Category Archives: Politics

InSecurityWatch: Hacks, war, corruption, zones


We begin with a notable hack from TechWorm:

$104 and 8 hours of Amazon’s cloud computing is all it took to hack NSA’s website

  • Researchers hack NSA’s website with only $104 and 8 hours of Amazon’s cloud computing power using the #FREAK vulnerability

A group of researchers only needed $104 and 8 hours of Amazon’s cloud computing power and off course, FREAK to hack the NSA’s website. The researchers used NSA’s anti-encryption policies, which were the main reason for the newly disclosed internet flaw called FREAK, to make NSA’s own website a guinea pig.

The bug which was disclosed by Akamai and subsequently reported by Techworm on Monday allows any potential hacker to intercept a supposedly secure connection between people using Android or Apple devices and PC’s using Mac OS X and Safari browser. The websites vulnerable to this flaw may be in thousands including NSA.gov, FBI.gov and Whitehouse.gov.

Actually this isnt a flaw, it is a mis-implementation of encryption policies by United States and in a way NSA so that they could have a non-encrypted backdoor on every mobile. It would be stupid to assume that NSA created a massive security dark hole, that allows hackers to impersonate said website and steal confidential data like passwords and logins, without knowing it was doing that.

From the Register, ignoring the evident:

US watchdog: Anthem snubbed our security audits before and after enormous hack attack

  • Hackers probe where federal officials were forbidden

A year or so before American health insurer Anthem admitted it had been ruthlessly ransacked by hackers, a US federal watchdog had offered to audit the giant’s computer security – but was rebuffed.

And, after miscreants looted Anthem’s servers and accessed up to 88.8 million private records, the watchdog again offered to audit the insurer’s systems, and was again turned away.

“We do not know why Anthem refuses to cooperate,” government officials told The Register today.

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for the US Office of Personnel Management (OPM) told us it wanted to audit Anthem’s information security protections back in 2013, but was snubbed by the insurer.

From CBC News, a password showdown at the Canadian border:

Quebec resident Alain Philippon to fight charge for not giving up phone password at airport

  • Whether border officials can force you to provide password hasn’t been tested in Canadian courts

A Quebec man charged with obstructing border officials by refusing to give up his smartphone password says he will fight the charge.

The case has raised a new legal question in Canada, a law professor says.

Alain Philippon, 38, of Ste-Anne-des-Plaines, Que., refused to divulge his cellphone password to Canada Border Services Agency during a customs search Monday night at Halifax Stanfield International Airport.

Philippon had arrived in Halifax on a flight from Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic. He’s been charged under section 153.1 (b) of the Customs Act for hindering or preventing border officers from performing their role under the act.

The Washington Post covers whistlblower fails at the FBI:

Report says procedures put a chilling effect on potential FBI whistleblowers

Jane Turner loved being a FBI agent.

It had been her dream job since she was 13, and she had been a good agent during her 25 years with the bureau.

But once she became a whistleblower, the FBI turned on her the way the mob turns on a snitch, by her telling. She wasn’t killed, but her career was.

Turner has become a prime example of the way the FBI should not treat whistleblowers. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) cites her case in a report that will be the focus of a Senate hearing Wednesday.

From the Associated Press, seeking access to the cloud:

Poland asks US for IT data vital in eavesdropping probe

A prosecutor says that Poland has asked U.S. authorities to release data from an IT company’s cloud that could be vital for the ongoing probe into a government eavesdropping scandal.

Spokeswoman for a Warsaw prosecutor’s office, Renata Mazur, said Thursday that a request was sent to U.S. justice authorities in January. She refused to name the IT company in question.

Polish prosecutors believe the cloud may hold some conversations between former government ministers and business people that were secretly taped in Warsaw restaurants. Some of the compromising conversations were published last year by the Wprost magazine, leading to some lower-ranking officials being fired, but many other recordings remain unknown.

The Guardian covers European net neutrality anxiety:

Freedom campaigners warn against dangers of two-speed internet

  • While the US voted to protect open internet, European ministers are accused of pushing to ‘permit every imaginable breach of net neutrality’

European ministers are pushing for new laws which would “permit every imaginable breach of net neutrality”, internet freedom campaigners have warned.

Days after the US voted to protect an open internet where all traffic is considered equal, proposals agreed by the telecoms ministers of 28 members states could allow a two–speed internet, where companies such as YouTube or Netflix could legally pay mobile networks or broadband providers for faster, more reliable delivery of their content – potentially to the detriment of other internet users.

Campaigners warn the move could stifle online innovation and undermine the digital economy.

From the Associated Press, spooky imbalance and the permafrost:

UK report: Spy agencies should seek female recruits online

British lawmakers say the country’s intelligence agencies, which inspired James Bond, aren’t doing enough to promote real-life Jane Bonds.

A report on women in the intelligence services says female staff members are being held back by a layer of middle managers, dubbed “the permafrost,” who have “a very traditional male mentality and outlook.”

The report published Thursday by Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee said that women make up 37 percent of the workforce at domestic spy service MI5, overseas intelligence agency MI6 and electronic eavesdropping center GCHQ. But women account for only 19 percent of senior staff.

The lawmakers said the agencies should cast a wider net to recruit middle-aged women and mothers, who had “valuable life experience.” It said agencies in which all staff “are cut from the same cloth” could lead to unacknowledged biases that hampered the work of espionage.

From BBC News, food for conspiratorial thought:

German BND spy agency hit by ‘Watergate’ leak

Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service (BND) is dealing with what media have described as its own “Watergate” scandal, after taps were removed from its unfinished new Berlin headquarters.

The removal happened on Tuesday and left large parts of the building flooded, police say.

An investigation has begun into the theft, but police have so far found no signs of a break-in. The incident is seen as embarrassing for the BND, as well as expensive.

From the Guardian, an old-fashioned spookery:

Russian police officer found guilty of spying for US

  • Roman Ushakov convicted of treason for handing over classified material and sentenced to 15 years in prison, in case likely to inflame US-Russian tensions

A Russian police officer has been convicted Thursday on charges of spying for the United States – using a cache disguised as a rock – and sentenced to 15 years in prison. It was the latest in a host of spy cases amid rising Russia-west tensions over Ukraine.

The Moscow city court on Thursday found Roman Ushakov guilty of treason for handing over classified information to the United States. Prosecutors produced his messages, which contained sensitive information about the interior ministry, as well as a rock-like cache with cash and a letter from the CIA, according to the Interfax news agency.

Interfax quoted prosecutor Viktor Antipov as saying Ushakov was caught red-handed, pleaded guilty and gave detailed testimony about his contacts with US intelligence. Antipov said Ushakov worked in Siberia, but gave no further details.

From the Associated Press, Bolivia’s former top narc investigated:

Former chief of Bolivia drug police under investigation

The retired police general who reorganized Bolivia’s counter-narcotics force after President Evo Morales expelled U.S. drug agents is under investigation for illicit enrichment and drug trafficking ties.

A judge was to decide Wednesday whether Gen. Oscar Nina should be jailed. Nina’s wife and two children were ordered jailed late Tuesday for suspected laundering of illicit earnings.

Interior Minister Hugo Moldiz cited “serious suspicions” that Nina and his family had links to drug trafficking. Prosecutor Gomer Padilla said investigators had discovered assets unsubstantiated by income but did not disclose their nature.

After the jump, another hotel chain hacked, Another piece of point of sale malware targets credit card data, a social engineering death threat, a privacy half-measure, drones to target cell phones with ads, on to the ISIS front, first, with oil fields ignited to block advance on Tikrit,, thousands take flight, U.S. strategies rely on Iranian help and an Iranian general becomes a star at home, ISIS bulldozes a legendary archaeological site, and an air strike kills Syrian Al Qaeda leaders, Afghanistan’s security forces dwindle, on to the Boko Haram front, first with an abundance of potential recruits, a massacre in a Nigerian village, and victims very young and very old, the South China Seas Game of Zone drives out a British oil exploration company, North Korea praises an attack on a U.S. ambassador, China refuses Japan’s plea to silence a Game of Zones website, but Beijing and Tokyo agree to security talks, Shinzo Abe’s team proposes streamlining the army command structure for combat readiness, and to close, Tokyo sues Okinawa to block release of an American base relocation agreement. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Outbreaks, oil, air, climate, nukes


And more. . .

We begin with the Express Tribune and a Pakistani vaccination crisis:

Sehat ka Ittehad struggles as WHO recommends extension of restrictions

There has been no documented international spread of the poliovirus since March 2014 – with the exception of “one new exportation from Pakistan into Afghanistan documented after 13 November 2014″.

The fourth meeting of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee announced the spread of polio still constitutes a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern”. The committee has recommended extending the “temporary recommendations” for another three months. Among others, these include declaring a national public health emergency, restricting departure of any residents from the country if they lack an international certification of vaccination and maintaining these measures till the country has stopped exporting polio. The WHO statement is available on their website.

Hours after the WHO pointed to Pakistan as the only country still spreading the preventable, crippling virus. Sehat ka Ittehad’s recent drive came to a close and left at least 33,601 children unvaccinated, but not without efforts to the contrary.

And closer to home for esnl, a deadly hospital-based outbreak spreads, via the Guardian:

Cedars-Sinai hospital in LA investigates outbreak of deadly ‘superbug’

  • Hospital says four patients have been infected with bacteria from a contaminated medical scope, and 67 other people may have been exposed

The Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles announced a possible “superbug” outbreak linked to gastrointestinal devices, the second hospital in a month to link the potentially deadly germs to devices called duodenoscopes.

The bug, called carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae (CRE), is a bacteria resistant to some of medicine’s strongest antibiotics. The duodenoscope is a difficult-to-clean, complex flexible tube inserted through the throat of patients to check for issues in the upper intestines.

Cedars-Sinai hospital officials linked four transmissions of CRE to duodenoscopes. The hospital sent letters and home-testing kits to 71 more patients who may have been exposed between August 2014 and February 2015, “out of an abundance of caution”.

From the Associated Press, regulatory failure:

Maker of device in ‘superbug’ outbreak lacked FDA clearance

The manufacturer of a medical instrument at the center of a recent “superbug” outbreak in Los Angeles did not receive federal clearance to sell an updated version the device, according to officials from the Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA confirmed that Olympus Corp. did not seek agency clearance for the redesign of its specialized endoscope, which it began selling in 2010. FDA clearance is required for all substantive updates to medical devices sold in the U.S.

Despite the lack of clearance, the FDA said doctors should continue using the device because it’s not clear that a federal review would have prevented the recent infections in patients.

From National Geographic, a story we’ve been covering since our earliest posts:

Chemical Exposure Linked to Billions in Health Care Costs

Researchers conclude they are 99 percent certain that hormone-altering chemicals are linked to attention problems, diabetes, other health problems.

Exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals is likely leading to an increased risk of serious health problems costing at least $175 billion (U.S.) per year in Europe alone, according to a study published Thursday.

Chemicals that can mimic or block estrogen or other hormones are commonly found in thousands of products around the world, including plastics, pesticides, furniture, and cosmetics.

The new research estimated health care costs in Europe, where policymakers are debating whether to enact the world’s first regulations targeting endocrine disruptors. The European Union’s controversial strategy, if approved, would have a profound effect on industries and consumer products worldwide.

Linda Birnbaum, the leading environmental health official in the U.S. government, called the new findings, which include four published papers, “a wake-up call” for policymakers and health experts.

From Newsweek, one of those chemicals and twisted regulatory semantics:

BPA Is Fine, If You Ignore Most Studies About It

Bisphenol-A (BPA) is either a harmless chemical that’s great for making plastic or one of modern society’s more dangerous problems. Depends whom you ask.

BPA is in many types of plastics and the epoxy resins that line most aluminum cans, as well as thermal papers like receipts. It is an endocrine disruptor that mimics estrogen, a hormone especially important in sexual development, and the fact that it’s all over the place worries many people. Newsweek spoke with about 20 scientists, leaders in the field of BPA research, and the majority say it is likely (though not certain) that the chemical plays a role in a litany of health concerns: obesity, diabetes, problems with fertility and reproductive organs, susceptibility to various cancers and cognitive/behavioral deficits like ADHD.

“There’s too much data consistent across studies…time and time again…to ignore it and suggest BPA has no effect on humans,” says Gail Prins, a physiologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

But the plastic industry, researchers it funds and, most important, many regulatory agencies—including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)—say BPA is safe for humans at the levels people are exposed to.

From VICE News, and not so surprising for students of history:

Deforestation May Be Helping to Spread the Plague in Africa

The destruction of forests is known to cause the release of massive amounts of greenhouse gases, destroy critical wildlife habitat, and increase soil erosion, which can lead to deadly floods and landslides.

But converting forests to farmland can also increase the spread of the plague, according to researchers at the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB).

“It pops up every other year or so, and the number of cases per year is quite variable and it’s also poorly reported,” Hillary Young, an ecologist at UCSB, who led the study, told VICE News. “So we don’t have a good sense of the number of cases per year in the region.”

Madagascar’s complex climate woes, via IRIN:

Disaster-prone Madagascar battles flooding and drought

Authorities in Madagascar are struggling to respond to increasingly severe flooding in the central highlands region of the country that includes the capital, Antananarivo, in addition to a prolonged drought in the south.

The latest round of flooding, which started when three rivers that cross Antananarivo – the Sisaony, Ikopa and Imamba – burst their banks during a storm on 24 February, has left 19 people dead and an estimated 36,000 displaced, according to the National Office for the Management of Risks and Catastrophes (BNRGC in French). A further 40,000 people were displaced in 13 other districts.

On Wednesday, BNRGC issued a new alert warning that a low-pressure system just off the island’s west coast was expected to bring more torrential rainfall to the central highlands region. Several neighbourhoods in Antananarivo remain braced for further flooding and landslides over the coming days.

Getting bad air off their chest, via the Los Angeles Times:

Cleaner air is linked to stronger lungs in Southern California children

Cleaner air has for the first time been linked to bigger and stronger lungs among school-age children, according to findings released Wednesday from a two-decade study in Southern California.

The research by USC scientists, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found the region’s steep decline in air pollution since the mid-1990s is strongly associated with “statistically and clinically significant improvements” in children’s lung function and growth.

The analysis, which studied more than 2,000 children in five cities over the years, provides the strongest evidence yet that years of government regulations to reduce air pollution in California and across the nation are paying off with measurable improvements in children’s health.

The accompanying graphic tells the story:

BLOG Lungs

From the Associated Press, and we wonder just how safe those “small” levels are over time?:

FDA study finds little evidence of antibiotics in milk

In an encouraging development for consumers worried about antibiotics in their milk, a new Food and Drug Administration study showed little evidence of drug contamination after surveying almost 2,000 dairy farms.

In response to concerns, the agency in 2012 took samples of raw milk from the farms and tested them for 31 drugs, almost all of them antibiotics. Results released by the agency Thursday show that less than 1 percent of the total samples showed illegal drug residue.

Antibiotics and other drugs can end up in milk when they are used on dairy cows to keep them healthy. Small levels of drugs are allowed in milk, but residues that go beyond certain thresholds are illegal.

Some delightful news for bees, via DutchNews.nl:

Amsterdam bee population is booming

Amsterdam bee population is booming Society March 5, 2015 Honey comb and a bee workingBee populations may be in trouble elsewhere but in Amsterdam there are now 61 different bee species, up from 51 in 2000, according to new research.

The most common bee in the city is the common furrow (Lasioglossum calceatum) while the hairy-footed flower bee, which was very rare in 2000, now lives in abundance in the city’s Vondel park, the research shows.

The research was commissioned by the city council. Bee expert and researcher told the Parool the city council should be extremely pleased the city has such committed people managing its green spaces. ‘The city can thank their expertise for the increase,’ he said.

Ten years ago the city council took a new, environmentally-friendly approach to its green areas and roadside verges. It no longer uses pesticides and wild flowers have been sown in many places. Specific bee friendly projects have also been set up.

After the jump, Brits sign a Mexican dirty energy deal, an oil company settles a cleanup complaint in Peru, Britain’s central bank sounds a fossil fuel alert, Oklahoma scientists play Big Oil’s music, Feds find the Arctic oil they want drilled will most likely lead to a major oil spill, allegations industry corrupted Europe’s clean air laws, separating fossil fueled climate change from oceanic changes, flooding predicted to triple in 15 years, a new African environmental alliance announced, Brazilian peasants seize a paper plant over plans to plan GMO trees, Arctic Sea ice thinning accelerates, on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with more radioactive leaks, local communities protests TEPCO’s concealing of a major leak for ten months, another radioactive fuel removal planned, evacuees plagued with blood clots, the governor calls for extending reconstruction programs, Japanese tourism recovers from Fukushimaphobia, nearby factories suffer from major labor shortages, regulators find major flaws in plans for the restart of another Japanese nuke plant shut down after the earthquake that shattered Fukushima, a lawsuit challenges plans for a new British nuke plant, and, finally, fears over new Nuclear plants in a Pakistani seismic hot spot. . . Continue reading

EbolaWatch: Vaccines, recovery, bribes, Pyongyang


We begin with vaccines, first from the New York Times:

Doctor’s Mishap Sheds Light on Ebola Vaccine’s Effects

The moment he felt a needle jab into his thumb last September on an Ebola ward in Sierra Leone, Dr. Lewis Rubinson knew he was at risk of contracting the deadly disease. What could he do but wait to see if he got sick, and hope that treatment would pull him through?

Dr. Rubinson, an intensive-care specialist and associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, chose another option, described in an article and editorial published on Thursday in The Journal of the American Medical Association. He was quickly given a shot of an experimental vaccine, a type that had been used in only one other person. The hope was that if he had been exposed to Ebola, the vaccine would stimulate his immune system to fight off the virus.

As it turns out, it is not clear whether the vaccine could have protected him against Ebola, because blood tests indicate he was almost certainly never infected. It is clear, though, that the vaccine stirred up his immune system: He had fever, chills, nausea, muscle pains and a headache. But the symptoms ebbed after a few days, and when it was all over blood tests suggested that he was probably immune to Ebola.

Although it is impossible to draw broad conclusions from a single case, doctors said the information was nonetheless useful. There is hardly any other data on how the vaccine affects people, and knowing how Dr. Rubinson fared may help other health workers potentially exposed to Ebola decide whether to be vaccinated.

And a trial commencing, via the World Health Organization:

Ebola vaccine efficacy trial ready to launch in Guinea

Based on promising data from initial clinical trials in late 2014, WHO with the Health Ministry of Guinea, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Epicentre and The Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH), will launch a Phase III trial in Guinea on 7 March to test the VSV-EBOV vaccine for efficacy and effectiveness to prevent Ebola. The vaccine was developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada. A second vaccine will be tested in a sequential study, as supply becomes available.

“We have worked hard to reach this point,” said WHO Director-General, Dr Margaret Chan. “There has been massive mobilization on the part of the affected countries and all partners to accelerate the development and availability of proven interventions. If a vaccine is found effective, it will be the first preventive tool against Ebola in history.”

Vaccination will take place in areas of Basse Guinée, the region that currently has the highest number of cases in the country. The trial strategy adopted will be “ring vaccination”, based on the approach used to eradicate smallpox in the 1970s. This involves the identification of a newly diagnosed Ebola case – the “index case” – and the tracing of all his/her contacts. The contacts are vaccinated if they give their consent.

“The Ebola epidemic shows signs of receding but we cannot let down our guard until we reach zero cases,” said Assistant Director-General Marie-Paule Kieny, who leads the Ebola Research and Development effort at WHO. “An effective vaccine to control current flare-ups could be the game-changer to finally end this epidemic and an insurance policy for any future ones.”

On to Liberia with Heritage, and a landmark declared:

Liberia discharges last Ebola case today Featured

Liberia will today, Thursday, March 5  discharge the only confirmed Ebola case in the country, the head of the Incident Management Team on Ebola Mr. Tolbert Nyensuah has disclosed.

Mr. Nyensuah, who is also the Assistant Minister for Preventive Services at the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, said the last case will be discharged from the Chinese Ebola Treatment Unit (ETU) at the Samuel Kanyan Doe Sports Complex in Paynesville, outside Monrovia.

The health ministry official made these comments yesterday  at the regular Ebola Hour hosted by the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism (MICAT) in Monrovia.

“The good news is that the only confirmed Ebola case that we have in the country will be discharged tomorrow from the Chinese ETU at the Samuel Kanyan Doe Sports Complex in Paynesville,” said the Incident Management Team head.

The Liberian Observer covers an NGO’s assistance:

YMCA Wages Intense Ebola Fight in West Point

The YMCA continues its fight against the deadly Ebola virus in West Point with the recruitment and temporary employment of forty residents every week to clean all the township’s seven communities.

The 40 volunteers, under the scheme, Food for Work (FFW) receive a 25k bag of rice, a gallon of cooking oil, half dozen tins of sardines and 50 pieces of Vital Cube at the end of the week.  A new team of 40 volunteers is hired each week.

The uninterrupted cleaning campaign which began in October 2014, is one of YMCA’s initiatives to stop the spread of the deadly Ebola Virus Disease (EVD).

The project, titled: Saving Lives and Restoring Livelihoods in West Point,’ was awarded by Y Care International and funded by Comic Relief, UK.

From IRIN, a look ahead:

Ebola: Liberia’s long road to recovery

Liberia has lifted nationwide curfews and reopened its land borders with key trading partners Sierra Leone and Guinea, but a full recovery from the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak will take time, experts say.

“The reopening of the border is going to have an impact immediately, both in terms of livelihoods and the availability of food, as well as informal trade,” said Errol Graham, the World Bank’s country economist for Liberia, who spoke to IRIN from Virginia. “But there is going to be a lot of asymmetry between the [speed of] recovery and the crisis. The crisis was an immediate thing because of fear and aversion. The recovery is going to take a little longer.”

Within hours of the reopening of the border, people and merchandise began to flow from one side to the other. Local markets, once again stocked with fresh produce, meat and home goods, buzzed with activity, for the first time in more than six months.

In the interior of Liberia, Graham said, “We are also seeing, with the abatement of the crisis, people starting to go back to work and we expect to see more of that over time. And as foreigners who were involved in concessions in the natural resource sector come back, we expect to see more improvements in the employment situation.”

But even for those back at work, business remains sluggish.

The New Dawn covers a political pronouncement:

Regional approach, collaboration key to zero Ebola cases

-Pres. Sirleaf

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf says strong and concerted regional support with help from international partners is needed to achieve a robust recovery program, similar to what she called a ‘’Marshall Plan” that will demand huge resource allocation.

According to a Dispatch from Brussels, Belgium, the Liberian leader, who spoke Tuesday on behalf of the three most affected Ebola countries (Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone) at the European Union high-level Ebola Conference, said over the past decade, the three affected Mano River Union (MRU) countries made significant gains in the process of reconstruction after years of conflict.

She stressed that as a result of the Ebola outbreak, families and communities were torn apart, and doctors, teachers, mothers, religious leaders and other opinion leaders were greatly affected, while the disease robbed the communities of its ability to care for its own people.

The Liberian leader indicated that the countries’ health systems collapsed when health care workers, nurses and doctors died, trying to treat the sick, not knowing the nature of the disease they were dealing with.

On to Sierra Leoine and a controversy surrounding the late spokesperson for the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party, via the the Sierra Leone Telegraph:

Chaos and confusion in Freetown as unlawful exemption granted for burial of SLPP Tamba Sam

Tonight there is confusion and chaos in Freetown, as reports emerged of members of the opposition SLPP party storming Connaught hospital, where the Ebola burial teams were making arrangements for the immediate burial of Tamba Sam who died on Monday.

According to the Ebola state of emergency regulations, all burials – irrespective of whether death was caused by Ebola or not, must be carried out by the Ebola burial teams within twenty-four hours of death.

The Sierra Leone Telegraph has been reliably informed that since the passing of the safer burial regulations, government officials and the police have been granting exemptions to those with connections in high places and can afford to pay bribes.

Although the number of new Ebola cases has declined in the last three months by more than fifty-percent, there are serious concerns regarding the recent spike in the numbers, especially in the ruling APC party’s Freetown-northern heartlands, where Ebola has become firmly entrenched.

The Sierra Leone Concord Times covers another NGO’s efforts:

Peace Mothers intensify campaign to make Libeisaygahun Chiefdom Ebola free

Fambul Tok Peace Mothers in Libeisaygahun Chiefdom, Bombali District continue to complement the national effort to eradicate the Ebola disease in the country by engaging in house-to-house visits to ensure the disease does not enter their chiefdom.

Surrounded by a number of Ebola affected chiefdoms including Gbendembu Ngowahun, Sanda Tendaren and Makari Gbanti, Libeisaygahun is the only chiefdom that is yet to record a single case of Ebola due to the efforts of the Peace Mothers in collaboration with community members.

Explaining their success story, Chairlady of Peace Mothers in Batkanu Section, Ella Sesay, said before the outbreak of the disease sick people were taken to the chiefdom headquarter town of Batkanu for proper health care.

And from the Associated Press, Pyongyang eases up:

After Ebola ban, N. Korea opens marathon to foreigners

After lifting travel restrictions it imposed because of concerns over the Ebola virus, North Korea says foreigners can now take part in one of its most popular tourist events — the annual Pyongyang marathon, a travel agency said Thursday.

Even though no cases of Ebola had been reported anywhere near North Korea, the country shut out foreign tourists in October with some of the strictest Ebola regulations in the world, including saying that only local runners would be allowed into the marathon in April.

But Uri Tours, one company that takes tourists into North Korea, said on its website Thursday that it had been informed that North Korean authorities had “decided to re-open the doors to foreign amateur runners for the 2015 Pyongyang Marathon.”

MexicoWatch: Murders, politics, hypocrisy, art


We begin with murders, via teleSUR:

Mexico’s Murders Are Reducing Life Expectancy

  • Mexico’s high homicide rates have dragged down the country’s average life expectancy.

The roughly 138,000 homicides reported in Mexico in the first decade of the new century have negated public health gains from disease prevention, according to compiled figures released Thursday.

Speaking to La Jornada, researcher Carlos Echarri from the university El Colegio de Mexico, said the homicide rate had dragged down Mexcian life expectancy by over two years.

Citing data from the National Institute for Statistics and Geography, Echarri told the newspaper that between 2000 and 2010, the average life expectancy fell from 74 years to 72. The murder rate negated the life expectancy gains that would have been made by decreases in childhood mortality and deaths from some non-communicable diseases.

From Frontera NorteSur, more on murders and disappearances:

Bloody, Bloody Iguala

The police killings and forced disappearances of students and civilians last fall in Iguala, Mexico, put the city in the international spotlight.  As outrage and protests spread across Mexico and the world, attention focused on the goings on in the city before and after the attacks on the students from the Raul Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers College of Ayotzinapa.

Implicated in the killings and kidnappings of the students, Iguala Mayor Jose Luis Abarca and his wife fled the city and eventually were arrested by the federal government. Similarly linked to the brutal crimes, dozens of police officers and individuals connected to the Guerreros Unidos organized crime group were detained.

Exposed as a corrupted institution, the municipal police force was withdrawn for retraining and security assigned to a new federal police force, the National Gendarmerie. Order and public safety were restored, right?

World attention on the city located in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero notwithstanding, day-to-day events on the ground indicate that little or nothing has fundamentally changed since the bloody assault on the Ayotzinapa students last September.

A teleSUR English video report offers at least one small consolation for the grieving families of the disappeared:

Mexico: New Attorney General says Ayotzinapa case not closed

Program notes:

Contradicting statements made by her predecessor, Mexico’s new Attorney General Arely Gomez said the case of the missing Ayotzinapa students is not closed. Yesterday, Gomez met yesterday with a team from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and promised to give them access to government documentation on the case. Clayton Conn reports from Mexico City.

From teleSUR, a quintessential insider’s elevation questioned:

Controversy Plagues Mexican Supreme Court Nominee

  • The nominee is the current ambassador to the U.S., a former attorney general, and was once director of Mexico’s intelligence agency.

A storm of controversy is engulfing Mexican official Eduardo Medina Mora as he is put up for candidacy for a spot on the country’s highest court.

Medina has been proposed, along with two other candidates, by President Enrique Peña Nieto to fill the position, which arose after the the death of Supreme Court Minister Sergio Valls in December last year.

Medina, who is currently ambassador to the United States, faced a Senate committee hearing Monday, during which several senators grilled him for his professional record in government.

In the previous administration of Felipe Calderon, Medina occupied the attorney general’s seat during polemic events such as the so-called “Michoacanazo,” which resulted in 38 Michoacan State officials, pertaining to opposition parties, being detained and accused of corruption weeks before elections: they were all later released for lack of evidence.

The Guardian notes the sadly obvious:

Mexico drug kingpins behind bars but violence and corruption go unchecked

  • Mexican authorities’ successes in jailing top narco-gangsters has led drug cartels to fragment while leaving politicians and businessmen unpunished

The routine has become almost familiar: a fugitive mafia boss is cornered by Mexican security forces and captured without a shot fired.

The stony-faced kingpin is marched by a masked special forces escort across airport tarmac dotted with army helicopters, to be whisked away for questioning.

Mexican politicians and police hail another victory in the drug war, warning that no mafia boss is too powerful to escape justice. US officials shower praise on their colleagues, and chalk up another victory in the drug war.

But all the while, violence fuelled by drug-trafficking and corruption continues to rage across Mexico, and shipments of marijuana, heroin and methamphetamine keep crossing the border into the US.

And from teleSUR, again, hardly surprising but sad nonetheless:

Mexico’s Ruling Party Blocks Probe on Electoral Fraud

  • Accusations of fraud during the 2012 elections are being reviewed by the Mexican Congress.

In a press conference Wednesday, the head of Mexico’s Congressional Investigative Commission investigating fraud accusations against the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) said the party and its allies are blocking efforts to carry out the probe.

“On more than six ocassions, the PRI, the Green Party and New Alliance have impeded the work of this commission,” said Roberto Lopez Suarez, who heads the probe. “The sub-commissions continue working (…) on a document that we will reveal next Tuesday. There we will show the mistakes and irregularities made by the National Electoral Institute (INE) to exonerate Monex.”

Monex – one of Mexico’s biggest credit card companies – allegedly helped president Enrique Peña Nieto’s PRI win the 2012 elections by issuing massive numbers of special credit cards in exchange for votes.

And we close with images from Poesía Visual Morelia featuring a graphic creation by Felipe Ehrenberg, symbolizing the remains linked to Alex Mora, the only one of the missing students of the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College of Ayotzinapa in Iguala, Guerrero, identified from a sack of ashes found near the alleged cremation site in nearby Cocula, photographed by Hersalía Cantoral:

BLOG Ayotz

Quote of the day: Eugenics, the Alaskan version


House Republican Don Young, tweaking colleagues over their potential support for measures to keep the gray wolf on the endangered species list, as quoted by the Washington Post:

“How many of you have got wolves in your district?” he asked. “None. None. Not one.”

“They haven’t got a damn wolf in their whole district,” Young continued. “I’d like to introduce them in your district. If I introduced them in your district, you wouldn’t have a homeless problem anymore.”

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