced a herd of genetically engineered cows that are better able to ward off bovine TB infection.

The long-term goal of the research is to avoid the need to cull livestock by breeding disease resistant cattle.

Bovine TB is a risk in many areas, including New Zealand, England and Wales, and parts of Africa and Asia. In the UK over 26,000 cattle were slaughtered in 2013 at a cost to taxpayers of £100m.

Politically cowed, via the New York Times:

Indian State Passes Beef Ban Championed by Right-Wing Hindus

The western state of Maharashtra this week became the first Indian state to ban the possession and sale of beef, imposing fines and up to five years in prison for violations.

The ban, which was passed on Monday, came as an amendment to a 1972 law prohibiting the slaughter of cows, which has been expanded to ban the slaughter of bulls, bullocks and calves. The slaughter of water buffaloes will still be allowed under the new law, subject to permission from the authorities. The populous western state includes Mumbai, the Indian financial capital.

The Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Bill, championed by right-wing Hindu organizations, was first passed in 1995 but languished for two decades under a governing coalition between the Indian National Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party. The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party won a clear majority in state elections last October, after Narendra Modi, the party’s leader, took office as prime minister in May.

Cognitive pollution, via  Medical Daily:

Air Pollution Slows Cognitive Development In Children Due To Brain Inflammation

Schools that are located near busy roads may be more dangerous than remote schools due to the increased levels of air pollution generated by passing cars, a new study finds.

Toxic chemicals found in the air pose a growing concern for scientists studying brain health, especially among adolescents. Experts call them neurotoxicants, and they’ve been linked with a higher risk of suicide, autism, and the myriad direct physical effects of breathing in harmful air, such as asthma and diseases of the lungs.

“From animal studies we know that ultrafine particles cross the blood brain barrier, interact with the microglial cells, which in turn affects neurons,” said Dr. Jordi Sunyer, lead author of the recent study from the University of Barcelona. This can result in chronic low-grade brain inflammation, he added, which delays brain maturation.

And from EcoWatch, Oedipus Bush:

Jeb Bush Trashes Father’s Clean Air Legacy to Woo Far Right-Wing

Jeb Bush trashed the Clean Air Act last week. He was speaking to the far right-wing Club for Growth, notorious for mounting mostly unsuccessful challenges from the right against Republican candidates during congressional primaries.

The Clean Air Act is estimated to achieve almost $2 trillion in yearly benefits to the American people by 2020. These vast benefits are delivered in the form of “significant reductions in air pollution” related premature death and illness, improved economic welfare of Americans, and better environmental conditions.” The estimated annual costs to achieve these benefits will be about $65 billion by 2020.

So this staggering Bush senior achievement is one that Bush junior singles out for condemnation. It’s bewildering. One might even say it takes one’s breath away.

After the jump, endless drought woes for the Golden State, a rich California coastal city looks to desalination, an Environmental Protection Agency disclosure fail rebuked, air pollution kills hundreds of thousands of Europeans a year, China hopes for an air pollution reprieve, mineral water home delivered as Sao Paulo taps run dry, a Mexican mine hit with a river pollution fine, a call for Costa Rican shark protection, prison-farmed fish for sale at Whole Foods, a new threat from the DEA — Utah rabbits dazed on legal weed, a key African food staple lags behind growing populations, and the FBI comes a-knockin’ at the doors of Keystone Pipeline foes, then on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with another year’s radioactive water cleanup delay, an Olympic Fukushima food fare bid, and corporate payouts continue, plus Mount Everest grows a crown of human feces. . . Continue reading

InsecurityWatch: Hyper, hacks, terror, bluster


We begin with the hyperbolic, via the Guardian:

US intelligence chief warns Congress of danger of failing to renew Patriot Act

  • Congress must accept responsibility if ‘untoward incident’ occurs
  • James Clapper also discusses Syria, Russia and North Korea

If Congress fails to renew a controversial provision of the Patriot Act by June, the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, says opponents of the bill on Capitol Hill should bear the blame if an otherwise preventable terrorist attack happens afterwards.

In a question-and answer-session at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Clapper reiterated his support for renewing Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allows the FBI and NSA to collect domestic phone records in bulk, is set to expire on 1 June. He expressed this support strongly and pointed a finger at opponents of the legislation on Capitol Hill. Clapper, America’s top-ranking intelligence official, said if Congress decides not to renew the legislation and an “untoward incident” occurs as a result, he hopes “everyone involved in that decision assumes responsibility” and doesn’t just blame the intelligence community.

However, Clapper did indicate his support for the reforms proposed to Section 215 by Senator Patrick Leahy last year, which shift responsibility for retaining phone records to individual phone companies from the FBI. This proposal failed to receive the needed supermajority in the Senate for a final vote in 2014 on a near party-line vote where 41 Republicans and one Democrat opposed it.

From the Intercept, cognitive dissonance:

Bush White House’s Repeated Torture Denials Led CIA Torturers to Seek Repeated Reassurances

The Bush administration was so adamant in its public statements against torture that CIA officials repeatedly sought reassurances that the White House officials who had given them permission to torture in the first place hadn’t changed their minds.

In a July 29, 2003, White House meeting that included Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, CIA Director George Tenet went so far as to ask the White House “to cease stating that US Government practices were ‘humane’.” He was assured they would.

The memo describing that meeting is one of several documents that were unclassified last year but apparently escaped widespread notice until now. Georgetown Law Professor David Cole called attention to the trove of documents on the Just Security blog.

The documents were apparently posted in December at ciasavedlives.com, a website formed by a group of former senior intelligence officials to rebut the newly released Senate report that documented the horrors that CIA officers inflicted upon detainees and the lies about those tactics’ effectiveness that they told their superiors, would-be overseers and the public.

VICE News reminds:

Violence Caused by Far-Right Extremists Has Surpassed That Caused by Domestic Jihadists, Study Says

Since the September 11 attacks, the notion of terrorism has looked somewhat one-dimensional in United States public discourse, with the majority of Americans coming to think of political violence as the acts of organized, foreign groups — from al Qaeda in the early 2000s to Islamic State (IS) today.

This frequently one-dimensional understanding in the US of terrorism has led both the public and law enforcement to overlook a very different kind of homegrown threat — one posed by antigovernment radicals, white supremacists, and other domestic and far-right ideologues.

In both cases — radical Islamism and far right extremism — a majority of terrorist attacks on US soil have been at the hands of individual “lone wolves” acting outside established groups. But violence caused by far right extremism has surpassed that caused by domestic “jihadis,” according to a study published last month by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

From the Los Angeles Times, no comment needed:

‘Jihadi John’ suspect took anger management classes, says teacher

The British-educated Muslim man now believed to be the notorious Islamic State killer “Jihadi John” reportedly took anger management classes as a student.

A teacher at Mohammed Emwazi’s high school told the BBC he used to get into fights as a teenager and had difficulty keeping his emotions in check.

“We would find that he would get very angry and worked up and it would take him a long time to calm himself down,” the teacher said, speaking on condition of anonymity for security sake, according to the BBC. “We did a lot of work as a school to help him with his anger and to control his emotions and it seemed to work.”

From the London Daily Mail, conclusion about biased cops behaving badly:

‘Racially biased’ Ferguson police sent emails laughing at black people and ticketed African Americans to make money before Michael Brown shooting, Justice Department report to reveal

  • Justice Department report due to be released later this week
  • Will find some white officials targeted black people in Ferguson, Missouri
  • Traffic tickets were used to boost police department’s coffers, officials say
  • Will also feature a racist joke circulated by officers via email
  • Expected to say attitude was ‘avoidable’ and created racial tension
  • Reached a climax when Michael Brown was fatally shot in August 2014

From the Associated Press, Attica! Attica!:

3 Attica guards plead guilty as assault trial about to begin

Three Attica prison guards charged with beating a jewelry thief until bones in his face and legs broke in 2011 pleaded guilty Monday in an agreement that will spare them jail time.

Keith Swack, Sean Warner and Matthew Rademacher admitted to misdemeanor charges of official misconduct as jury selection was about to begin for their trial in Wyoming County Court.

The guards, who had been suspended without pay since 2011, were given conditional discharges and agreed to resign.

“This is the first time in New York state history that a correction officer has been prosecuted and pleaded guilty to committing an unauthorized violent act to an inmate while on duty,” Wyoming County District Attorney Donald O’Geen said at a news conference.

A corporate media hack in Canada, via SecurityWeek:

Rogers Says Hackers Accessed Small Number of Business Accounts

A hacker group called TeamHans has leaked hundreds of megabytes of data allegedly stolen from the systems of Canadian communications and media company Rogers.

According to DataBreaches.net, the attackers leaked sensitive corporate information such as contracts, emails, documents, and even VPN data. TeamHans said it gained access to the information on February 20 after tricking support staff into changing the password for an employee’s email account.

The information found in the targeted employee’s email account led TeamHans to an online tool used by Rogers to manage contracts.

Hackable Microsoftness from SecurityWeek:

Internet Explorer Exploit Added to Angler Kit: FireEye

Hackers have modified an exploit for a vulnerability in Internet Explorer fixed last October and added it to a notorious exploit kit.

The vulnerability is a use-after-free issue patched in MS14-056, which fixed a total of 14 IE bugs altogether. According to FireEye Staff Research Scientist Dan Caselden, the exploit has been added to the Angler exploit kit. Angler is often associated with exploits for Internet Explorer, Adobe Flash Player and Microsoft Silverlight.

“The Angler Exploit Kit (EK) recently implemented a modified version of k33nteam’s exploit targeting the same patched vulnerability,” Caselden blogged. “This is interesting because it is the first instance we’ve seen of an attack in the wild targeting IE deployments that are using Microsoft’s new MEMPROTECT mitigations. It shows that exploit authors are still interested in attacking IE.”

MEMPROTECT (Memory Protector) was introduced by Microsoft in July to make it difficult for hackers to execute use-after-free attacks. While the mitigations are not unbeatable, they increased the difficulty for exploit authors developing new IE exploits as evidenced by the absence of new IE exploits discovered in the wild, Caselden blogged.

Beheadings and burnings as bad fund-raising PR, via the London Telegraph:

Donations dry up for Islamic State, says US spy chief

  • Brutal beheadings have shocked Middle East and many donors have withdrawn support

Donations to Islamic State jihadists have dramatically declined in the wake of brutal executions by the group that have shocked public opinion in the Middle East, the chief of US intelligence said Monday.

“I think there is change afoot in the Mideast,” said James Clapper, director of national intelligence, referring to perceptions of the IS group in the region.

“It’s not going to occur overnight. But I think these brutalities, publicized brutalities by ISIL (IS), beheadings, immolation and the like, have really had a galvanising effect even in the Mideast,” Clapper said at an event in New York organized by the Council on Foreign Relations.

As a result, donations to the extremists in Islamic countries were dropping off, according to Clapper. “There’s been a big decline,” he said.

From the New York Times, Clintonism at work:

Hillary Clinton Used Personal Email at State Dept., Possibly Breaking Rules

Hillary Rodham Clinton exclusively used a personal email account to conduct government business as secretary of state, State Department officials said, and may have violated federal requirements that officials’ correspondence be retained as part of the agency’s record.

Mrs. Clinton did not have a government email address during her four-year tenure at the State Department. Her aides took no actions to have her personal emails preserved on department servers at the time, as required by the Federal Records Act.

It was only two months ago, in response to a new State Department effort to comply with federal record-keeping practices, that Mrs. Clinton’s advisers reviewed tens of thousands of pages of her personal emails and decided which ones to turn over to the State Department. All told, 55,000 pages of emails were given to the department. Mrs. Clinton stepped down from the secretary’s post in early 2013.

After the jump, Isis threatens Twitter over blocks, the battle for Tikrit commences, more Aussie troops on the way, Saudi terrorist prisons a suite deal, Pakistan stages an Afghan mass expulsion, an ominous North Korean hint to Washington’s master spy, Pyongyang fires off demonstrative missiles, A Red Army military crackdown, Shinzo Abe spells out a Japanese foreign military agenda, and allegations of massive U.S. military rapes in Germany as World War II drew to a close. . . Continue reading