Tag Archives: ‘danger’

Public Health Agency was unprepared for the pandemic and ‘underestimated’ the danger, auditor general says

Despite nearly two decades of warnings, planning and government spending, the Public Health Agency of Canada was not ready for the global pandemic and did not appreciate the threat it posed in its early stages, Canada’s auditor general says.

In a hard-hitting review released today, Auditor General Karen Hogan took the country’s primary pandemic response agency to task for failures in early warning, surveillance, risk assessments, data-sharing with the provinces and follow-up on Canadian travellers who were ordered into quarantine.

“The agency was not adequately prepared to respond to the pandemic, and it underestimated the potential impact of the virus at the onset of the pandemic,” said the AG’s review — one of three that looked at the Liberal government’s management of the COVID-19 crisis, which as of Thursday had killed 22,780 Canadians and brought the country’s economy to its knees.

The auditor also reviewed federal COVID emergency benefit programs such as the Canada emergency response benefit (CERB) and the Canada emergency wage subsidy (CEWS) to determine whether the benefits reached people in need and whether the government imposed enough controls to limit abuse.

Her most critical comments, however, were reserved for the topic of pandemic preparedness. Hogan said PHAC, which was established to ensure the country was ready for a major outbreak, “was not as well prepared as it could have been” because major contingency plans and issues related to surveillance had not been resolved or dealt with — even though some of them had been pointed out by previous auditors.

WATCH | PHAC caught unprepared, AG says:

Karen Hogan released a series of audits on how the early months of the battle against COVID-19 were handled. 1:38

“I am discouraged that the Public Health Agency of Canada did not address long-standing issues, some of which were raised repeatedly for more than two decades,” Hogan said.

“These issues negatively affected the sharing of health surveillance data between the Agency and the provinces and territories.”

‘Much more work to do’

While the agency took steps to address some of these problems during the pandemic, she said, “it has much more work to do on its data sharing agreements and information technology infrastructure to better support national disease surveillance in the future.”

The report found that the agency’s Global Public Health Intelligence Network (GPHIN), a surveillance system that scours the internet for reports of infectious disease outbreaks in other countries, did not issue an alert to provide an early warning when COVID-19 first emerged in Wuhan, China.

A security person moves journalists away from the Wuhan Institute of Virology after a World Health Organization team arrived for a field visit in Wuhan, China on Feb. 3. (Ng Han Guan/The Associated Press)

The network, which is part of PHAC, did email a daily report to domestic subscribers, including the provinces, with links to related news articles.

Officials at the public health agency defended the low-key approach by saying that at the end of December 2019, other international sources had already shared news of the virus, making it unnecessary to issue an alert.

The auditor also criticized the risk assessments the agency put together after COVID-19 began spreading around the globe — reports which key leaders used to make decisions on public health measures such as closing the border. She said those assessments were oblivious to the unfolding global crisis.

Failed to appreciate threat

“The agency assessed that COVID‐19 would have a minimal impact if an outbreak were to occur in Canada,” said the audit.

In fact, right up to the point when the World Health Organization declared coronavirus a global pandemic — on March 11, 2020 — those risk assessments continued to rate the threat to the country as “low.”

It wasn’t until the day after — in response to escalating case counts in Canada and rising concerns among provincial governments — that Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam ordered an upgrade to the risk rating, the review said.

Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Howard Njoo defended PHAC’s response to the pandemic, saying the global crisis was ‘unprecedented.’ (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)


Health Minister Patty Hajdu defended the decisions during question period on Thursday, pointing to a separate internal evaluation by her department which said the changes made to GPHIN did not impact the federal government’s response to the crisis.

Nevertheless, she accepted the auditor general’s criticism.

“We have reviewed the auditor general’s report, we agree that this country, along with all countries, will need to review our response to the pandemic and make investments in public health, as we have been doing since the beginning of the pandemic,” said Hajdu, who also pledged to hire more public health staff and insisted that gaps are being plugged with $ 690 million in new funds.

Speaking prior to the release of the report, Dr. Howard Njoo, the deputy chief public health officer, said the audit offers a snapshot of a particular moment in the pandemic’s trajectory and the agency has worked hard to address the problems.

“Certainly, this pandemic is unprecedented,” said Njoo. “We haven’t had a pandemic like this … in at least over 100 years.”

A lot of countries around the world are learning lessons, he said, and “I think we’re all learning from each other …”

Drawing a blank on the border

The audit also found out that PHAC and the Canada Border Services Agency did not know whether two-thirds of incoming travellers followed quarantine orders.

“The agency referred few of the travellers for in‐person follow‐up to verify compliance with orders,” said the review.

Part of that problem could be due to the limits of public health information.

“Of the individuals considered to be at risk of non‐compliance, the agency referred only 40 per cent to law enforcement and did not know whether law enforcement actually contacted them,” said the audit.

The auditor said PHAC also fell down on data sharing. The public health agency did have an agreement with the provinces and territories to share data, but it was not fully implemented when the pandemic hit.

The auditor general also said the federal government didn’t do enough to ensure the “integrity” of the Canada emergency wage subsidy program (CEWS).

‘Integrity’ of CEWS program ‘at risk’

CEWS was launched in March 2020 to subsidize up to 75 per cent of wages for workers who were kept on their employers’ payrolls.

To get the program out the door as quickly as possible, the CRA was only able to conduct limited tests before approving payments, said the audit.

“Without effective controls for validating payments, the integrity of the program is at risk and ineligible employers might receive the subsidy,” the audit concluded.

It also said the agency did not have up‑to‑date earnings and tax data for assessing applicants. For example, 28 per of applicants did not file a GST/HST return for the 2019 calendar year.

“We noted that the subsidy was paid to applicants despite their history of penalties for failure to remit and other advance indicators of potential insolvency,” said the audit. “Indeed, the agency held no legislative authority to deny access to the subsidy on the basis of an employer’s history of non‑compliance with tax obligations.”

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CBC | Health News

Polls say Trump is in danger. These swing voters are why

These are some of the most powerful voters in the world. If the polls are to be believed, and we’ll soon discover if they are, they are the types of people who would end Donald Trump’s presidency.

Meet America’s shifting voters.

They represent a small slice of the electorate yet wield a colossal influence, not only on the politics of their country but on the U.S. relationship with the world.

They fall into several sub-categories — self-described independents, moderates and centrists; occasional voters; new voters; and third-party dabblers, and they tend to lack enthusiasm for either major party.

And these people appear to be turning on Trump. Surveys in advance of the Nov. 3 U.S. election find the president bleeding support from these voters. 

Peg Bohnert lives in Arizona’s key Maricopa County. She voted for Trump in 2016. He lost her quickly. (CBC News)

Peg Bohnert is one of them. 

The Arizona retiree describes herself as an independent who leans Republican. She voted for Trump in 2016, figuring she’d give him a chance, in the hope the federal government might run more efficiently under a businessman.

By Day 2 of Trump’s presidency, she concluded she’d made a mistake. 

It happened when the first White House press briefing of the Trump era was dedicated to arguing about the size of his inauguration crowd. The subsequent four years have only cemented her antipathy toward him.

‘I trusted Trump’ — until Day 2

“I trusted [Trump]. I no longer trust him, and I won’t trust him again. Because he lies,” Bohnert said.  

“No moral compass. No empathy. No kindness.”

She said she’s shy nowadays when she travels to even identify as an American: “He’s made us look like fools — as a country.”

A major reason Trump won in 2016 was support from the so-called double-haters — people who disliked both him and Hillary Clinton.

Che Eng is one of them. He reluctantly cast his ballot for Trump in 2016.

“I despised Hillary [Clinton],” said the Arizona medical doctor. “Trump was an outsider. I gave him a chance.”

He’s disdainful of both major parties, seeing them as irresponsible, with Democrats too far left and Republicans too far right.

The ‘double-haters’ turn on Trump

His breaking point with Trump came in late 2017; he worried about federal analysis showing a growing national debt because of a tax-cut bill Trump signed.

While he’s no big fan of Joe Biden’s, either, Eng voted for him a few days ago.

“It pains me,” Eng said of voting Democrat. 

This Arizona doctor dislikes both parties, and deeply disliked Hillary Clinton. So he voted for Trump in 2016. He won’t be doing that again this year. (‘Che’ Eng)

He’s so worried about his Republican friends finding out, he asked that his first name not be used in this story, and that “Che,” a variation on his middle name, be used instead. 

Couldn’t back Clinton, will back Biden

Arlene Macellaro was another voter uninspired by her options in 2016. 

She’s a longtime Republican, and former health-care administrator living in Florida’s massive Villages retirement community.

She nearly cast a ballot for Hillary Clinton — but got cold feet. 

WATCH | Why this Republican is voting for Joe Biden: 

Arlene Macellaro lives in a staunchly Republican retirement city in Florida called The Villages, but says she won’t be voting for Donald Trump this election. 0:31

Macellaro opted not to vote at all. She was scared off by the emails scandal; when the FBI announced two weeks before election day 2016 that it was reopening an investigation into Clinton, Macellaro decided to stay home, rather than help elect a president who might immediately face criminal indictment.

She’s all in for Biden now. 

“Someone asked me yesterday, ‘How does it make you feel when you think that your vote, if it’s for Joe Biden, could change the complexion and feel of your Republican Party?'” Macellaro said in an interview.

“My answer is, ‘I feel good about it because I feel that it gives us hope to believe in the America that I grew up in.'”

The people quoted so far in this story share a few attributes common to the groups of voters turning most aggressively against Trump.

All live in suburbs, they don’t have the strongest partisan affiliation, two are women, and they are seniors or, in the case of 62-year-old Eng, close to retirement.

Problems with seniors, suburbs, women, and others

Polls say the president is bleeding votes across those groups and others — including both college-educated and non-college-educated white voters.

Yasser Sanchez is a Latino, a Mormon, and a lawyer in Arizona.

Until recently, he was also a committed Republican — one who actively campaigned for past nominees John McCain and Mitt Romney.

“I never saw a day where I would [support the Democrats],” Sanchez said.

“[Then] Donald Trump happened. … Donald Trump happened to the Republican Party. … Not only will I be voting Joe Biden — I will be campaigning actively to get out the vote for Joe Biden.”

Sanchez describes Trump as an autocrat-in-the-making, an existential threat to American democracy, and he calls this the most important election since the Civil War.

WATCH | Why this Republican is campaigning for Joe Biden in Arizona:

Yasser Sanchez previously campaigned for Mitt Romney and John McCain but this election he’s working to get Joe Biden into the White House. 0:27

New voters enter the mix

Meanwhile, young people keep entering the pool of eligible voters. And they favour Democrats by a huge margin. A big question mark is whether they’ll turn out this year, given their lacklustre support for Biden in his party primaries.

Some early indications suggest they are, indeed, voting in greater numbers than in 2016, when lower turnout among young and minority voters hurt Clinton in key swing states.

Nineteen-year-old TeJean Neal just cast his first-ever presidential election ballot in swing-state Wisconsin.

The Milwaukee university student dislikes both candidates: he derides Biden as a neoliberal, old-school, pro-business politician.

But he’s voted for him anyway, in order to oust a president he calls far more dangerous: he calls Trump a budding fascist, whose policies disproportionately hurt minority and marginalized people.

“It’s not an enthusiastic vote. It’s an I-have-privilege vote,” said Neal, a student of film and African-diaspora studies at the University of Wisconsin.  

Tejean Neal voted in his first presidential election this year. He cast a ballot for Biden, but with little enthusiasm. (Alex Panetta/CBC News)

“There are more people who would be hurt by the fascist than the neoliberal.”

He said he intends to protest a Biden administration from Day 1, on issues from police reform to transitioning from fossil fuels.

But the immediate objective, he said, is beating Trump.

Mateo Gomez has also just entered the eligible-voting pool. He arrived in the U.S. as a toddler from Colombia; he’s now a 22-year-old MBA student in Florida. 

Gomez said he agonized over his vote, his first chance to cast a ballot since obtaining U.S. citizenship. 

Unlike Neal, he sees himself as a centrist.

He has participated in town halls with politicians of both parties (including one with Biden) and sees himself as a bit of a peacemaker when his family and friends argue about politics.

Mateo Gomez just voted in his first election. He considered Trump, but went for Biden. (CBC News)

Gomez said he considered voting for Trump right up to the last minute – but wound up casting an early ballot for Biden. 

The reason? He blamed Republican efforts to end the Obamacare health-insurance system, which his family relies on; he said he also wants better pay for teachers, and more action on climate change. 

Gomez lives just north of Miami, one of the places in the U.S. most threatened by flooding and extreme weather.

“I try to see both sides. I try to avoid the drama,” he said.

Gomez notes, however, that many fellow Latinos will vote for Trump in this state — which is critical to the president’s re-election.

Trump has especially actively courted Cubans, and Venezuelans, who come from nations marked by left-wing authoritarianism.

They’re being bombarded with warnings that Democrats will usher in socialism, as well as some downright bizarre conspiracy theories.

Possible bright spot for Trump? Minority voters

That speaks to a contrast in this election.

While polls suggest Trump is losing support from most demographic segments, he’s gained some ground with minority voters — performing as well as, or even better, than he did in 2016.

He’s still trailing significantly among those groups. But some surveys suggest he may be slightly reducing the Democrats’ margin with Black men and Hispanic voters.

Cuban-born Miriam Weiss said the enthusiasm for Trump is evident in caravans you see in Miami on weekends, consisting of thousands of cars, waving Trump flags.

Miriam Weiss, a Trump supporter, said Cuban-American turnout in Florida will be huge and in the incumbent’s favour. (CBC News)

She’s been supporting Republicans since John F. Kennedy’s failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961, months after she immigrated to the U.S.

But she predicted more Cubans would support Republicans than usual — in the fear that socialism is taking over the Democratic Party, and that Biden won’t stop it.

“If people vote for Biden we will be getting communism here within two years,” Weiss said.

Those attitudes aren’t limited to Florida, or to Cuban-Americans. 

A recent Pew survey estimated Trump’s deficit with Hispanic voters is narrower in nine swing states than nationwide.

Trump fan says polls are wrong

Sylvia Menchaca is one such Trump supporter. She’s a religious conservative, and entrepreneur who runs a Mexican restaurant in Arizona.

She said she feels sorry for migrant children separated from their parents under Trump’s border policy. 

But she said the president has a responsibility to protect the border.

In fact, she compared Trump to a biblical king — a flawed man, with a divine mission to protect his country.

WATCH |Cuban-born Republican on why she’s sticking with Donald Trump:

Miriam Weiss says she and other Latinos are voting for Donald Trump because, she says, he has delivered on his promises. 0:31

And she thinks all those polls we’re looking at will soon reveal themselves to be absolute junk.

“You think Biden’s leading. You all think Biden’s leading,” Menchaca told a reporter in an interview. 

“It’s so funny. … But it’s okay. [Trump’s] going to win.”

With files from Paul Hunter and Marie Claudet in Arizona, and Susan Ormiston and Marie Morrissey in Florida.

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Californians see power shutoffs as winds, fire danger rise

Hundreds of thousands of Californians lost power as utilities sought to prevent the chance of their equipment sparking wildfires and the fire-weary state braced for a new bout of dry, windy weather.

More than 1 million people were expected to be in the dark Monday during what officials have said could be the strongest wind event in California this year.

It’s the fifth time this year that Pacific Gas & Electric, the nation’s largest utility, has cut power to customers in a bid to reduce the risk that downed or fouled power lines or other equipment could ignite a blaze during bone-dry weather conditions and gusty winds. On Sunday, the utility shut off power to 225,000 customers in Northern California and planned to do the same for another 136,000 customers in a total of 36 counties.

“This event is by far the largest we’ve experienced this year, the most extreme weather,” said Aaron Johnson, the utility’s vice president of wildfire safety and public engagement. “We’re trying to find ways to make the events less difficult.”

The National Weather Service issued red flag warnings for much of the state, predicting winds of up to 56 km/h in lower elevations and more than 113 km/h in mountainous areas of Southern California. The concern is that any spark could be blown into flames sweeping through tinder-dry brush and forestland.

The conditions could equal those during devastating fires in California’s wine country in 2017 and last year’s Kincade Fire, the National Weather Service said. Fire officials said PG&E transmission lines sparked that Sonoma County fire last October, which destroyed hundreds of homes and caused nearly 100,000 people to flee.

Ray Lopez delivers supplies to Mountain Mike’s Pizza in the Montclair district of Oakland, Calif., where power is turned off, on Oct. 15. Sunday’s shutdown was the fifth time this year that Pacific Gas & Electric cut power to customers in a bid to reduce the wildfire risk. (Noah Berger/The Associated Press)

Weather conditions shifted in Northern California on Sunday, with humidity dropping and winds picking up speed, said Scott Strenfel, senior meteorologist for PG&E. He said another round of winds is expected Monday night.

Southern California, which saw cooler temperatures and patchy drizzle over the weekend, is also bracing for extreme fire weather. Southern California Edison said it was considering safety outages for 71,000 customers in six counties starting Monday, with San Bernardino County potentially the most affected.

Los Angeles County urged residents to sign up for emergency notifications and prepare to evacuate, preferably arranging to stay with family or friends in less risky areas who aren’t suspected to have the coronavirus. Local fire officials boosted staffing as a precaution.

“The reality is come midnight and through Tuesday we’re going to be in the most significant red flag conditions we’ve had this year,” said Kevin McGowan, director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management.

Outages are safety measure

Scientists say climate change has made California much drier, meaning trees and other plants are more flammable. Traditionally October and November are the worst months for fires, but already this year the state has seen more than 8,600 wildfires that have scorched a record 16,576 square kilometres and destroyed about 9,200 homes, businesses and other structures. There have been 31 deaths.

Many of this year’s devastating fires were started by thousands of dry lightning strikes, but some remain under investigation for potential electrical causes. While the biggest fires in California have been fully or significantly contained, more than 5,000 firefighters remain committed to 20 blazes, including a dozen major incidents, state fire officials said.

Members of the San Bernardino County Fire Department hose down hot spots from the Bobcat Fire on Sept. 19 in Valyermo, Calif. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/The Associated Press)

PG&E officials said the planned outages are a safety measure and understood they burden residents, especially with many working from home and their children taking classes online because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Sheriff Kory Honea of Butte County said he’s concerned about residents in foothill communities during the blackouts because cellular service can be spotty and it’s the only way many can stay informed when the power is out.

“It is quite a strain on them to have to go through these over and over and over again,” he said.

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California not out of wildfire danger as intense winds linger

Santa Ana winds were expected to linger for a final day Thursday after driving more than a dozen wildfires through California, sending thousands fleeing and burning nearly up to the walls of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

Firefighters managed to tamp down or at least partially corral fires that for the past few days surged through tinder-dry brush in both the north and south, destroying dozens of homes.

But much of Los Angeles and Ventura counties remained under a U.S. National Weather Service red flag warning of extreme fire danger through Thursday evening because of bone-dry humidity and the chance of winds gusting to 112 km/h in the mountains.

A brushfire that broke out before dawn Wednesday between the cities of Simi Valley and Moorpark north of Los Angeles quickly exploded in size and prompted officials to order about 30,000 people to evacuate, although some were being allowed back home Wednesday night as fire crews began to get a handle on the blaze.

Crews remained through the night to make sure embers weren’t blown back into flame.

Throughout the day, an army of firefighters helped protect the hilltop Reagan museum, and helicopters hit the flames, which came within about 27 metres of the property and left the library sitting like an island in a soot-black sea. A team of goats is brought in annually to chew away vegetation and create a firebreak around the museum.

There was no damage, library spokesperson Melissa Giller said, but nearby residents had little time to heed evacuation orders as the flames approached.

Fire engulfed trees close to one of many ranches near the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., on Wednesday. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

The cause was not yet determined, but Southern California Edison filed a report with state regulators to say it began near its power lines. Electrical equipment has sparked some of California’s worst wildfires in recent years and prompted utilities to resort to precautionary power outages. SoCal Edison had not cut power in the area at the time this fire started.

Another wildfire Wednesday forced the evacuation of two mobile home parks and a psychiatric nursing care facility in Jurupa Valley, 72 kilometres east of Los Angeles, where elderly people wearing face masks and wrapped in blankets were taken out in wheelchairs and gurneys as smoke swirled overhead. The blaze grew to 200 acres in size before its forward spread was stopped.

“There was one moment when I could see nothing but dark smoke and I was like, ‘We’re going to die,”‘ said Qiana McCracken, assistant director of nursing for the Riverside Heights Healthcare Center.

Outages condemned by customers, officials

As winds buffeted the state this week, utilities deliberately cut power to more than a million people to prevent high winds from damaging power lines and sparking wildfires.

Pacific Gas & Electric, which has staged three sweeping blackouts this week, restored power to hundreds of thousands of people Wednesday and expected to have it back for the others sometime Thursday.

The waves of days-long outages have been angrily condemned by state officials and consumers.

PG&E Corp. CEO Bill Johnson acknowledged hardships but said outages will be necessary in the future as seasonal fire threats increase.

“As long as they remain the best tool that we have to keep people safe, and our communities safe, they’re the tool we will use,” he said.

PG&E equipment that wasn’t de-energized may have ignited a massive blaze in Sonoma County wine country that has destroyed 133 homes.

Firefighters reported making significant progress as high winds in the area eased Wednesday and the fire was 45 percent contained.

Firefighters put out burning embers near the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

Southern California Edison said its safety power cuts still affected about 215,000 people by late Wednesday night and warned that outages were under consideration for about 800,000 people.

The days of windstorms are not unusual for the fall season, which has seen vicious gusts propel a series of deadly and destructive California wildfires in recent years.

But at least in the short term, there was good news from forecasters.

“This is the last event in our near future. We are not expecting any Santa Anas next week,” weather service meteorologist Kristen Stewart said.

But she noted the forecast only extends out seven days.

“Once we get past that, all bets are off,” she said.

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Attack on Saudi oil facilities highlights danger of ‘kamikaze’ drones

The recent attack on Saudi oil facilities have cast a spotlight on an increasingly-used but often misunderstood piece of combat technology: “kamikaze” or “suicide” drones.

And the incident has brought into focus what one expert calls the “eminent” possibility of such devices one day being used to sow terror in major cities.

The strikes on the Saudi Aramco plants last Saturday involved some 20 drones and several cruise missiles, U.S. officials have reportedly said. Although drone attacks have been carried out before in the region, this effort significantly disrupted Saudi Arabia’s oil capacity, marking an escalation in their scale of destruction.

Houthi rebels — aligned with Iran and battling the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen’s civil war — quickly took responsibility for the strikes. U.S. officials blamed Iran, but Tehran rejected the claim. 

While it’s not entirely clear who’s responsible, it is known that since 2018, the Houthis have obtained advanced drones capable of attacks beyond Yemen’s borders, according to a UN Security Council report released last January. 

The debris of a Houthi UAV-X drone is seen in this undated photo from a January UN Security Council report. (UN Security Council Panel of Experts on Yemen)

Device ‘shrouded in mystery’

Identifying the devices as UAV-X (unmanned aerial vehicle X), the report said they could fly 1,500 kilometres and travel at speeds of up to 250 km/h.

What’s more, the device can carry a warhead made up of 18 kilograms of explosives and ball bearings, making it potentially more lethal than other Houthi-owned drones, the UN report warned.

Known broadly in the industry as “loitering munitions” for their common ability to stop mid-air and wait for a target, the category of devices is also referred to as kamikaze or suicide drones. They’re normally destroyed themselves while mounting an attack.

As for the UAV-X, it can also be used in reconnaissance missions to gather intelligence at a distance. Among the debris of one such device, the UN’s panel of experts found the lens from a Nikon D810, a widely-available, professional-grade digital camera.

Beyond that, the device is “somewhat shrouded in mystery,” said Arthur Holland Michel, co-director of the Centre for the Study of the Drone at Bard College.

The lens from a Nikon D810 digital camera, recovered from the debris of a UAV-X drone, is seen in an undated photo provided in the UN Security Council report. (UN Security Council Panel of Experts on Yemen)

Despite the secrecy around the UAV-X, Holland Michel said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if something like the loitering munitions used by the Houthis did become somewhat widely accessible in three to five years.”

Military-grade drones, especially those deployed by the United States, have been best known for use in surveillance operations and targeted killings from thousands of kilometres away.

They bear almost no resemblance to the off-the-shelf devices available at stores. Instead, the UAV-X is shaped more like a jet with a wingspan of 4.5 metres — roughly the length of a sedan.

Hard to detect

Air defence systems often aren’t calibrated to detect loitering munitions, which fly at lower altitudes and speeds than ballistic missiles and military aircraft. The result is the drones may only be spotted from a shorter distance, according to Justin Bronk, a research fellow at London’s Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).

Bronk said anti-drone systems generally involve guns shooting down the devices. The systems aren’t ideal; they run out of ammunition and can easily be overwhelmed by multiple incoming targets at once.

“There is no perfect answer,” he said.

A portable anti-drone weapon is displayed at the Egyptian booth during the last day of Egypt Defence Expo, showcasing military systems and hardware, in Cairo, on Dec. 5, 2018. (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters)

Much of the damage caused in last weekend’s attack may be due to the use of missiles, rather than drones. Loitering munitions still can’t handle the same size of weaponry as larger missiles.

But the number of devices deployed appears to underscore the difficulty in defending against such a co-ordinated operation. 

“The co-ordination of those [drones] would not be entirely simple,” said Craig Martin, a professor at the Washburn University School of Law. But compared to other weapon systems, “they’re relatively cheap.”

Martin wrote an essay about Canada’s planned acquisition of armed drones. (The Royal Canadian Air Force hopes to purchase armed drones for domestic and overseas use within six years, The Canadian Press reported in February.)

In a telephone interview, Martin estimated the drone attack in Saudi Arabia would have cost “tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars.” He said that’s much less than Riyadh’s $ 1 million US or more spent to deploy a single Patriot surface-to-air missile as a means of defending against Houthi threats.

RUSI’s Bronk said, “The price of entry” isn’t very high. It does potentially give small groups or countries long range, fairly accurate, precision strike capabilities.”

He said the use of loitering munitions isn’t new, but their prices have dropped and freely-available GPS data has made them easier to program for use on a specific target. A quick search on Google Maps, for instance, reveals the exact location of Saudi oil facilities.

The drones deployed last Saturday are believed to have been GPS-programmed to hit those exact spots.

This image provided by the U.S. government and DigitalGlobe shows damage to the infrastructure at Saudi Aramco’s Abqaiq oil processing facility in Buqyaq, Saudi Arabia. The drone attack Saturday led to the interruption of an estimated 5.7 million barrels of the kingdom’s crude oil production per day, equivalent to more than 5 per cent of the world’s daily supply. (U.S. government/DigitalGlobe via AP)

‘Threat’ from consumer-grade drones

Off-the-shelf drones aren’t made to carry weapons, but videos shared online appear to show ISIS using such commercial devices to drop grenades in Iraq and Syria.

Speaking to a U.S. Senate panel last year, FBI Director Christopher Wray called the use of civilian drones by criminal groups “a steadily escalating threat.”

Holland Michel, at the Centre for the Study of the Drone, said an attack in a big city involving grenades strapped to drones “is eminently possible today.” Citing the example of an armed drone flying over a crowded stadium, he called the potential “very worrying.”

In this April 29, 2018, file photo, a drone operator helps to retrieve a drone after photographing over Hart Island in New York. (Seth Wenig/The Associated Press)

Many countries and major cities, however, have adopted a patchwork of laws banning drones from public areas. And Holland Michel said if a criminal group were to acquire the weapons needed for such an attack, it would raise a red flag among security services.

“We don’t want people thinking this kind of Houthi drone attack is possible tomorrow in Toronto.” 

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Talcum powder could pose danger to lungs and ovaries, Health Canada warns

Consumers should avoid inhaling talcum powder or using the products on the female genital area, as exposure may cause potentially serious respiratory problems and possibly ovarian cancer.

Baby powder should also be kept away from a child's face to avoid inhalation, Health Canada and Environment and Climate Change Canada said Wednesday in releasing a draft screening assessment of products containing talc.

The draft assessment focuses on the safety of talc in such self-care products as cosmetics; baby, body, face and foot powders; diaper and rash creams; and genital antiperspirants and deodorants.

"When you inhale talc, the fine talc particles will get lodged inside of the lung, and over time there's a cumulative effect associated with that," said David Morin, director general of Health Canada's safe environments directorate.

Inhaling talc, a naturally occurring mineral, can cause difficulty breathing, decreased lung function and pulmonary fibrosis, a scarring of the lungs.

Products containing talc also have been linked to ovarian cancer in some women, and the Canadian Cancer Society identifies its use on the female genitals as a possible risk factor.

A number of class action lawsuits in the U.S. and Canada launched against Johnson & Johnson contend that longtime use of its talcum powder for feminine hygiene resulted in the development of the plaintiffs' ovarian cancer. The cosmetics giant has denied its product, which has been on the market since 1894, causes the disease.

Despite studies suggesting a link, Health Canada has not mandated that labels on talc-containing products carry specific warnings about the possible link with the development of ovarian cancer or the respiratory risks to adults who inadvertently inhale talcum powder particles.

Ottawa only requires label warnings related to the use of loose talc powder for infants and children, said Tolga Yalkin, head of Health Canada's consumer products safety directorate.

"Essentially, those warnings are: 'Keep out of reach of children' and 'Keep out of the way of a child's face to avoid inhalation, which can cause breathing problems,"' he said.

Final assessment in new year

Yalkin said the department is investigating the possibility of updating its cosmetic ingredient hotlist to include expanded warnings on product labels, but any decision would follow a 60-day consultation process that will end Feb. 6, and the final version of the screening assessment.

That consultation offers members of the public, talc-products manufacturers, academics and others to provide comment and information on the issue. Their input, as well as any new scientific evidence, will help inform the final assessment.

"It's possible you will see additional warnings that are mandated by Health Canada," Yalkin said.

Morin said that if the final screening assessment confirms that talc in certain products is harmful to human health, regulatory action will be taken to manage the identified risks.

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Brexit is just a sideshow. A bigger danger for the European Union looms from the east

Ah Brexit. We watch the follies and fatuousness of the British ruling class as it tries to pry the country from the clutches of the "Brussels bureaucrats." The spectacle offers a hideous fascination.

But increasingly in Brussels, Brexit is a bore, a sideshow. The mounting danger for the European Union is in the east. It's called "Orbanism."

Viktor Orban is the prime minister of Hungary. He's an enormous thorn in the body politic of the EU. He practises what his followers like to call "illiberal democracy." He also practises a policy of systematic provocation of the EU.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban delivers a speech during the celebrations of the 62nd anniversary of the Hungarian Uprising of 1956 in Budapest on Oct. 23, 2018. (Bernadett Szabo/Reuters)

And he's not alone. Poland is another major "enemy from within," followed at a distance by the Czech Republic and Slovakia. These are the so-called Visegrad countries. One of their leaders' goals is to weaken the power of Brussels while still collecting the rich subsidies the EU offers.

The EU, facing the loss of one of its biggest members, does not want to be seen as weak or, in the worst-case scenario, to watch other member countries leave the union.

Orban's latest low blow is his decision to offer political asylum to an old friend, Nikola Gruevski. Gruevski is the former prime minister of the small Balkan country of Macedonia, once a part of Yugoslavia. He's also a convicted criminal, found guilty of corruption while prime minister and given a two-year prison sentence.

Macedonia's former prime minister Nikola Gruevski enters a court in Skopje, Macedonia, on Oct. 5, 2018. (Ognen Teofilovski/Reuters)

Rather than serve it, Gruevski fled through Albania to Hungary in early November.

Gruevski, in a Facebook post, sought to portray himself as a victim, not a perpetrator. He said he might be "eliminated" if he was sent to prison.

What were you thinking?

It was on that basis, a Hungarian government newspaper said, that he met the conditions for political asylum.

A European commissioner, Johannes Hahn, quickly tweeted, "If confirmed, I expect a sound explanation" from Orban.  That's Eurospeak for "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

The decision undermines the EU's common police and security policy, particularly since EU countries, including Hungary, have approved Macedonia as a candidate for membership.

Orban has offered nothing but disdainful silence. (On Friday, he did say Hungary will evaluate Macedonia's request to extradite Gruevski.)

It's all part of a multi-pronged strategy. For instance, Orban's government has been trying for years to hobble the Central European University in Budapest, founded by the Hungarian-born Jewish philanthopist George Soros.

Soros has campaigned in favour of democracy and open borders in the countries of the former Soviet bloc. Orban has held power with a menu of nationalism and fear of migrants. Despite EU pressure, his government has refused for 17 months to give the university legal status under a restrictive new law governing foreign institutions. The CEU is accredited in the U.S.

Soros was a major target of Orban's party in its winning election campaign in the spring of 2018. It ran billboards saying "Stop Soros" and accused him of funding a "Soros plan" to erase national identities and increase migration flows to Europe.

'Enough is enough'

Now the CEU rector, former Canadian Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has said his university will have to start a move to Vienna if it isn't recognized officially by Dec. 1.

"Everything — a barrage of misinformation — is simply falsehoods," Ignatieff said in an interview with the Globe and Mail. "So, we've said enough is enough, I've got a university to run."

It was Orban, along with the leaders of Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, who torpedoed the EU policy on settling refugees after hundreds of thousands reached Europe in 2015. The Visegrad countries simply vetoed their quotas of refugees.

This November, the Czech Republic went further, refusing to sign a non-binding UN pact supporting orderly migration as a basic human right. The Czech prime minister, Andrej Babis, said the pact was a threat to his country's security and sovereignty.

On Nov. 11, in Poland, the country's president, Andrzej Duda, led a Polish independence day march along with government leaders. Just behind them marched far-right nationalist groups with banners calling for "White Poland" and "Death to Enemies of the Country." 

Polish President Andrzej Duda delivers a speech before the official start of a march marking the 100th anniversary of Polish independence in Warsaw on Nov. 11, 2018. (Agencja Gazeta/Agata Grzybowska via Reuters)

This, too, was seen by many as a provocation aimed at Brussels.

Poland's right-wing Law and Justice party came to power in 2015 and immediately began bringing the national broadcaster under party control, parachuting party loyalists into leadership positions.

Then it took aim at Poland's judges. The government rewrote the rules to give it control over the naming of senior judges. 

Cynical populism

Brussels reacted by invoking Article 7 of the EU treaty, citing a "clear risk of a serious breach of the rule of law" in Poland.

For Brussels, all this is cynical populism. Unfortunately for the EU, it's very successful populism. 

The Law and Justice party has a majority in parliament. Orban's party won a two-thirds majority this year. And Babis's new party ANO swept to power last year.

But even cynical populists run into problems.

Orban's granting of asylum to a criminal friend has become the object of sardonic jokes in Hungary. After years of refusing asylum to all refugees from Syria, his opponents say, he's finally found one refugee he will help.

In the Czech Republic, Babis is having bigger problems. He's a billionaire who controls much of the agricultural sector. But in October 2017, 11 people, including Babis and his wife, were charged by Czech prosecutors with defrauding the EU of $ 3 million in subsidies in connection with his business dealings.

Ten years earlier, it's alleged that he transferred a spa resort he owned to his son and daughter so their shell company could qualify for small-enterprise subsidies from Brussels. Once the money was pocketed, the resort was transferred back to him. For now, Babis denies all fraud allegations and is protected by parliamentary immunity.

But just a few days ago, on Nov. 14, Babis's son made a sensational charge.

All but kidnapped

He said he had been all but kidnapped by one of his father's lieutenants and taken to Crimea to stop him telling Czech police of his role in the subsidy deal. The prime minister said his son was mentally ill.

Thousands demonstrated in Prague. The opposition called a vote of no-confidence. Babis narrowly survived. But he is now severely weakened.

A demonstrator holds a placard during a protest rally demanding the resignation of Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis in Prague on Nov. 7, 2018. (David W. Cerny/Reuters)

And even Brexit can be put to use by Brussels. Britain this year was the third biggest net contributor to the EU, turning over more than $ 15 billion.

Anticipating Britain's exit, the EU has rewritten its subsidy projections for 2021 to 2027. And the big losers are, you guessed it, the Visegrad four. They stand to lose up to 25 per cent of their EU subsidies. 

The official reason is that their economies have improved so much.

Unofficially, let's call it Brussels payback. And the pressure works. On Nov. 21, Poland said it would drop its plan to lower the retirement age for Supreme Court judges to 65, which would have swept half the senior judges away.

This is a war of attrition, and far from over.

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Kendrick Lamar and Rihanna Have an Exhilarating Night of Joyriding and Danger in 'LOYALTY.' Video — Watch!

If he ever gets sick of rapping, Kendrick Lamar could have a promising career in cinematography.

The DAMN. rapper stars along side Rihanna in the new video for his song “LOYALTY.,” a dramatic and dazzling affair complete with shark-infested, aqueous roads, skyscraper-topping romance, and a laughed-off car crash at the end of a joyride in the city.

WATCH: Future Brings Out Kendrick Lamar at BET Awards After Rocking Bizarre Mask on the Red Carpet With His Daughter

Check it out below.

K-Dot and RiRi have loyalty in droves on this production, but perhaps even more chemistry!

“LOYALTY.” is the fourth music video spawning from DAMN., and is directed by Dave Meyers and the little homies — the directing collective comprised of Lamar himself and Dave Free.

MORE: Kendrick Lamar Surprises Crowd at 2017 BET Experience With Performance of ‘Humble’

Meanwhile, when he isn’t making Oscar-worthy music videos, Lamar is showing love for his fans.

Watch the video below to see the gift the 30-year-old rapper gave a paralyzed fan.


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