When in the face of this incontrovertible history of Israeli “ethnic cleansing” and international conventions on the rights of refugees, I cringe when I hear of the Trump Administration’s intention to take the refugee issue “off the table.” What they are, in fact, taking off the table is so much more. At stake is: the lives and fortunes of innocent Palestinians and their families; the rule of law; simple human justice; and the possibility of peace. The more than 5 million Palestinians living under occupation and in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria cannot be erased and in their attempt to do so, it is not only the Israelis who are guilty of the war crime of ethnic cleansing. The Trump Administration is making itself complicit in this crime.
He and Elon Musk would get along well?
Danish inventor Peter Madsen has appealed against his life sentence for murdering a Swedish reporter. His lawyer argued his jail term should address only mishandling of the corpse, which carries a six-month sentence.
She has been criticized for avoiding all political issues, but now the influential pop singer Helene Fischer has “broken the silence,” joining the chorus of voices against violence and racism.
ha ha ha ha The US deficit in foreign trade widened in July by the most in three years, as exports of soybeans and civilian aircraft declined and imports hit a record high. Deficits with China and the EU were the highest-ever.
The CEO of Tesla cannot drop his beef with the British cave rescuer, insisting without evidence he is a “child rapist.” Tesla’s share price has now lost almost a quarter of its value.
Paraguay was one of just three countries to move their embassy to Jerusalem, but they have now issued a dramatic reversal. In response Israel has shuttered its embassy in Paraguay.
Three weeks ago, in NOAA Investigating Unusual Seal Strandings & Deaths In New England we looked at reports of an unusual spike in seal mortality along the Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts coastlines, which was reminiscent of a 2011 event caused by a novel H3N8 avian flu (see New England Seal Deaths Tied to H3N8 Flu Virus).
That 2011 outbreak caused considerable stir, both in the press and the scientific community, because the virus was shown to have acquired significant mammalian adaptations (see Nature Communications: Respiratory Transmission of Avian H3N8 In Ferrets).
Roughly two weeks ago, avian influenza (subtype not specified), along with Phocine Distemper virus, was confirmed as being present in at least some of the seals recovered in this latest die off (see NOAA: Seals in New England Test Positive for Avian Flu & Phocine Distemper Virus).
Last Friday NOAA Fisheries declared a UME (Unusual Mortality Event) among penipeds in the Northeast, along with a second UME among bottlenosed dolphins in Southwest Florida linked to a Red Tide outbreak.
We’ve a 51 minute audio file of a press conference held by NOAA Fisheries, followed by a brief written statement (below).
The $64 question still outstanding is what subtype of avian influenza was detected in these seals? And for that, we still have no answers. During the 2011 outbreak it took roughly 6 weeks after influenza A was announced before we learned it was due to H3N8.
Although the risk is likely low, the public is being urged not to approach within 100 yards of dead, sick, or stranded seals, and to keep all pets on a leash to prevent contact.
Since July 2018, elevated numbers of harbor seal and gray seal mortalities have occurred across Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. This event has been declared an Unusual Mortality Event (UME).
Since July 2018, elevated numbers of harbor seal (Phoca vitulina) and gray seal (Halichoerus grypus) mortalities have occurred across Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. This event has been declared an Unusual Mortality Event (UME).
Why are seals stranding?
Full or partial necropsy examinations have been conducted on several of the seals and samples have been collected for testing. Preliminary testing has found some seals positive for either avian influenza or phocine distemper virus. We have many more samples to process and analyze, so it is still too soon to determine if either or both of these viruses are the primary cause of the mortality event.
As part of the UME investigation process, an independent team of scientists (Investigative Team) is being assembled to coordinate with the Working Group on Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Events to review the data collected and provide guidance for the investigation.
How can I help?
Report a stranded or floating seal
The most important step members of the public can take to assist investigators is to immediately report any sightings of live seals in distress or dead seals. Make the report by calling the NOAA hotline at 866-755-NOAA (6622) or by contacting your local marine mammal stranding network member by visiting our Stranding Network web page for local contact information.
Please, do not approach or touch the seal.
For some past blogs on influenza in seals, you may wish to revisit:
Marisa Treviño LatinaLista The upcoming midterm elections are viewed as a ‘pivotal’ election for the nation. For one side, it’s about protecting the GOP majority and the Trump adm…
As a potential offensive into the remaining Syrian rebel strongholds in Idlib from the Assad government becomes more likely, Russian propaganda outlets like RT (formerly known as Russia Today), their various embassies, and their network of friendly media outlets have started pushing stories of potential chemical attacks in Idlib and Hama.
Various stories spread by Russia, particularly its Ministry of Defense, claim that phone calls were made to the Russian Reconciliation Center supposedly warning a number of nefarious activities. These claims from Russian government bodies and outlets connected to Russia’s media network have accused a range of groups, including Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and the Syrian Civil Defense (White Helmets), of readying false flag operations to blame Russia or Syria. However, while there is no evidence of any actual preparations for “false flag attacks”, on the 26th of August, RT’s Ruptly video service uploaded footage of a government Volcano missile launcher being deployed to Idlib. This comes five years after chemical weapons variants of this launcher were used in the 2013 Ghouta attack.
Sputnik, another Russian state-funded media outlet, has also pushed a story by the Russian Ministry of Defense claiming that specialist groups trained by the British Olive group were preparing to conduct a possible attack. The Olive group ceased to exist in 2015 following a merger with Constellis group.
These claims continue a narrative pushed by Russia and the Assad government that British special forces are somehow involved in Syria. A similarly bizarre, and unverifiable, claim was made earlier that British troops were captured in Ghouta by pro-government forces.
Russia’s official government bodies and media outlets also continue to promote images from a pro-government movie funded by the Syrian government. The plot of the movie, Revolution Man, portrays an international journalist who fakes a chemical weapons incident with the help of terrorists.
Russian Defence Ministry: English-speaking “foreign specialists” have arrived in #Syria to attempt staging chlorine chemical attack early this week. Latest intel indicates the hoax is planned to take place in the village of Kafr Zita (Hama province) #HoaxAlert pic.twitter.com/JfK5eveca7
— Russia in RSA (@EmbassyofRussia) August 27, 2018
The images, sometimes claimed to be from a White Helmets film set, are often posted in conjunction with stories or tweets “predicting” upcoming chemical attacks. The same images and claims were used in Russian media when questioning government responsibility for the Douma chemical weapon attack.
Such claims are not always connected to or in anticipation of any specific attacks by pro-government forces. Rather these claims seem to come at times when Russia needs to muddle the conversation regarding attacks, or going into preemptive damage control for an ally it struggles to control.
Coinciding with these claims, the United States, United Kingdom, and France have stated they will act in the event of a government chemical weapons attack in Idlib. However, there is little reason to expect actual action if a chemical attack were to occur.
With over 200 documented chemical weapons incidents in Syria, most of which have been committed by the Assad government, the actual response by countries who have threatened action in the past has been largely symbolic and limited.
Following the first major use of Sarin on Ghouta in 2013 by pro-government forces, the United States backed down from the now-infamous “red line” against chemical weapons usage. Instead, chemical weapons stockpiles were allegedly destroyed with the help of international bodies. Pro-government forces continued to use chlorine and Sarin following the Ghouta attack, with the vast majority of chlorine attacks having gone largely unnoticed or ignored by the countries threatening military action. Though some military actions have taken place following flagrant chemical attacks carried out by pro-government forces, most of these strikes were relatively limited and Russian forces were warned in advance of incoming strikes.
Accusations against rebels, the White Helmets, and various other bogeymen created by government supporters and propaganda have generally pushed the narrative that because the pro-government forces are winning, there is no need for them to use chemical weapons that draw heavy international scrutiny. The most likely reasoning for these attacks, according to this logic, is the desire of the rebels, whom they believe are fully funded and backed by foreign enemies of Assad, to draw in outside intervention. Seven years into the Syrian Civil War and with no sign of serious military intervention after hundreds of chemical attacks, this logic seems weaker than ever.
Whether or not the government plans to use chemical weapons during an offensive in Idlib has yet to be seen. Chemical weapons were successfully used by the Syrian Army in Douma to advance the government’s demands over Russia’s plans and agreements with groups like Faylaq al-Rahman, thus making this route more attractive for Assad to use again.
However, the presence of Turkish soldiers along the borders of Idlib impedes the government’s use of chemical weapons in Idlib. Despite a relatively tame response to previous attacks, new U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton could see Assad’s use of chemical weapons in a highly-scrutinized battle as an opportunity to strike government forces in order to project what the administration may see as strength.
While the potential response of the U.S. and Europe is unclear in the event of a chemical attack in Idlib, it is clear that Russia and its allies are intent on muddling the media landscape in the event that Assad yet again uses chemical weapons during a future Idlib offensive.
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