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Is BP ‘trolling’ its Facebook critics? – Features – Al Jazeera English

Is BP ‘trolling’ its Facebook critics? – Features – Al Jazeera English.

Critics using BP America’s Facebook page allege they have been harassed [Erika Blumenfeld/Al Jazeera]
New Orleans, United States – BP has been accused of hiring internet “trolls” to purposefully attack, harass, and sometimes threaten people who have been critical of how the oil giant has handled its disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

The oil firm hired the international PR company Ogilvy & Mather to run the BP America Facebook page during the oil disaster, which released at least 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf in what is to date the single largest environmental disaster in US history.

The page was meant to encourage interaction with BP, but when people posted comments that were critical of how BP was handling the crisis, they were often attacked, bullied, and sometimes directly threatened.

“Marie” was deeply concerned by the oil spill, and began posting comments on the BP America Facebook page. Today, she asks that she remain anonymous out of what she described to Al Jazeera as “fear for my personal safety should the BP trolls find out that I am the whistleblower in this case”.

In internet slang, a troll is someone who sows online discord by starting arguments or upsetting people, often posting inflammatory messages in an online community, or even issuing physical threats.

Marie sought assistance from the Government Accountability Project (GAP), a non-profit group in Washington DC, and has produced boxes of documents and well-researched information that may show that the people harassing BP’s critics online worked for BP or Ogilvy.

“We’d been hearing of this kind of harassment by BP when we were working on our health project [in the Gulf of Mexico], so it sparked our interest,” GAP investigator Shanna Devine told Al Jazeera. “We saw Marie’s documentation of more serious threats made on the BP page, and decided to investigate.”

According to both Marie and Devine, some of the threats began on the page, but then escalated off the page.

Threats included identifying where somebody lived, an internet troll making reference to having a shotgun and making use of it, and “others just being more derogatory”, according to Devine. “We’ve seen all this documentation and that’s why we thought it was worth bringing to the ombudsman’s office of BP, and we told them we thought some of it even warranted calling the police about.”

Death threats

“We have thousands of documents regarding communications posted through various Facebook websites,” said certified legal investigator Steve Lockman of Levin, Papantonio, Thomas, Mitchell, Rafferty & Proctor. “In addtion, we are in possession of communications between the federal government and the ombudsman’s office of BP regarding the internet communications, and the federal government requesting BP to control the harassment through their Facebook page and their interactions.”

“The harassment communications are not something that BP and their people are not aware of,” Lockman told Al Jazeera. “It’s not a hidden secret that the personal attacks, broadcast abuse, and type-written harassment were happening and continue to go on.”

Marie provided the firm and Al Jazeera with files of complaint letters, computer screenshots of the abuse, and a list of Facebook profiles used by the people who harassed her and others.

“I was called a lot of names,” Marie added. “I was called a streetwalker and a lot of things like that, and eventually had gun threats.”

According to Marie, the harassment didn’t remain on the BP page. Trolls often followed users to their personal Facebook pages and continued to harass them there.

“They resorted to very demeaning methods of abuse,” Marie said. “They were racist, sexist, and threatened me and others with legal action and violence. They’ve insinuated that some commenters are ‘child molesters’, and have often used the tactic of mass reporting with the goal of having their targets completely removed from Facebook.”

One troll using the name “Griffin” makes several allusions to gun violence, while another, named “Ken Smith” also harassed and threatened users, even going so far as to edit a photo of a BP critic’s pet bird into the crosshairs of a gunsight, before posting the photo online – along with photos of an arsenal of semi-automatic weapons.

Another instance occurred involving “Griffin” and an environmentalist who posted a picture of a rendition of Mother Earth saying “Mother Earth Has Been Waiting for Her Day in Court, BP”. “Griffin” posted a comment to the picture that read, “A few rounds from a .50 cal will stop that b**ch”.

According to Marie, Lockman and GAP, BP’s “astroturfing” efforts and use of “trolls” have been reported as pursuing users’ personal information, then tracking and posting IP addresses of users, contacting their employers, threatening to contact family members, and using photos of critics’ family members to create false Facebook profiles, and even threatening to affect the potential outcome of individual compensation claims against BP.

Marie, along with several other targets of harassment, wrote and sent two letters to BP America, asking the company to respond to the allegations and deal with the matter. Neither letter received a response, which is why Marie decided to contact GAP, as well as the law firm.

While Marie’s evidence appears to tie Ogilvy and BP together via the trolls, the law firm Lockman works for is investigating further, in order to conclusively determine the extent of BP’s involvement.

Spinning the disaster

Stephen Marino worked for Ogilvy during the BP disaster. BP had been a client of Ogilvy for five years before the spill, and when the disaster occurred, “we were responsible for all the social media for BP during the spill”,Marino said during a lecture he gave at the University of Texas, Austin, on April 19, 2012.

His team, which he called the “digital influence team”, was “responsible for the crisis response”.  Marino told the audience that his job during the BP disaster was to run a ” reputation management campaign ” and gave this specific example of the depths to which Ogilvy worked to maintain a positive appearance for BP:

“We were putting out ads, if you guys remember those ads that came out where it would be Iris in the Gulf of Mexico and she’d be talking about how she grew up there and she wasn’t going to go away,” he explained . “The way we were working with the strategy on that was we would cut the ads one day, we would edit them overnight, we’d air them on Tuesday let’s say, and then we’d look at social media to see what the response was to the ads – and based upon the feedback we were getting on social media, the advertising agency would then go back and re-cut the ads to fix the message to make it resonate more with what the constituents wanted… that was the first key strategy.”

Chris Paulos, an attorney with the firm investigating Marie’s case, believes this is a perfect example of “subversive attempts by corporations to put forward their ideology of what we should think about them, and doing it in a way that is not decipherable to the average person”.

According to Paulos, the public should be concerned about this because we can no longer tell if people online are truly who they say they are, “or are working for a corporation and talking their script to control the dialogue about whatever issue they are addressing”.

“We are in unprecedented times with technology, and [in] the disparity between the power of corporations and autonomous consumers,” Paulos told Al Jazeera. ” Citizens United has basically emboldened corporations with their ability to speak as individuals with First Amendment rights. Ever since that decision, corporations have been outspoken and vigorously protecting themselves while doing it.”

BP’s response

Billie Garde, BP’s deputy ombudsman, in a letter to the Government Accountability Project dated December 18, 2012, stated clearly that “BP America contracts management of its Facebook page to Ogilvy Public Relations” and added, “Ogilvy manages all of BP America’s social media matters”.

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“According to BP America, Ogilvy has a group of 10 individuals in different time zones that perform comment screening of the page,” wrote Garde.

Interestingly, Garde’s letter addressed the fact that, at that time, according to Ogilvy’s data, 91 percent of all the comments on BP’s Facebook page were considered to be “unsupportive” of BP, while only nine percent were considered “supportive”.  She added that “i n previous years, the number of comments that were ‘unsupportive ‘ of BP was larger than the present 91 per cent “.

Her letter stated that Ogilvy follows a “three strike” policy for all comments, “meaning if they find a comment to be in violation of the commenting policy, they delete the comment and record a ‘strike’ against the user, and three strikes means a user is no longer able to comment on the page. It is also noted that Ogilvy will delete offending comments and send a note to the user indicating the comment was inappropriate”.

Garde added: “BP America has informed our office that Ogilvy strictly adheres to the Commenting Policy as stated on the BP America Facebook page. This policy serves as the guidelines that Ogilvy follows when evaluating the appropriateness of comments. Ogilvy does not evaluate a comment with respect to it being a positive or negative statement towards BP. Likewise, they do not delete any comments based on either of these qualifiers.”

According to Garde, BP America’s Director of Employee Concerns Oversight, Mike Wilson, was apprised of the situation. Wilson was provided examples of harassment and was asked if the examples were reviewed by Ogilvy. “The discussion is ongoing, and Mr Wilson is addressing these specific concerns internally,” Garde added.

A BP spokesman provided the following statement for Al Jazeera: “The BP America Facebook page, and its moderators, do not endorse or dictate any user activity. All users’ comments and actions are their own. BP created the BP America Facebook page to engage the public in an informative conversation about our ongoing commitment to America and to facilitate constructive dialogue for any and all who wish to participate. No users are compensated for participating in the Facebook community. More information on our commenting policy can be found here .”

Marie, however, staunchly believes that BP is responsible for the pro-BP Facebook trolls.

“I have no doubt that they are, and I’ve found the links between the trolls and their friends who work for BP,” she told Al Jazeera. “The Government Accountability Project, through the inquiry they’re conducting for me, is still trying to find out. But we are being stonewalled on the other end, as far as BP doing some type of an internal investigation into these connections that I’ve uncovered.”

According to Marie, the harassment “almost ceased completely at around the same time GAP received Garde’s letter. I say ‘almost’ because at least two of the people who were involved in the prior harassment are still allowed to comment on BP’s page to this day, and [one of those] was still checking on people’s profiles to obtain their state of residence, and would use this against them on the page.”

‘Terroristic threats’

Lockman’s investigation continues, as do the efforts of recovering additional documentation and sifting through information on hand that links the trolls to both BP and Ogilvy as well as to other subcontracted companies used by BP as creative storytellers.

“The information we possess regarding Marie’s claims, printed out, fills two file boxes, and that does not include all the DVDs which are currently being duplicated at this time,” Lockman said. “It is an unbelievable amount of documentation that has been developed. This documentation, support materials, and information is coming from several different sources. It is like a spider web and we just got started.”

Al Jazeera asked the firm Lockman works for what the possible legal ramifications would be for the alleged actions of BP and Ogilvy.

“What these guys are doing is bordering on illegal,” said Paulos the attorney. “Marie’s allegations are that these guys have made overt acts beyond what they did online, and it does sound like people who’ve been the victims of these actions believe they are in imminent danger of bodily harm, and that can become the basis for a claim of assault.”

Paulos went on to say that if people who had pending claims against BP were being targeted “it can become a claim of extortion or fraud, depending on how the money is being used”. The same applies in cases where money or other benefits are offered in exchange for ceasing the harrassment.

Yet these are not the worst possible crimes.

“They [BP/Ogilvy] are obviously trying to silence folks who are opposed or critical of what they are doing,” Paulos claimed. “But it appears as though it has moved into threats that can be considered terroristic threats depending on the intent behind them, so there are a lot of laws they can be treading on, including stalking, and tortious interference with someone’s businesses. I understand they’ve called the workplaces of people on the websites, and depending on what’s being said that may become actionable under US civil law. So there are a lot of ways they could be breaching the law based on the intent of their communication and how that has been received.”

Paulos believes Marie’s case is an example of how corporations such as BP use their money and power to take advantage of a lack of adequate legal regulations over the use of internet trolls and vigorous PR campaigns, and that this should give the general public pause.

“Marie’s story shows that corporations do not refrain from cyber-bullying, and they are doing it in a very aggressive fashion.”

Other harassment

Linda Hooper Bui, an associate professor of entomology at Louisiana State University, experienced a different form of harassment from BP while working on a study about the impact of the oil disaster on spiders and insects.

“BP was desperately trying to control the science, and that was what I ran into,” Bui told Al Jazeera. According to her, BP’s chief science officer “tried to intimidate me”, and the harassment included BP “bullying my people” who were working in the field with her on her study that revealed how “insects and spiders in the oiled areas were completely decimated”.

While collecting data for the study, Bui and her colleagues regularly ran into problems with BP, she said.

“Local sheriffs working under the auspices of BP, as well as personnel with Wildlife and Fisheries, the US Coast Guard – all of these folks working under BP were preventing us from doing our job,” Bui explained. “We were barred from going into areas to collect data where we had previous data.”

Bui said personnel from the USCG, Fish and Wildlife, and even local sheriffs departments, always accompanied by BP staff, worked to prevent her from entering areas to collect data, confiscated her samples, and “if I’d refused to oblige they would have arrested me” – despite her having state permits to carry out her work.

Bui has also been harassed online, by what she thinks was “a BP troll”, but she remained primarily concerned about what BP was doing to block her science. Her frustration about this prompted her to write an opinion article for The New York Times , titled A Gulf Science Blackout .

That is when she received a call from BP.

“August 24, 2010, at 7:15am the morning my op-ed was published, I received a call from BP’s chief science officer who tried to get me to be quiet,” Bui said. “He said he’d solve my problem, and asked me how much money I needed.”

Bui explained to him she was only interested in being allowed to conduct her studies, and was not interested in working with BP, “that I was publishing science and it involved the entire scientific community”, and she never heard back from him.

She believes her method of dealing with the overall situation was a success. “When somebody starts to mess with me, I publicise it and say: ‘Don’t f**k with me,'” she concluded. “And if you do, I’m going to go very public with it, and that’s what I did.”

BP did not respond to Al Jazeera for comment regarding her specific allegation.

GAP’s Shanna Devine told Al Jazeera she believes the onus is on BP to investigate the possibility that there is a connection between the harassment and Ogilvy and BP employees.

“But so far they’ve taken a very hands-off approach,” she explained. “They’ve not taken responsibility and they are not willing to share information with us.”

Follow Dahr Jamail on Twitter: @DahrJamail

Water under pressure – Inside Story – Al Jazeera English

Water under pressure – Inside Story – Al Jazeera English.

Water is under pressure, and disputes over the precious resource are fuelling tensions in regions across the world.

“We never know the worth of water until the well is dry,” a 17th century scholar once said. Those words strike a chord in the modern world, raising concerns about the risks and challenges of potential conflicts.

An international conference is taking place at The Hague in the Netherlands to discuss issues around water security and peace.

Half of the world lacks access to proper sanitation. Somewhere between 1.5 million and 2.5 million people die every year simply because of a lack of access to a safe, stable water supply. So in terms of crises, this is as big as anything. This is as big as HIV/AIDS or malaria, and it’s bigger than just about anything else in terms of destruction. It’s bigger than tsunamis, earthquakes, all the wars in any given year put together.

Aaron Wolf, Oregon State University

The two-day event, which began on Thursday, sees analysts, negotiators and scientists gathered to discuss ways to avoid future conflicts over water.

Delegates there are promoting a new catchphrase: water diplomacy.

They are emphasising the need for cooperation, negotiation and arbitration to address recurring conflicts, and to head off the risks of potential wars over water.

The United Nations estimates that 783 million people, or 11 percent of the world’s population, do not have access to clean water.

And what fresh water there is, is coming under increasing pressure from population growth, pollution and global warming.

Conflicts over water generally fall into two categories.

The first is simply a fight between two groups over water itself for consumption, sanitation and commerce.

The second conflict is that which arises from the way we deal with water scarcity, for instance, the impact a new dam might have on a community downstream, or the privatisation of water – a trend that has taken root in some South American countries – where it is being sold as a commodity, like oil.

Disputes over water are common around the world.

Already, the construction of the Belo Monte Dam in Brazil, expected to be the world’s third-largest, has angered indigenous people in the Amazon Basin.

And a series of dams have reduced water flow from the Tigris and the Euphrates, causing tension between Turkey, Iraq and Syria. Syria and Iraq have previously fought minor skirmishes over the Euphrates River.

Five regions in central Asia are also competing for water from two sources, the Syr Daria and Amu Daria Rivers.

Some 95 percent of Egypt’s population depends on the Nile River for its water supply, but the Nile runs through 10 countries, and those in the Nile basin want a greater share of the river’s water supply.

Ethiopia is also building a dam on the Blue Nile, one of the main sources of the Nile River, and the biggest dam construction project in Africa, which has become a cause for concern.

Water rights are a major part of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as the only water resource for the Palestinians is completely controlled by Israel.

So, why has water, the source of life, become a source of tension?

And as populations grow and supplies decline, what can be done to safeguard the world’s most precious resource?

To discuss this, Inside Story, with presenter Sue Turton, is joined by: Patrick Huntjens, the head of Water Diplomacy at The Hague Institute for Global Justice, which organised this week’s conference; Hakan Tropp, the managing director of the Knowledge Services department at the Stockholm International Water Institute; and Aaron Wolf, the director of the Water Conflict Management Programme at Oregon State University.

“Water security is a major issue on the international agenda. But in practice we can see that cooperation over water is very difficult. So in this conference we are trying to question how we can improve existing tools and methods for solving water conflicts and water prevention, and what diplomatic tools are needed to address recurring conflicts.”

Patrick Huntjens, The Hague Institute for Global Justice

 

Jakarta summons Australian envoy over spying – Asia-Pacific – Al Jazeera English

Jakarta summons Australian envoy over spying – Asia-Pacific – Al Jazeera English. (source)

The latest revelations suggest even internet giants Google and Yahoo were spied on by the NSA [Reuters]
Indonesia has summoned Australia’s ambassador to explain media reports his embassy in Jakarta was used to spy on Southeast Asia’s biggest country as part of a US-led global spying network.The chief US diplomat in Jakarta was called in earlier this week over similar allegations, while China on Thursday demanded an explanation from the US after the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reported Australian embassies across Asia were part of the US spying operation.

News of Australia’s role in a US-led surveillance network could damage relations with Indonesia, Australia’s nearest Asian neighbour and a key strategic ally.

“Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa has demanded an explanation from the Australian ambassador in Jakarta about the existence and use of surveillance facilities in the Australian embassy here,” Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Friday.

“The reported activities absolutely do not reflect the spirit of a close and friendly relationship between the two neighbours and are considered unacceptable by the government of Indonesia.”

The Herald said its reports were based on US whistleblower Edward Snowden and a former Australian intelligence officer.

Snowden leaks to other media have detailed vast intelligence collection by the US National Security Agency (NSA) on allies, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, prompting protests and a US review of intelligence gathering.

‘Reached too far’

In an unprecedented admission following revelations the US spied on its European allies, US Secretary of State said on Thursday that his country’s US surveillance programme did go too far at times,

“In some cases, I acknowledge to you, as has the president, that some of these actions have reached too far, and we are going to make sure that does not happen in the future,” he said.

Kerry said that what Washington was trying to do was, in a “random way,” find ways of determining if there were threats that needed responding to.

Recent allegations and reports of widespread spying by the US National Security Agency have caused a major rift in trans-Atlantic ties.

Kerry justified the surveillance in broad terms, citing the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, as well as attacks in London, Madrid and elsewhere to argue that the US and other countries have had to come together to fight “extremism in the world that is hell-bent and determined to try to kill people and blow people up and attack governments.”

He said US intelligence had since 2001 averted attacks with intercepts of communications.

But he acknowledged, without going into specifics, that at times it had been too much.

Kerry also sought to give assurances that such steps would not be repeated.

“I assure you, innocent people are not being abused in this process, but there’s an effort to try to gather information,” Kerry told a London conference via video link.

 

BP’s ‘widespread human health crisis’ – Features – Al Jazeera English

BP’s ‘widespread human health crisis’ – Features – Al Jazeera English. (source)

A slick PR job has not stopped the spread of anti-BP sentiment in the wake of health problems [Reuters]
New Orleans, United States of America – Peter Frizzell never thought his watersports off the coast of Florida would destroy his health.

“After sea kayaking after BP’s spill happened, I was sitting at my desk and started coughing up loads of blood,” Frizzell, an avid outdoorsman, told Al Jazeera. “My doctor ran a scope down to the top of my lungs and said my bronchi were full of blood.”

Frizzell’s medical records bear out that he was exposed to toxic chemicals, and he is far from alone.

Since the spill began in April 2010, Al Jazeera has interviewed hundreds of coastal residents, fishermen, and oil cleanup workers whose medical records, like Frizzell’s, document toxic chemical exposure that they blame on BP’s oil and the toxic chemical dispersants the oil giant used on the spill.

The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention lists the toxic components commonly found in chemicals in crude oil, and several of these chemicals have been found in the blood of people living in the impact zone of BP’s disaster.

Returning to the Gulf two years after the BP oil spill

Several toxicologists agree, and now one accuses both BP and the US Environmental Protection Agency of knowingly placing people in harms way since they both had prior knowledge of the harmful effects of the oil and dispersants.

“BP told the public that Corexit was ‘as harmless as Dawn dishwashing liquid’,” Dr Susan Shaw, of the State University of New York, told Al Jazeera. “But BP and the EPA clearly knew about the toxicity of the Corexit dispersants long before this spill.”

Shaw, a toxicologist in the university’s School of Public Health, has been studying the health effects of chemical exposure for 30 years. She is also the president and founder of the Marine Environmental Research Institute, and explained that BP’s Material Safety Data Sheets for Corexit warned that the dispersant posed high and immediate human health hazards.

“Five of the Corexit ingredients are linked to cancer, 33 are associated with skin irritation from rashes to burns, 33 are linked to eye irritation, 11 are or are suspected of being potential respiratory toxins or irritants, and 10 are suspected kidney toxins,” she added. “BP’s own testing found that workers were exposed to a possible human carcinogen from the dispersant.

“We predicted with certainty the widespread human health crisis we are seeing in the Gulf today,” Shaw said.

Hazardous to human health

A newly published study conducted by doctors at Houston’s University Cancer and Diagnostic Centers and reported in the American Journal of Medicine, sheds more light on the potential health repercussions for the more than 170,000 people who worked in some capacity to clean up the 2010 disaster.

Their blood tests suggest an elevated health risk for Gulf spill cleanup workers. The study shows that people hired to clean up Gulf of Mexico beaches and marshes during the 2010 oil spill have significantly altered blood profiles that, just as Shaw and other toxicologists warned, put them at increased risk of developing liver cancer, leukemia and other disorders.

Based on extensive monitoring conducted by BP and the federal agencies, response worker and or public exposures to dispersants were well below levels that would pose a health or safety concern.

BP statement

 

“People in the Gulf were exposed to massive amounts of crude oil and Corexit dispersants, both of which contain multiple toxic chemicals, including volatile organic compounds and carcinogens that are hazardous to human health,” said Shaw, who served on the Department of Interior’s Strategic Sciences Working Group – a team of 14 scientists charged with assessing consequences of the oil spill and recommending policy actions in the Gulf.

“The combination of crude oil and Corexit is exponentially more toxic than either alone, since they contain many ingredients that target the same organs in the body.”

Dr Riki Ott, a toxicologist, marine biologist, and Exxon Valdez survivor, told Al Jazeera she sees clear indications of widespread toxic chemical exposure across the four-state impact zone of BP’s oil disaster.

“It’s pretty clear to me, after spending a year in the Gulf coastal communities during 2010 and 2011, that the suite of illnesses that developed during this time were above and beyond the background level of illnesses incurred in the Gulf,” Ott said.

“People across four states expressed concern that these headache-dizziness-nausea-respiratory problems-blood disorders-skin lesions were different than anything they’d experienced before, and far more intense.”

Ott said that people she is seeing along the roughly 900km impact zone are all consistently describing these same symptoms of exposure to chemicals in the oil and dispersants.

Skin lesions like this have become common in the impact
zone of BP’s 2010 oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico
[Erika Blumenfeld/Al Jazeera]

“Medical literature supports that these are the symptoms, and I would expect to see increased rates of early term miscarriages for women, early developmental issues for children born to women who were exposed to breathing these fumes and vapours, and also continuing chemical hypersensitivity.”

Unfortunately, what Ott describes is precisely what many Gulf residents are experiencing.

“We’re seeing spontaneous miscarriages, and cancer is rampant,” Trisha Springstead, a nurse of 36 years in Crystal River, Florida, told Al Jazeera. “These are occurring in Orange Beach, Alabama, and all over Mississippi and Alabama…women are not carrying to term.”

Dean Blanchard, owner of Dean Blanchard Seafood in Grand Isle, Louisiana, told Al Jazeera he knows many fishermen who participated in the oil clean-up operation who have since died.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in my life,” Blanchard said. “I know more than half a dozen guys who were totally healthy before the spill who worked on the clean up. They found out they got cancer and within one or two months were dead.”

Dr Wilma Subra, a McArthur Fellow Genius Award-winning toxicologist in New Iberia, Louisiana, has tested the blood of BP clean-up workers and residents.

“Ethylbenzene, m,p-Xylene and hexane are volatile organic chemicals that are present in the BP crude oil,” Dr Subra recently explained to Al Jazeera. “Exposure has been prolonged enough to create long-term effects, such as liver damage, kidney damage, and damage to the nervous system. So the presence of these chemicals in the blood indicates exposure.”

Ongoing problems

According to Dr Shaw, thousands of people in the Gulf – clean-up workers, fishermen, residents – have now reported multiple severe symptoms related to chemical exposure from the spill.

“What ties them together as a group is their spill-related health problems, which are also typical of the health problems reported from previous oil spills,” she said. “Some of these include: blood in urine, heart palpitations, kidney damage, liver damage, migraines, multiple chemical sensitivity, neurological damage, memory loss, rapid weight loss, respiratory system damage, skin lesions, muscle spasms, seizures, and temporary paralysis.”

Frizzell is experiencing many of these symptoms.

Peter Frizzell’s medical notes show exposure to toxic
chemicals. His towel is soaked in blood he coughed up
[Photo: Peter Frizzell]

“I have neuropathy, my lungs are destroyed, I can’t feel my feet and legs at times,” he explained. “I still have skin lesions come up. How crazy is that that, out of nowhere, your lungs just explode. The day after I was exposed I soaked two full-sized bath towels with coughing up blood. That’s an indication of how much blood I was losing.”

Crude oil contains hundreds of toxic and carcinogenic ingredients, including volatile benzene and polyaromatic hydrocarbons. Benzene, a principal component of oil, is a human carcinogen that causes nerve damage, leukemia and other haematological cancers.

Official response

Al Jazeera asked Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal what his state was doing to safeguard people against chemical poisoning.

In an earlier statement to Al Jazeera, Jindal’s office said: “Coastal residents and response workers will be compensated through the deal reached between the Plaintiff Steering Committee and BP. BP must follow through on making whole [properly compensating] impacted residents and workers who experienced or are still experiencing health impacts as a result of the spill.”

At time of publishing, Al Jazeera continues to await an updated response from Jindal’s office.

Testimony in the second phase of the BP trial has just come to a close, and the penalty phase against BP has now begun, which is likely to take months. Litigators expect many of the personal claims filed against the oil giant to continue to take years.

Under a settlement with BP, clean-up workers are entitled to some medical payments for certain ailments that they can prove were tied to the spill-related work and their exposure.

BP stressed that workers received safety training and personal protective equipment in coordination with government safety agencies.

“Based on extensive monitoring conducted by BP and the federal agencies, response worker and or public exposures to dispersants were well below levels that would pose a health or safety concern,” the company said.

Denying toxicity

“To deny the toxicity, BP deliberately put 170,000 workers in harm’s way,” Dr Shaw said of BP’s response. “BP told clean-up crews on the boats not to wear respirators because it made them look bad to reporters. A proper protective response would have been hazmat-style suits for anyone coming in contact with Corexit and oil.”

Joe Yerkes was a Florida fisherman who joined BP’s oil clean-up programme because he was put out of work by the spill. When he tried to return to fishing after the clean-up, he quickly became so sick he was unable to continue.
I have spent the last three years literally trying to survive.

Joe Yerkes, former Florida fisherman

He became violently ill, began bleeding from his nose and ears, and began vomiting blood. When Yerkes couldn’t get well, he had his blood tested and found it contained high levels of chemicals which his physician attributed to BP’s oil disaster.

Following the advice of his attending physician, Yerkes was forced to move away from the Gulf.

“I have spent the last three years literally trying to survive,” Yerkes, who now must use a cane to walk and regularly gives himself intravenous treatments, told Al Jazeera. “I have chronic headaches, a fever, and suffer chronic unbearable pain in my muscles and joints, and have had chemical pneumonia twice so far.”

Dr Ott is critical of how the US federal government has reacted to the health crisis.

“It is irresponsible at best, and disingenuous at worst for the federal government to pretend that people can be exposed to these chemicals and not connect the dots between these illnesses and what made them sick,” she said.

Dr Ott is particularly troubled because she has seen all this before.

For years after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, she watched as her friends suffered from the same symptoms of chemical exposure she sees today in the Gulf of Mexico.

“I saw many of them adjust to living being chemically ill, then on the other end of the spectrum, unfortunately, I’ve lost a lot of friends through this – because some people just died,” she added.

Dr Ott explained that chemical illness is a debilitating condition, and believes that now in BP’s impact zone, chemical illness is neither being diagnosed nor treated.

She concluded: “In the Gulf, there is a blanket denial that this is happening at all.”

Follow Dahr Jamail on Twitter: @DahrJamail

Japanese PM warns China on use of force – Asia-Pacific – Al Jazeera English

Japanese PM warns China on use of force – Asia-Pacific – Al Jazeera English. (source)

One of Prime Minister Abe’s first decisions was to increase Japan’s defence budget [File: AFP]
Japan is ready to counter China if it resorts to force in the pursuit of its geopolitical interests, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said in an interview.

Abe in an interview with the Wall Street Journal published on Saturday said Japan should take the lead in guarding against what he said might be an attempt by China to use force to attain its diplomatic goals.

He said he had realised at recent meetings with South East Asian leaders that the region sought leadership from Tokyo in terms of security amid China’s more forthright diplomacy.

“There are concerns that China is attempting to change the status quo by force, rather than by rule of law. But if China opts to take that path, then it won’t be able to emerge peacefully,” he told the paper.

If Japan does resort to enforcement measures like shooting down aircraft, that is a serious provocation to us, an act of war

Geng Yansheng, Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman

 

“So it shouldn’t take that path and many nations expect Japan to strongly express that view. And they hope that as a result, China will take responsible action in the international community.”

A top retired Chinese diplomat said any move by Tokyo to contain China could amount to an attempt to conceal ulterior motives in the region and prove to be “extremely dangerous”.

The defence ministry warned Japan not to underestimate China’s resolve to take whatever measures were needed to protect itself.

China took issue with a Japanese media report saying Abe had approved a policy for Japan to shoot down foreign drones that ignore warnings to leave its airspace.

“Don’t underestimate the Chinese army’s resolute will and determination to protect China’s territorial sovereignty,” Defence Ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng said on the ministry’s website.

For more than a year, relations between Beijing and Tokyo have been chilled by a territorial dispute in the East China Sea where China claims a small, uninhabited archipelago administered by Japan under the name of Senkaku, though Beijing calls it Diaoyu.

Ties have taken a further battering over visits by Japanese lawmakers this month to the Yasukuni shrine in Tokyo honouring both war dead and Japanese leaders convicted as war criminals.

One of Abe’s first decisions as prime minister has been to increase Japan’s defence budget for the first time in 11 years.

Tokyo also plans to hold a large air and sea exercise in November to strengthen the island’s defenses, and as a display of might intended for the Chinese.

 

India struggles to handle onion crisis – Central & South Asia – Al Jazeera English

India struggles to handle onion crisis – Central & South Asia – Al Jazeera English. (source/link)

India has become so desperate for fresh stocks of the onions it uses in spicy curries that it is trying to import them from neighbours, and is even considering airlifts to ease soaring prices.

Indians go through 15m tonnes of onions a year, using them as the base for traditional dishes such as biryani and bhaji. The country is the second-largest onion grower in the world, after China, and normally exports them.

But retail prices have quadrupled in the past three months, to as high as 100 rupees ($1.62) per kliogram, making the onions an unaffordable luxury for India’s poor.

The soaring prices could become an issue in elections scheduled for next month in five states, including the capital, New Delhi.

To ease prices, the state-run farm cooperative issued a tender this week to purchase onions from abroad.

Supplies from abroad may take weeks to arrive, however; Farm Minister Sharad Pawar proposed on Wednesday importing them by air, because sea transport takes longer.

“The state-run agencies are floating import tenders, but supplies are likely to come only after 3-4 weeks,” said Changdev Holkar, a director at the National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation. “And quantity would be also miniscule compared to demand.”

‘Cheating consumers’

A new crop of onions should be harvested in two or three weeks, but heavy rains are expected in the coming days in several onion-growing states, which could have a disastrous effect on the crops.

The government blames the crisis on both bad weather and speculation by middlemen. KV Thomas, the Indian food minister, accused traders on Saturday of “cheating consumers,” urging them to sell onions at “affordable rates.”

His ruling Congress party fears a backlash from its main support base. “The sky-high prices of onions have given the opposition a potent weapon to attack the government with,” commented the Hindustan Timesnewspaper recently.

Costly onions have a history of political fallout, with the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) being ousted in 1998 Delhi state polls after surging onion prices soured the voter mood.

In January 1980, the late Congress leader Indira Gandhi rode back to power on the back of rising onion prices, waving huge strings of them at campaign rallies and saying that a government has no right to govern if it cannot control onion costs.

The latest onion price rise has also come in the middle of India’s most important religious festival season, an occasion for multi-day feasts and family dinners.

 

Bangladesh opposition protest turns deadly – Central & South Asia – Al Jazeera English

Bangladesh opposition protest turns deadly – Central & South Asia – Al Jazeera English. (source)

Local Dhaka police chief Sirajul Islam put the number of the crowd at the rally at “over 100,000” [Reuters]
At least six people have been killed and more than 100 injured across Bangladesh and more than 100,000 opposition activists rallied in the capital, Dhaka, on Friday to demand that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina quit and order polls under a caretaker government.

Police said the protesters died after officers and border guards opened fire in three towns as the supporters of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its Islamist allies protested across the country, AFP news agency reported.

Two protesters were killed and several others were injured by bullets in the southern resort district of Cox’s Bazaar when border guards opened fire at several thousand supporters of the BNP.

“The border guards opened fire after the BNP activists defied a ban on rallies and attacked the forces,” Cox’s Bazaar district deputy police chief Babul Akter told AFP.

Several television channels reported that three people died in the central district of Chandpur when police and ruling Awami League supporters clashed with opposition supporters.

At least 30 people were injured in the clash in the area, which is 64km east of the capital.

A demonstrator died in the northern town of Jaldhaka after the elite Rapid Action Battalion opened fire at about 10,000 rampaging supporters of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, a key ally of the BNP, area police head Mohammad Moniruzzman told AFP.

The violence also spread to the eastern district of Comilla, where at least 20 people were injured.

Similar clashes were also reported in Bangladesh’s second-largest city, Chittagong, which is in the southeast, and in many other towns across the country.

In Dhaka, opposition supporters allegedly set fire to a car and a bus, but no injuries were reported.

At least 10 homemade bombs were exploded at a premier public university area in Dhaka.

Ruhul Kabir Rizvy Ahmed, a spokesman for the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, said at least 400 opposition supporters were arrested across the country.

Mass protests

The clashes occurred as the BNP and its Islamist allies called nationwide mass protests to force Hasina to resign ahead of the January 2014 elections and set up a technocrat-led caretaker government to oversee the polls.

BNP leader Khaleda Zia addressed a rally of over 100,000 supporters at a national memorial in central Dhaka, renewing her threat to boycott the polls and setting Hasina a new weekend deadline to hold a dialogue on her demand for a caretaker government.

“There will be no election under Hasina. We won’t allow any one-party election. The election must include all parties and be conducted by a neutral caretaker government,” Zia told the crowd, announcing a nationwide strike for Sunday to Tuesday to press her demands.

Bangladeshi politics has long been dominated by a feud between the two dynastic leaders who distrust each other.

Local Dhaka police chief Sirajul Islam put the number of the crowd at the rally at “over 100,000”. Witnesses and BNP officials said the figure was double.

Tensions have been rising in Bangladesh since Hasina’s ruling Awami League (AL) party rejected an October 24 deadline set by the BNP for accepting its demands.

Tight security

Zia, who has twice served as premier, branded the government “illegal” as of Friday, citing a legal provision that requires a neutral caretaker government to be set up three months before elections slated for January 2014.

But the ruling AL abolished the provision in 2011, handing the job of overseeing polls to a reformed Election Commission.

The government has deployed thousands of police and paramilitary border guards in Dhaka, in the port city of Chittagong where the ruling party called a rival rally that was peaceful, and other potential flashpoints.

“We’ve sent BGB (Border Guard Bangladesh) troops to 20 major cities and towns,” BGB director colonel Hafiz Ahsan told AFP.

Police said they fired rubber bullets in half a dozen other towns, leaving scores injured after the supporters of the AL party and the BNP clashed.

While the nation has a long history of political violence, this year has been the deadliest since Bangladesh gained independence in 1971.

At least 150 people have been killed since January after a controversial court began handing down death sentences to Islamist leaders allied to ex-premier Zia.

 

Syrian capital blacked out after blasts – Middle East – Al Jazeera English

Syrian capital blacked out after blasts – Middle East – Al Jazeera English. (source)

The Syrian capital Damascus was hit by a power cut late on Wednesday, shortly after an explosion near the international airport, residents said.

“The whole city just went dark,” said a resident who lives in the centre of the city and asked to remain anonymous.

An AFP journalist in Damascus said he could see from a distance a huge fire blazing near Damascus International Airport, which is located near the affected power station.

A Damascus resident told Al Jazeera on Thursday morning that power had been restored in most of the capital.

State news agency SANA quoted Electricity Minister Imad Khamis as saying that electricity in “all provinces” had been cut off due to “a terrorist attack on the gas pipeline feeding the electricity generating stations in the southern region.”

“A terrorist attack on a gas pipeline that feeds a power station in the south has led to a power outage in the provinces, and work to repair it is in progress,” Emad Khamis said on Wednesday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based group that reports on abuses and battlefield developments using sources from both sides of Syria’s civil war, said the explosion was caused by rebel artillery that hit a gas pipeline near the airport.

The Observatory said the rebel shelling was aimed at the town of Ghasula, a few kilometres from the airport. Rebels have been trying to push into the capital, a stronghold of President Bashar al-Assad, whose family has ruled Syria for four decades.

“It is likely this was a large-scale operation planned well in advance,” said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.

In September, a similar outage was caused after a high-voltage power line was sabotaged.

 

Australian wildfires force thousands to flee – Asia-Pacific – Al Jazeera English

Australian wildfires force thousands to flee – Asia-Pacific – Al Jazeera English. (source)

Thousands of Australians were told to leave their homes as dry winds created the conditions for a firestorm in mountainous bushland outside Sydney, where firefighters have battled for days to bring dozens of wildfires under control.

More than 200 homes have been destroyed in New South Wales state since last Thursday, when bushfires tore through scattered communities to Sydney’s south and west, razing entire streets.

One man died after suffering a heart attack trying to protect his home.

Wednesday’s fire conditions were shaping up to be the worst so far in the state’s bushfire crisis, said Shane Fitzsimmons, the commissioner of the rural fire service.

“If you don’t have a plan, let me give you one,” said Michael Gallacher, the state’s emergency minister. “Get into the car, drive down to the city metropolitan area and let the firefighters do what they can do to protect the community, should this turn for the worse.”

Temperatures in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney are expected to reach up to 30C, while in Sydney itself they could hit 35C. Hot, dry winds gusting up to 100km/h are also expected, posing the greatest challenge to firefighters.

“This is the day where we’ve been receiving forecasts of the worst of weather for this week and that forecast is still staying with those predictions,” Fitzsimmons told reporters, warning of extreme fire conditions.

Al Jazeera’s Jonathan Gravenor, reporting from Katoomba’s Rural Fire Service, in the Blue Mountains, said there were more than 3,500 firefighters still battling fires in the region.

There were still 60 fires burning across the state on Wednesday, with 18 out of control, our correspondent said.

Authorities ordered schools in the Blue Mountains to be closed, evacuated nursing homes and advised people living in the area to leave before conditions deteriorated.

The Blue Mountains, whose foothills extend down to western Sydney suburbs such as Penrith, are populated with a mix of farmers, small business owners and white-collar commuters who make the trip into the city every day.

Known for their spectacular escarpments, eucalyptus forests and scattered small communities, they are a popular tourist spot for Sydney residents on weekends.

 

Fukushima overwhelmed with radioactive water – Asia-Pacific – Al Jazeera English

Fukushima overwhelmed with radioactive water – Asia-Pacific – Al Jazeera English. (source)

Highly radioactive water overflowed barriers into Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station after its operator Tepco underestimated how much rain would fall and failed to pump it out quickly enough.

Tepco has been battling to contain radioactive water at the nuclear complex, which suffered meltdowns and hydrogen explosions following a devastating earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.

Dealing with hundreds of tonnes of groundwater flowing through the wrecked nuclear station daily is a constant problem for the utility and for the government, casting doubt on the promises of Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, that the Fukushima water “situation is under control”.

After heavy rain on Sunday, water with high levels of radioactive strontium overflowed containment areas built around
some 1,000 tanks storing tonnes of radioactive water at the plant, Tepco said.

The radioactive water is a by-product of an improvised cooling system designed to keep the wrecked reactors under control in case of further disaster.

Tepco said it had planned to pump out the accumulating rainwater into empty tanks, check it for radioactivity, and if
it was uncontaminated, release into the sea. But the company was overwhelmed by the amount of rainwater.

“Our pumps could not keep up with the rainwater. As a result, it flowed over some containment areas,” said Tepco
spokesman Yoshikazu Nagai.

The company had planned for 30mm to 40mm of rainfall on Sunday, but by late afternoon the rainfall already stood at about 100mm, he said.

The ongoing crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, 220km north of Tokyo, highlights the immensity of the task of containing and controlling radioactive water and eventually decommissioning the plant, processes that are expected to take decades.

Tepco is seeking permission to restart its only remaining viable power station – Kashiwazaki Kariwa, the world’s largest nuclear power facility, to cut high fuel costs and restore its finances.

 

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