Monthly Archives: March 2014

Rwanda revisited 20 years later.

FAO-RWANDA-church-LOCKE

Ntarama, Rwanda. By Greg Locke © 1995
…click to enlarge

I could say it seems like just last year, but it’s been twenty years this month that the first journalists headed into Rwanda, on news that a mass slaughter of one ethnic group by another was taking place. A civil war turned genocidal and an estimated 800,000 would die in just 100 days in the small central Africa country. The mass killing ended when Paul Kagame’s forces swept in from neighbouring Uganda and took control of the country, but the ongoing conflict carried on across the border in eastern Congo, and continues to this day with various factions and proxy militias.

 

Associated Press photographers  Jean-Marc Bouju and David Guttenfelder relive their time in Rwanda in Revisiting the Rwandan Genocide: Origin Stories From The Associated Press, by Pamela Chen on the National Geographic website.

Bouju’s quote rang true for me and I’d guess everyone who has covered conflict, war and continuous refugee crisis.

 

“What I saw was a vision of hell,” Bouju describes, “A particular hell where you have daily life going on, people shopping, but meanwhile other people are butchering each other right there in the same street. The nonchalance of death was astonishing. And I cannot get that out of my mind. To this day, I don’t understand it. But I left a little bit of my soul there somewhere.” …Jean-Mac Bouju

 

The nonchalance of death is striking. But maybe only to those from the west, where life is supposed to be so precious and sacred, with urban violence only occasionally spilling over into middle and upper class suburbs. One thing for sure, it proved to me that the banality of evil is true. A year later, as I stood among the bones of thousands who died in the little church in Ntarama, Rwanda after a day-long orgy of murder, I could not help but think of the methodical and bureaucratic order of the slaughter. When the killers grew tired of using their machetes they herded everyone inside, and fired rocket propelled grenades into the church. The casualness of how one human being or group can dismiss, objectify, demonize and kill another is frightening and the lesson does not always have to be from a civil war in a far-off developing country.

— Greg Locke

Under a Malaria Moon is Greg Locke’s photo-essay, with field notes, from nearly a decade in Africa. (Subscription required)

 Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O serves, and is funded by, readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Our original work in Dispatches, Think and Photo-Essays is available for a $1 site day pass or at a modest subscription price. Use the SUBSCRIBE  form, right, to receive our free Frontlines blog and notices of new work.

 

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Food, water, health, livelihoods already hit by climate change: IPCC

The effects of human-caused climate change are already evident on all continents and waters, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said today in a massive report, in the panel’s most plain language yet.

GLACIER BAY NATIONAL PARK, Alaska. Photo by Deborah Jones © 2009

Alaskan glacier. Deborah Jones © 2009

Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability warned of “pervasive risks” depending on the amount of future climate change — but said opportunities still exist for “effective responses,” albeit challenging ones.

Climate change has already hit agriculture, human health, water and land-based ecosystems, water supplies, and some people’s livelihoods, said the IPCC. It said the effects are evident everywhere on earth “from the tropics to the poles, from small islands to large continents, and from the wealthiest countries to the poorest.”

The world is ill-prepared for climate risks, warned the massive report, prepared and reviewed by nearly 2500 experts from 70 countries. It identified risks to people, industries, and ecosystems, from a lack of preparedness and exposure to climate-related hazards. It also said unpredictable surprises are in store for the world.

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Dr Rajendra Pachauri, Chairman of the IPCC, Photo credit: IPCC

And the report placed the blame for climate change firmly on humans. “We live in an era of man-made climate change,” said Vicente Barros, Co-Chair of the group that produced the report, in a statement.

Adaptation to date focuses on reacting to past events rather than preparing for a different future, said group co-chair, Chris Field — but suggested the experience gained provides a starting point for more ambitious adaptations.

Field said opportunities exist to adapt economically and socially, if the challenges are understood. “Tackling them creatively can make climate-change adaptation an important way to help build a more vibrant world.”

The IPCC was set up in 1988 to assess the science related to climate change by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme. The report was released March 31 by a working group meeting in Yokohama, Japan.

— Deborah Jones

Further reading:
F&O columnist Chris Wood on climate change effects in Canada’s North, The End of the Century is Now (subscription)
F&O’s Expert Witness series republishes Tzeporah Berman’s book excerpt, The Pointy End, on finding hope in the climate campaign (public access)
The March 31, 2014 IPCC press release is here: http://ipcc.ch/pdf/ar5/pr_wg2/140330_pr_wgII_spm_en.pdf
A draft copy of the report summary is here: http://ipcc-wg2.gov/AR5/images/uploads/IPCC_WG2AR5_SPM_Approved.pdf
The video below, provided by the IPCC, is of the news conference announcing the report.

 Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O serves, and is funded by, readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Our original work in Dispatches, Think and Photo-Essays is available for a $1 site day pass or at a modest subscription price. Use the SUBSCRIBE  form, right, to receive our free Frontlines blog and notices of new work.

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Leave Ukraine to the Russians: Manthorpe

Leave Ukraine to the Russians, says International affairs analyst Jonathan Manthorpe. Excerpt of the column:

It may have slipped the memory of certain world leaders, but 15 years ago it was decided that the G-8 club of the world’s leading economies was too elite a cabal to be of much practical use. So, with Canada’s then-Finance Minister Paul Martin leading the charge, the G-20 was formed in 1999. The G-20 includes the G-8 countries – the United States, Italy, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Japan, Canada and Russia – but also includes the major developing economies such as Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, South Africa, and Mexico as well as smaller industrialized countries like Australia. Russian President Vladimir Putin, then, may well feel unperturbed about being expelled from a club everyone agrees has little utility and which often seems ridiculous.

Log in to read the column, Leave Ukraine to the Russians. ($1 site day pass or subscription required*)

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Journalists collateral damage in Middle East rivalries

Detained journalists on trial, regional rivalries and allegations of terrorism are roiling the Middle East. International affairs analyst Jonathan Manthorpe  explains in a new column. Excerpt:

Qatar_rel95A bitter feud among Arab states over relations with radical Islamic groups and how to confront regional rival Iran is threatening to bring new volatility to the already raging insecurity in the Middle East.

The feud pits the oil-rich emirate of Qatar against Saudi Arabia, the other Gulf States of the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt. At the heart of the rift is the financial and moral support by Qatar for militant Islamic groups in North Africa, Egypt and rebels fighting the government of President Bashar Assad in Syria, some of which are linked to Al Qaida and other jihadist groups.

Of special concern is Qatar’s vocal and financial support for the Muslim Brotherhood, which has a network of radical Islamic followers throughout the Middle East and North Africa and which has been declared a terrorist organization in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Log in to read, New rift among Arab states adds to Middle East security threat. ($1 site day pass or subscription required*)

*Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O serves and is entirely funded by readers who buy a subscription or a $1 site day pass. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from non-journalism foundations or causes.

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Privacy Tools: Mask Your Location

 

by Julia Angwin, ProPublica

In the course of writing my book, Dragnet Nation, I tried various strategies to protect my privacy. In this series of book excerpts and adaptations, I distill the lessons from my privacy experiments into tips for readers.

“Where R U?” There’s a reason that is among the most common text messages of the modern age.

Location is one of the most revealing pieces of information about us. In 2013, researchers found that four instances of a person’s location at a given point in time were enough to uniquely identify 95 percent of the individuals they examined. “Human mobility traces are highly unique,” the researchers wrote. “Mobility data is among the most sensitive data currently being collected.”

Location is also predictive. In another study, researchers at Microsoft were able to use location data to predict where people would be in the future. Wednesdays were the easiest to predict, and weekends the hardest. “While your location in the distant future is in general highly independent of your recent location,” the researchers wrote, “it is likely to be a good predictor of your location exactly one week from now.”

To mask my location I took several steps:

1) When browsing the Web, I tried to use the Tor Browser as often as possible. Tor anonymizes the location 2014 known as the IP Address 2014 that you computer transmits automatically to every website you visit. It’s amazing to see how revealing your IP address can be 2014 this site pinpoints my location exactly.

Tor bounces your Internet traffic around the world so that your computer’s location is masked. However, because your traffic is bouncing around the world, using Tor can slow down your Web browsing. Click the Tor button on this graphic to see how Tor protects your location from potential eavesdroppers.

2) Masking my location when using my cellphone was more difficult. I turned off 2018location services’ for my apps. And I tried to opt out from companies that track cellphone users via the Wi-Fi signal emitted by their phone.

I identified 58 companies that appeared to be in the mobile location tracking business 2014 ranging from advertisers to wireless carriers. Of those, only 11 offered opt-outs 2014 which I attempted to complete. Here is the chart of the folks I found that offered opt outs.

DataXu Advertising Link Link Cookie
Drawbridge Advertising Link Link Cookie
Sense Networks Advertising Link Link Device ID
Euclid Analytics Analytics Link Link MAC address
Flurry Analytics Link Link Device ID and UDID
Mixpanel Analytics Link Link Cookie
Nomi Analytics Link Link MAC address
AT&T Wireless Link Link via your AT&T account
Sprint Wireless Link Link Via your Sprint account
Verizon Wirless Wireless Link Link via your Verizon account
T-Mobile Wireless Link Link Cookie

 

The Future of Privacy Forum has also built a location opt-out site, which as of today, offers opt-outs from 11 location tracking companies.

Ultimately, I decided that turning off my Wi-Fi signal was a more effective opt-out.

3) When I really do not want my location to be tracked, I throw my phone into a Faraday cage 2014 a bag that blocks it from transmitting signals to Wi-Fi or the cellphone tower. I use this one from OffPocket, but any Faraday cage will do.

Of course, this also means that I can’t use my phone. So, like most of my privacy fixes, it is a highly imperfect solution.

Creative Commons licence

Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O serves, and is funded by, readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Our original work in Dispatches, Think and Photo-Essays is available for a $1 site day pass or at a modest subscription price. Use the SUBSCRIBE  form, right, to receive our free Frontlines blog and notices of new work.


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Dirty air kills twice as many as previously thought: WHO

Air pollution is now the world’s largest single environmental health risk, prematurely killing some seven million people in 2012 alone, said the World Health Organization.

People die prematurely of pollution-linked strokes, ischaemic heart disease, cancer, respiratory infections and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD), said WHO in estimates released in Geneva on March 25.

WHO

A woman cooks over an open fire in her kitchen in India. Smoke from such fires causes millions of deaths annually, said the World Health Organization. © WHO/TDR /Andy Crump 2001

The organization’s new estimates are double the numbers of people previously suspected killed by dirty air, both indoor and outdoor, and WHO announced a  program to better track information and advise and inform countries of health gains from reducing pollution.

The problem is global. In France this month an environmental agency, Ecologie Sans Frontiere, filed a criminal complaint of “endangering others” over the recent extreme smog in Paris. On Monday the European Union’s environmental agency announced that 11 EU countries exceed pollution limits. China, especially affected by thick smog, has begun using drones to inspect polluting factories, said the state-run news outlet China Daily.

WHO said the countries most affected by air pollution are in South-East Asia and the Western Pacific Regions where, said WHO’s Dr. Flavia Bustreo in a statement, “Poor women and children pay a heavy price from indoor air pollution since they spend more time at home breathing in smoke and soot from leaky coal and wood cook stoves.”

The causes of indoor pollution are mostly cooking over coal, wood and biomass (dung) stoves — and they especially affect women and children, said WHO. In a WHO feature accompanying the report it quoted Dr Kirk Smith of the University of California at Berkeley, an expert in pollution from biomass stoves: “Having an open fire in your kitchen is like burning 400 cigarettes an hour.”

Outdoors, WHO laid the blame for pollution on transport, energy, waste management and industry.

“The risks from air pollution are now far greater than previously thought or understood, particularly for heart disease and strokes,” said Dr Maria Neira, Director of WHO’s Department for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, in the WHO statement. “Few risks have a greater impact on global health today than air pollution; the evidence signals the need for concerted action to clean up the air we all breathe.”

The WHO report said ischaemic heart disease and stroke kill the greatest numbers of people, with COPD a close third.

Copyright Deborah Jones 2014

 Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O serves, and is funded by, readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Our original work in Dispatches, Think and Photo-Essays is available for a $1 site day pass or at a modest subscription price. Use the SUBSCRIBE  form, right, to receive our free Frontlines stories and notices of new work.

 

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Stillbirth and the American justice system

What tales would Charles Dickens have fashioned about the enduring miseries in the 21st Century? What might he have made of documented cases of hundreds of American women detained, arrested or convicted for things authorities viewed as harmful to their unborn children? They include:

  • An Indiana woman who attempted suicide while pregnant spent a year in jail before murder charges were dropped.
  • An Iowa woman was arrested and jailed after falling down the stairs and suffering a miscarriage.
  • A New Jersey woman who refused to sign a preauthorization for a cesarean section didn’t end up needing the operation, yet was charged with child endangerment and lost custody of her baby.
  • Women suspected of using illegal drugs.

Nina Martin of ProPublica has been following this and related issues. An excerpt of her latest story, A Stillborn Child and a Charge of Murder:

Rennie Gibbs’s daughter, Samiya, was a month premature when she simultaneously entered the world and left it, never taking a breath. To experts who later examined the medical record, the stillborn infant’s most likely cause of death was also the most obvious: the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck. But within days of Samiya’s delivery in November 2006, Steven Hayne, the American state of Mississippi’s de facto medical examiner at the time, came to a different conclusion. Autopsy tests had turned up traces of a cocaine byproduct in Samiya’s blood, and Hayne declared her death a homicide, caused by “cocaine toxicity.”

The story, which like all ProPublica work is not behind our paywall, is part of F&O’s Justice section.

Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O serves, and is funded by, readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Our original work in Dispatches, Think and Photo-Essays is available for a $1 site day pass or at a modest subscription price. Use the SUBSCRIBE  form, right, to receive our free Frontlines stories and notices of new work.

Posted in All, Current Affairs, Gyroscope

Canada’s health care takes a hit

Canadians tend to smugness about the country’s health care, but new research suggests private insurers rake in billions more than they pay in benefits. And a study published today, which examined 20 years of records, revealed that Canadians pay far more for less benefits from private insurance than do Americans.

The Canadian public model stars often in battles over so-called “Obamacare” health care in America’s right-left culture war. Canada’s system is lauded at home and cited constantly in the United States as a better model — although World Health Organization research shows that neither system ranks among the world’s least-costly and most-effective.

But when it comes to private insurance — which covers 60 per cent of Canadians for prescription drugs and dental and eye care —  researchers say Canadians pay more than Americans, and Canadian regulations lag those of the United States. For example in 2011, states the analysis in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Canadians paid $6.8 billion more in premiums than they received in benefits.

The study contends:

  • Private insurance companies play a substantial role in financing particular health care services in Canada, such as prescription drugs.
  • The percentage of private health insurance premiums paid out as benefits has decreased markedly over the past 20 years, leading to a gap between premiums collected and benefits paid of $6.8 billion in 2011.
  • Governments across Canada should regulate the private health insurance industry more effectively to provide greater transparency and better value for Canadians.

“Although most health care in Canada is paid for by the public, private health insurance plays a major supporting role,” said researchers at the universities of British Columbia and Toronto. In 2010, for example, private insurance expenditures were 11.7 per cent of total health care spending, placing Canada second among nations in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in terms of per capita private health insurance expenditures.

“Small businesses and individual entrepreneurs are the hardest hit – they end up paying far more for private health coverage,” said study lead author Michael Law of the University of British Columbia, in a press release. “It’s essentially an extra health tax on one of our main economic drivers.”

Early reaction from the private health insurance industry protested that the study does not account for all factors, and one organization told CBC the study is “misleading.

The study is available online at the CMAJ site (for journal subscribers, or for a fee of $25 per article). A press release from the University of British Columbia provides a summary.

— Deborah Jones

Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O serves, and is funded by, readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Our original work in Dispatches, Think and Photo-Essays is available for a $1 site day pass or at a modest subscription price. Use the SUBSCRIBE  form, right, to receive our free Frontlines blog and notices of new work.

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Findings, a video: Something New

For a Monday-morning break from the weight of the world, check out a photo-music feature by English singer-songwriter Tom Fletcher, who serenades his wife Giovanna Falcone through her pregnancy to the birth of their baby, Buzz Michelangelo Fletcher.

 The song is called “Something New.”

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Facts and Opinions this Week

Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O is funded by readers. We do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. Our original work is available for a $1 site day pass or at a modest subscription price.

St. Patrick’s day kicked off the past week, and F&O’s resident Irishman, Brian Brennan, explained in The Pluck of the Irish: How a proud native cuts through the kitsch why he tossed the green beer for James Joyce, Dublin pianist John O’Conor, and Irish composer John Field — and remembering why he and fellow emigrants “fear what Edna O’Brien calls the “psychological choke.”

In Our Rube Goldberg World Natural Security columnist Chris Wood compared earth’s climate to Rube Goldberg’s whimsical contraptions: “a vast assembly of invisibly connected parts, pushing and pulling each other around the spherical planet to achieve, for the last 12,000 years at least, a lot of movement of heat and wind and water, but very little change in the overall state of affairs.” Also check out F&O’s collated works on Energy, including a slideshow of stunning photographs by F&O photographers.

After looking at the China/Taiwan relationship in light of Russia/Ukraine in Taiwan’s People Power protest is Beijing’s Crimea moment, International Affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe turned his attention to South Africa. He predicts in Mandela’s heritage tainted by President Zuma’s graft that the balance between past and present has been finally shifted by corruption and incompetence, and a scathing new report. While considering South Africa, check out Learning from Mandela in our Expert Witness series – in which professor Heribert Adam wonders, in the wake of Nelson Mandela’s death in December, why Mandela emerged as a global icon.

bicep2

Superconducting Detectors for Study of Infant Universe are part of the BICEP2 telescope at the South Pole. Novel technology uses superconductivity to gather, filter, detect and amplify polarized light from the cosmic microwave background — relic radiation left over from the Big Bang that created our universe. Photo credit: NASA

New science reporting includes a Frontlines post, The Beginning of Everything we Know about stunning new findings about the Big Bang, and a dispatch, Universities as corporate vassals? Not so fast, about research into the wider benefits of corporate versus publicly-funded science research.

American tycoons the Koch brothers seem to be constantly in the news, this week via an explosive and much-contested Washington Post report on their vast holdings in Canada’s oil sands. The non-profit journalism outfit ProPublica has an extensive and ongoing investigation into the Koch brother’s political involvement; F&O has published two of the broader pieces that are essential reading to anyone curious about these two businessmen and their impact on the world. America’s Dark Money: Who Controls the Kochs’ Political Network? unravels the Kochs complex network of indirect political funding — including some $383 million before the  2012 United States election. SEAN NOBLE: Dark Money Man for the ‘Kochtopus is a profile of an obscure former congressman’s aide who “became one of the most important people in American politics. Plucked from obscurity by libertarian billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, Noble was tasked with distributing a torrent of political money raised by the Koch network, a complex web of nonprofits nicknamed the Kochtopus.

Recommended elsewhere:

The Devil and the Art Dealer, by Alex Shoumatoff in Vanity Fair

“It was the greatest art theft in history: 650,000 works looted from Europe by the Nazis, many of which were never recovered. But last November the world learned that German authorities had found a trove of 1,280 paintings, drawings, and prints worth more than a billion dollars in the Munich apartment of a haunted white-haired recluse. Amid an international uproar, Alex Shoumatoff follows a century-old trail to reveal the crimes—and obsessions—involved.”

AAAS Kicks Off Initiative to Recognize Climate Change Risks

(The American Association for the Advancement of Science) launched an initiative “to expand the dialogue on the risks of climate change,” a ” What We Know” report that assesses current climate science and impacts. It states:

  • Climate scientists agree: climate change is happening here and now.
  • We are at risk of pushing our climate system toward abrupt, unpredictable, and potentially irreversible changes with highly damaging impacts.
  • The sooner we act, the lower the risk and cost. And there is much we can do.

Lucas Foglia’s new Wild West, by Liz Jobey: photo book review in the Financial Times

“For Lucas Foglia, who was born in 1983 and grew up in Huntingdon, Long Island, 30 miles from Manhattan, the American West was a mythological place, largely created by Hollywood, but still a physical territory, out there to be discovered. So in 2006, the year after he graduated from Brown University, he set off on a journey that took him to North Carolina, down to Florida, across to New Mexico and then up through Texas, Wyoming and Nevada. “What I expected when I went there was a frontier,” he says. “I expected wilderness; people living on the edge of it. I imagined cowboys and ghost towns. And what I encountered was a mining boom.”

 Mary Midgley: a late stand for a philosopher with soul, by Andrew Anthony in the Guardian

“… She says she doesn’t want to “keep on attacking” Dawkins, but he appears once again in Are You an Illusion? as a leading representative of what Midgley sees as a kind of self-deceiving fatalism, namely the conviction that the universe has no purpose, that it contains at bottom, as Dawkins has written, “nothing but blind, pitiless indifference”.

This Is What 80 Looks Like, by Gail Collins in the New York Times

“ON Tuesday, Gloria Steinem turns 80. Do not bother to call. She’s planning to celebrate in Botswana. “I thought: ‘What do I really want to do on my birthday?’ First, get out of Dodge. Second, ride elephants.”

Some Facts About How NSA Stories Are Reported, by Glen Greenwald at First Look

Several members of the august “US Journalists Against Transparency” club are outraged by revelations in yesterday’s New York Times (jointly published by der Spiegel) that the NSA has been hacking the products of the Chinese tech company Huawei as well as Huawei itself at exactly the same time (and in exactly the same way) as the US Government has been claiming the Chinese government hacks. Echoing the script of national security state officials, these journalists argue that these revelations are unjustified, even treasonous, because this is the type of spying the NSA should be doing, and disclosure serves no public interest while harming American national security, etc. etc.

— Deborah Jones

 

Posted in All, Current Affairs, Gyroscope