New whistleblower site on the European Union

This 13 March 2020 video says about itself:

Why #Euroleaks and why now? Because there is no transparency in the European Union | DiEM25

We are just a few hours away from the release of #Euroleaks! To find out more, watch Yanis Varoufakis, DiEM25 co-founder and ΜeRA25 MP, explain why we’re releasing the files and why now.

Spectacled bear on camera trap in Peru

This 10 March 2020 video says about itself:

What is a spectacled bear? Candid Animal Cam takes us to the Andes

Special thanks to WWF-Peru for sharing this footage with us, and to the San Miguelito Jaguar Conservation Ranch for additional footage.

And shout out to our writer and biologist Romi Castagnino, who hosted, produced and shot this video!

Rupert Murdoch Fox News anti-Asian coronavirus racism

This 13 March 2020 video from the USA says about itself:

[Rupert Murdoch‘s] Fox [News] can’t resist using racist coronavirus rhetoric

As coronavirus continues to spread through the U.S., resulting in the deaths of at least 33 people and threatening to topple many aspects of Americans’ daily lives, right-wing media is going against the advice of public health experts by trying to rebrand COVID-19 as the “Wuhan” or “Chinese” virus.

Read more here.

On March 10, President Trump retweeted a post from conservative political activist Charlie Kirk, who referred to the coronavirus (COVID-19) as the “China Virus.“ Kirk also exclaimed in his tweet, “Now, more than ever, we need the wall…the US stands a chance if we can get control of our borders.” Trump retweeted this and added the comment, “Going up fast. We need the wall more than ever”: here.

CNN reporter subjected to appalling anti-Asian slur: ‘I couldn’t believe it’: here.

LAWMAKERS UNVEIL RESOLUTION BLAMING CHINA FOR VIRUS A bipartisan pair of House lawmakers unveiled a resolution that blames China for causing a global pandemic and calls on the Chinese government to publicly declare that COVID-19 began there, a move that would almost certainly fuel President Donald Trump’s racist “Chinese virus” rhetoric and the recent uptick in attacks on Asian Americans. [HuffPost]

Britain: Teens arrested over ‘racist attack on Chinese people’: here.

Christmas Island crab steals expensive camera

This video says about itself:

Thursday, 12 March 2020

Robber crab‘ steals expensive research equipment

Western Sydney University Doctor of Philosophy candidate Annabel Dorrestein had been using the expensive camera as part of her research project on Christmas Island.

Dutch Ms Dorrestein used the camera for research on Christmas Island flying-foxes (Pteropus melanotus natalis).

Ladder-backed woodpecker feeding in Texas, USA

This video from the USA says about itself:

Female Ladder-backed Woodpecker Sits Front And Center In West Texas – March 13, 2020

In West Texas, a female Ladder-backed Woodpecker visits the feeder station for some suet. These woodpeckers may also come for mealworms, and they have also been observed eating peanut butter and black oil sunflower seeds. To attract a nesting pair, try growing native vegetation and leave dead trees standing when possible.

London Grenfell fire disaster, corporate mass murder

This 2019 video from Britain says about itself:

Grenfell Tower cladding ‘more flammable than a match to petrol’ – 5 News

A lawyer representing bereaved families and survivors of the Grenfell fire says the tower was wrapped in cladding that could go up in flames “more quickly than dropping a match into a barrel of petrol”. Stephanie Barwise QC was speaking at the public inquiry into the tragedy which is now focusing on the cause and spread of the blaze.

RBKC or the TMO were guilty of “institutional racism”, said a lawyer representing survivors and bereaved families.

By Charles Hixson in Britain:

Grenfell fire inquiry reveals more criminality by firms involved in refurbishment

14 March 2020

March 10 marked 1,000 days since the Grenfell fire. With the reopening of the inquiry on March 2, witnesses from the companies and entities responsible for the tragedy provided further revelations of wanton criminality.

Phase two of proceedings were halted on January 29, shortly after opening, pending a decision by the Attorney General’s office granting immunity from prosecution to witnesses in relation to anything they tell the inquiry. The reopened hearings focused on three witnesses from Studio E Architects—designers of the 2014–16 Grenfell Tower refurbishment. These included Andrzej Kuszell, founder, senior architect and a director; Bruce Sounes, another senior architect; and Neil Crawford, who had responsibility for day-to-day management of the project.

It emerged that Studio E had been chosen to oversee the refurbishment of the tower without any competitive process, interview, or other competence check. Counsel to the Inquiry, Richard Millett QC, noted that their selection after designing neighbouring Kensington Aldridge academy was “cheap, convenient, quick, even though Grenfell Tower was a completely different kind of project with different challenges.”

Kuszell admitted that if the project had been contested, Studio E would not have been chosen.

The company had no experience with such a project. The Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO)—which managed Grenfell Tower on behalf of the Conservative-run Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea—“knew exactly what our skill set was”. He confirmed his team “was not experienced in overcladding a residential tower block.” The designers confessed they were so “green on process and technicality”, they would have to learn rapidly.

Project manager Neil Crawford was not fully qualified as an architect. Bruce Sounes had never worked on a high-rise project or with polyethylene composite materials. Internal emails showed the architects’ concern that the early budgets and fee of £99,000 were too low to cover the needed work. As for the KCTMO, Sounes had described its early design idea changes as “headless chickens, a chaotic mess”, warning Kuszell that the project was being treated like a “poor relative”.

Sounes admitted he never read cladding fire regulations, requiring external walls can adequately resist the spread of fire. He never viewed a diagram showing how buildings of different heights needed to meet specific safety regulations. He did not know aluminium panels could melt and spread flames, had no idea that cladding had caused fires on other buildings, confessed “no knowledge” of the rapid spread of fire in such circumstances, and had no experience designing cavity barriers.

For all these protestations, for Sounes and Studio what mattered above all was the bottom line. Sounes admitted that Studio E, at the request of KCTMO, manipulated its fees to stop the contract from being put to open tender. He deferred charging some fees, and by December 2012 stopped invoicing entirely when it approached the cost threshold of £174,000. This limit was set at the time by the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU), under the European procurement rules.

Documents from the time clearly indicate that both parties were far more concerned with costs than safety. Writing a note for a July 24, 2012 meeting, Sounes observed that “the TMO would like … the total fee up until stage D not exceeding £174k which is the OJEU threshold for requiring work to be tendered. This will probably mean deferring some fees.”

Engineers had agreed to “massage” fire safety at Grenfell to allow it to pass checks. In August 2012, Cate Cooney, a senior consultant engineer at Exova, a firm of fire engineers, emailed a colleague after a conversation with Sounes: “Basically I have told him that we can massage the proposal to something acceptable with separation, lobbies, etc., but there are approval risks in the project on the ff [firefighting] shaft/ MOE [means of escape] front… They are making an existing crap situation [in Grenfell Tower] worse …”

Sounes said the Exova email “raised a level of concern I was not aware of.” After two hours of questioning on his third day of testimony, he became ill, and was unable to continue after the recess before the afternoon session.

By March 9, the inquiry heard about the misrepresentation of its foam insulation marketed by cladding manufacturer Celotex. Architect Neil Crawford explained, “It’s deliberately misleading. It’s masquerading horse meat as beef lasagne and people bought it.”

Celotex marketing claimed their RS5000 cladding product that caused the devastating Grenfell blaze was “acceptable” for use in buildings above 18 metres in height and had passed a fire safety test. But the test used cladding panels less combustible than the plastic-filled products proposed for Grenfell. Crawford claimed he had not known that Celotex’s claims related to a test on less dangerous materials. He also argued he had relied on expert knowledge from fire engineers at Exova, which he said was “fairly emphatic” that the new insulation was appropriate.

In 2012, Studio E nearly sacked Exova for failing to agree to fire strategies for both Grenfell and the nearby Kensington Aldridge Academy. On October 10, 2012 Colin Chiles, executive at building contractor Leadbitter, complained about Exova’s response to the concerns of the Grenfell Action Group (GAG): “I am not willing to commence the works until I receive demonstration that the fire safety of the estate has been considered on the design … Should I issue this to GAG it would further exacerbate an already high-risk project.”

The following year Exova claimed “the proposed changes will have no adverse effect in the building” regarding regulations about external spread of fire. It said that “this will be confirmed by an analysis in a future issue of this report.” This never happened.

The Grenfell Action Group warned for years about the dire consequences of cost-cutting, finally warning, in November 2016—seven months before the fire—“only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord.”

Tuesday’s hearing revealed more of the obsession of cost over safety by the corporations involved. E-mail discussions between subcontractor Harley Facades, lead contractor Rydon, and Studio E observed that upgrading flame-resisting cavity barriers from the minimum requirement of 30 minutes to 120 minutes would cost an extra £12,000. Architect Crawford agreed there had been pressure to avoid recommending the upgrade.

An expert report to phase one of the inquiry by Dr. Barbara Lane in 2018 found “missing and defective cavity barriers” and that horizontal barriers had been incorrectly installed vertically in the refurbishment. After claiming that the sub-contractor had been at fault, Studio E’s Crawford opined, “Unfortunately, the industry only reacts to the regulations that are in place, therefore you need to have regulations in place that are fit for purpose.”

What is revealed in everything coming out of the inquiry is that the drive for cost savings at Grenfell, at the expense of public safety, was endemic and epitomised what corporations are allowed to get away with in Britain and internationally in highly de-regulated economies.

Former employee of Studio E, Tomas Rek, gave evidence Wednesday about a meeting with cladding subcontractor Harley Facades on September 27, 2013 at London’s Hay’s Galleria. Rek believed the meeting was “more to do with the appearance and price of the various materials and not their fire performance or fire rating.”

Sounes later sent an email to Harley Facades saying the cladding costs were over budget. The following month Harley emailed Rek saying from a “Harley selfish point of view our preference would be to use ACM [aluminium composite material]. Rek said he was unaware of fire safety requirements but emphasized that RBKC had been putting Studio E “under some kind of pressure” to switch to the cheaper materials.

Sounes sought to withhold vital information from the London Fire Brigade service regarding the Grenfell project. On Thursday, the inquiry found that when he emailed the KCTMO in April 2014 regarding the provisional fire safety plans drawn up by Exova, Sounes advised, “I would not show this to the LFB [London Fire Brigade].”

He feared the plans would support a “severe interpretation of the regulations.” He claimed they had not been finalised, so “thought it best to be sure what we were proposing before we did so.”

There can be no doubt that such practises, compromising safety, were, and are standard throughout the construction industry.

This week’s testimony shows exactly why the individuals involved demanded immunity. Their immunity from personal responsibility is being used to conceal corporate responsibility. If those personally involved in events that led to the fire cannot ultimately be prosecuted, then neither can the corporations they represented.

The Grenfell community and their supporters, who were given only a brief moment to air their opinions in Phase 1, are now being forced to sit and watch while representatives of the corporations and RBKC recount their detailed attempts to subvert safety regulations for profit, all the while knowing they are evading prosecution. The entire Grenfell community must demand that the inquiry is halted and that their legal teams withdraw co-operation. Prosecutions against the guilty parties must proceed without further delay.

Birds at Maltese nature reserve

This 12 March 2020 video from Malta says about itself:

Birds at Għadira Nature Reserve

From White Wagtails and Chiffchaffs to Stonechats, from a Water Rail to a Moorhen, here is a video edit with footage of different bird species observed during the past weeks at our Għadira Nature Reserve.

Għadira is open to the public every Saturday and Sunday between 10am and 4pm. We are also open during the week on Mondays and Thursdays from 2pm to 6pm. Entry to the reserve is free of charge but donations are welcome!

Footage and editing by Aron Tanti. Original music by Francesco Tanti.

Iraq denounces Trump’s lethal hospital airstrikes

This 13 March 2020 video says about itself:

US Air Strike Destroys Iraqi Hospital

A hospital under construction in Iraq was hit by US air raids overnight, resulting in the death of six people, including one civilian.

The airstrikes were launched by the US in retaliation for an earlier attack in which two American soldiers and one British soldier lost their lives at a base near the capital Baghdad.

By Bill Van Auken in the USA:

Iraq condemns US-UK strikes that killed soldiers, police and civilian

14 March 2020

The Iraqi government and military together with various Iraqi political parties roundly condemned US-British airstrikes carried out early Friday morning against some five separate locations, killing three Iraqi regular army soldiers, two policemen and a civilian worker. Another four soldiers, two policemen, five militiamen and one civilian were wounded, some of them critically. The death toll is expected to rise as rescue workers dig through the rubble.

The Pentagon launched the bombing raids in retaliation for a rocket attack Wednesday that killed two US and one British military personnel at Camp Taji, a base north of Baghdad. Washington blamed the attack on Kataib Hezbollah, one of the largest components of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), comprised of predominantly Shia militias, which has been incorporated by the Baghdad government into the country’s armed forces. Kataib Hezbollah has not claimed responsibility for the attack, and Washington has offered no evidence of its responsibility for firing 18 rockets that struck the base.

Within hours of the rocket attack, warplanes struck a Kataib Hezbollah position in eastern Syria’s Deir Ezzor province near a strategic border crossing with Iraq, killing some two dozen of its fighters.

Iraq’s military described Friday’s US-British airstrikes as “treacherous” and a “targeted aggression.” It warned that the attacks threatened an “escalation and deterioration of the security situation in the country, and exposes everyone to more risks and threats.”

The country’s President Barham Salih called the bombing raids a “violation of national sovereignty” that could “slide Iraq into anarchy and chaos.” He added, “The repeated violations the state is being subjected to are a dangerous and deliberate weakening of its abilities especially at a time when Iraq faces unprecedented challenges on political, economic, financial, security and health fronts.”

The Iraqi Foreign Ministry convened an emergency meeting of its top officials and summoned the US and British ambassadors to answer for the act of “American aggression.” It said it would raise formal complaints before the United Nations Security Council.

Meanwhile, the Fatah Alliance, one of the most powerful blocs in the Iraqi Parliament, issued a statement stressing that there was no other answer to the attacks outside of forcing the withdrawal of the nearly 6,000 US troops deployed on Iraqi soil.

The Iraqi Parliament voted overwhelmingly in support of a resolution calling for the immediate expulsion of all foreign forces from the country in the wake of the January 3 US drone assassination of Gen. Qassem Suleimani, one of Iran’s top government officials, after he landed at Baghdad’s international airport for a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Abdul Mahdi on attempts to defuse rising regional tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Also killed in the attack was Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, the leader of Kataib Hezbollah and deputy commander of the entire Popular Mobilization Forces, along with several other Iraqis and Iranians.

This criminal assassination brought the region and the world to the brink of a catastrophic war. Iran responded five days later with missile strikes on two US bases housing American troops in Iraq. While there were no fatalities resulting from the strikes, some 110 soldiers were left with traumatic brain injuries.

The retaliations and counter-retaliations now unfolding in Iraq threaten again to trigger such a war.

Iran Friday rejected US attempts to hold it responsible for Wednesday’s rocket attack that killed the US and British soldiers.

“The United States cannot blame others … for the consequences of its illegal presence in Iraq and the nation’s reaction to the assassination and killing of Iraqi commanders and fighters,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said. “Instead of dangerous actions and baseless accusations, Mr. Trump should reconsider the presence and behavior of his troops in the area.”

While the Pentagon, as always, described its bombing raids as “precision” and “proportionate”, one of the targets hit by US bombs was an unfinished civilian airport under construction outside of the Shia holy city of Karbala, 60 miles southwest of Baghdad.

The Imam Hussein Holy Shrine, which oversees the airport’s construction in an agreement with several Iraqi companies, stressed that “this airport is completely civilian” and condemned “this unjustified and blatant assault.” Iraqi television news channels broadcast footage from the scene, showing a building with its windows blown out with signs over the door reading “Karbala International Airport” and “Site Offices”. The one known fatality from the raid was a cook for the civilian workforce.

Speaking in Washington on Friday, Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr., the chief of US Central Command which oversees US military operations throughout the region, dismissed the Iraqi protests with all the arrogance and contempt of a colonial occupier.

“We consulted them [Iraq] in the wake of the attack,” he said. “They knew the response was coming.” As for the soldiers, police and the civilians killed and wounded in the strikes, he said, “it’s probably not a good idea to position yourself with Kataib Hezbollah in the wake of a strike that killed Americans and coalition members.”

“I don’t know whether the Iraqis are happy or unhappy,” the general said. And for him, as the commander of what now unquestionably constitutes an occupying imperialist army, the matter is one of complete indifference.

While the US troops now deployed in Iraq were sent in as part “Operation Inherent Resolve”, with the ostensible mission of driving back the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Sunni Islamist militia that overran a third of Iraq’s territory in 2014, routing the US-trained Iraqi security forces, McKenzie and other Pentagon officials have made it clear that they now see the Iraqi Shia militias that played the decisive role in defeating ISIS on the ground, rather than ISIS itself, as the main enemy.

Significantly, the US government and media have paid nowhere near as much attention to two US Marine Raiders killed in a March 8 firefight with ISIS members in a cave complex near Iraq’s northern city of Makhmour than they have to the two who died in the rocket attack on Camp Taji.

This shift is part of a region-wide US military buildup against Iran, which has seen Washington backing Turkey in the defense of Al Qaeda-linked militias in Syria’s Idlib province, bringing the NATO member country to the brink of war with nuclear-armed Russia.

General McKenzie told reporters on Friday that the Pentagon will continue to maintain two aircraft carrier strike groups in the Persian Gulf region, led by the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and the USS Harry S. Truman. The CENTCOM commander said that it was the first time that two such strike groups had been deployed near the Persian Gulf since 2012.

While Trump has repeatedly spoken about withdrawing US troops from Washington’s “endless wars”, the reality is that there are now 90,000 US personnel operating in the areas covered by CENTCOM, 10,000 more than before the assassination of Suleimani in January.

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, General McKenzie suggested that Iran was more likely to take aggressive action because of the extreme crisis confronting the country. The effects of an explosive growth of the coronavirus pandemic and the plummeting of oil prices have been made all the more devastating by Washington’s maintenance of a “maximum pressure” sanctions regime tantamount to a state of war.

“As the maximum pressure campaign against Iran continues, they are unable to respond really economically or diplomatically, the two channels that we’re using to apply pressure on them,” McKenzie told the Senate panel. “As they seek to find a way to respond, the only way that’s left is the military component.”

The CENTCOM commander followed up these remarks on Friday by declaring, “We never have to wait to be struck. If we believe an attack is imminent … I and my commanders have full authority [to strike].”

The implications are clear. US imperialism is continuing its buildup for a war of aggression against Iran aimed at eliminating a key regional rival for hegemony over the oil-rich Persian Gulf region. It feels emboldened by the deepening economic and health crisis plaguing Iran. Such a war would far eclipse the carnage wrought by two decades of imperialist aggression and occupation in Afghanistan and Iraq, while threatening to drag in all of the major powers, including nuclear-armed Russia and China.

River lampreys back in river after century

This 18 April 2016 video from Ireland says about itself:

First River Lamprey Lampetra fluviatilis spawning activity we observed in 2016: Castleconnell, Lower River Shannon. Also note that there is a Brook Lamprey L. planeri getting involved! Unfortunately, water quality problems also apparent in these photos. River Lampreys are listed under Annex II and V of the Habitats Directive. The Lower River Shannon is designated as a SAC for the three Irish lamprey species.

Translated from Waterschap Rijn en IJssel in Gelderland province in the Netherlands, 12 March 2020:

The start of the migration and spawning season for fish is a good time to see how many and which fish use the fish passage at Doesburg. The first results are promising: many roaches, ides and even river lampreys are using the passage through swimming from the IJssel to the Oude IJssel. River lampreys have not been seen in the Oude IJssel for 100 years.

The fish passage was taken into use last September and connects the Oude IJssel to the Gelderse IJssel. Due to the great height differences of these rivers, up to five meters, the fish passage in Doesburg is one of the largest and most innovative in the Netherlands.