Category Archives: Latin America

InSecurityWatch: Pols, cops, hacks, terror, zones


And so much more, starting with the inevitable from BBC News:

US-Cuba shift: Opponents threaten to block changes

Opponents of President Barack Obama’s new Cuba policy have threatened to block his efforts to restore diplomatic relations after 50 years of hostility.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio promised on CNN to block the nomination of any US ambassador to Cuba. Other anti-Castro legislators suggested Congress would removing funding for any normalised ties with the country.

US-Cuban ties have been frozen since the early 1960s – a policy of isolation Mr Obama condemned as a failure. On Wednesday, the US president said it was time for a new approach.

Part of the deal with the New York Times:

C.I.A. Mole, Now Out of Prison, Helped U.S. Identify Cuban Spies

He was, in many ways, a perfect spy — a man so important to Cuba’s intelligence apparatus that the information he gave to the Central Intelligence Agency paid dividends long after Cuban authorities arrested him and threw him in prison for nearly two decades.

Rolando Sarraff Trujillo has now been released from prison and flown out of Cuba as part of a swap for three Cuban spies imprisoned in the United States that President Obama announced Wednesday in a televised speech. Mr. Obama did not give Mr. Sarraff’s name, but several current American officials identified him and a former official discussed some of the information he gave to the C.I.A. while burrowed deep inside Cuba’s Directorate of Intelligence.

Mr. Sarraff’s story is a chapter in a spy vs. spy drama between the United States and Cuba that played on long after the end of the Cold War, decades after Cuba ceased to be a serious threat to the United States. The story — at this point — remains just a sketchy outline, with Mr. Sarraff hidden from public view and his work for the C.I.A. still classified.

Another frightening case of transnational corporate exceptionalism from the Guardian:

US tries to strike deal with EU for immunity over online security breaches

  • Critics fear Tisa talks could be used to further interests of large corporations and undermine right to privacy

The US is attempting to secure immunity from investigation for online security breaches by major US companies under negotiations between Washington and Brussels, according to leaked documents seen by the Guardian.

Such a deal would prevent US companies that were operating inside the EU from being prosecuted by regulators or law officers for data breaches or claims of negligence in the host country, forcing European governments to pursue cases in the US courts.

Public service unions said the Trade in Services Agreement (Tisa) talks in Geneva revealed how the US planned to protect homegrown businesses from regulations that might hinder their expansion into sensitive areas such as government data handling and healthcare.

Rosa Pavanelli, general secretary of Public Services International (PSI), which represents 650 unions in 150 countries, said the leaked documents, obtained by the Associated Whistleblowing Press, confirmed her fears that “Tisa is being used to further the interests of some of the largest corporations on earth”.

Another major law enforcement failure, from the Los Angeles Times:

Feds sue N.Y.C. citing ‘deeply disturbing’ conditions at Rikers Island

Federal prosecutors sued New York City on Thursday over its handling of violence against young inmates held on Rikers Island, calling the jail complex a place where adolescents are “subjected to unconstitutional conditions and confinement.”

Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a filing Thursday that his office wanted to speed reforms at the facility following a Justice Department report in August that found “Rikers is a dangerous place” where a “pervasive climate of fear exists.”

At a news conference announcing the suit, Bharara said, “Today we have taken a legal step that we believe is necessary …. Much, much more needs to be done,” to safeguard inmates at Rikers.

Before federal officials filed the court documents, they notified New York Mayor Bill de Blasio of their intention. Bharara said the mayor supported the move.

The Los Angeles Times again, with the politics of race in Ferguson:

Ferguson-area school district strips power from black voters, ACLU says

The American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday filed a federal lawsuit against a school district that serves Ferguson, Mo., alleging that the district disenfranchises black voters.

The lawsuit, filed in conjunction with the Missouri NAACP, comes after months of scrutiny by government agencies and civil rights groups into the area’s local governments and predominantly white political leadership following the Aug. 9 police shooting of an unarmed black man. That incident has triggered a protest movement that has yet to fully subside.

The Ferguson-Florissant School District has seven board members, and only one is black. The district serves 11,000 students in northern St. Louis County, 79% of whom are black, according to the ACLU.

The school board members are selected in at-large elections. The lawsuit charges that because black voters are a minority inside the district’s boundaries, their relative voting strength is unfairly weakened in at-large elections.

From RT America, another troublesome Ferguson failure:

Ferguson grand jury witness wants to “stop calling blacks n*****s”

Program notes:

One of the witnesses in the grand jury that reviewed the actions of Ferguson, Mo. police officer Darren Wilson is under scrutiny by journalists who believe she may have not even been at the scene of the shooting. Adding to their speculation is a journal entry from “Witness 40,” in which she writes that she wanted to “drive to Florisant… Need to understand the Black race better so I stop calling Blacks n*****s.” Andrew Goldberg, managing editor of The Smoking Gun, gives more details to RT’s Ben Swann.

Cold War 2.0, with added repartee, via the Japan Times:

Danger in the skies as Russia, NATO play cat-and-mouse

Recent close shaves between Russian fighters and civilian aircraft highlight the dangers of the cat-and-mouse game being played out between Moscow and the West in European skies amid the crisis in Ukraine, analysts say.

In the latest incident, Sweden said Dec. 12 that a Russian military jet nearly collided with a passenger plane south of Malmo shortly after take-off from Copenhagen International Airport.

Both countries called in their Russian ambassadors to protest, only to be told that a huge increase in Russian military activity in recent months was “a response to NATO’s activities and escalation in the region.”

Russia later accused Swedish authorities of being under the influence after smoking too much cannabis.

World War 2.0, via Al Jazeera America:

Dutch right-wing politician charged with inciting hatred against Moroccans

  • Geert Wilders’ political party tops opinion polls in the Netherlands

Anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders will be prosecuted in the Netherlands for alleged discrimination and inciting hatred against Moroccans during election campaigning in March, prosecutors said on Thursday.

The charges stem from an incident in The Hague, when Wilders led an anti-Moroccan chant in a cafe, which was broadcast nationally and prompted 6,400 complaints to the police.

Wilders asked supporters if they wanted more or fewer Moroccans in their city, triggering the chant: “Fewer! Fewer! Fewer!” A smiling Wilders responded, “We’ll take care of that.”

In a later TV interview, he referred to “Moroccan scum.”

Torture lessons from Cold War 1.0, from Newsweek:

When Torture Backfires: What the Vietcong Learned and the CIA Didn’t

The CIA is hardly the only spy service to grapple with blowback from making prisoners scream. Even leaders of Communist Vietnam’s wartime intelligence agency, notorious for torturing American POWs, privately knew that “enhanced interrogation techniques,” as the CIA calls them, could create more problems than solutions, according to internal Vietnamese documents reviewed by Newsweek.

In many cases, torturing people wrongly suspected of being enemy spies caused “extremely regrettable losses and damage,” says one of the documents, released to little notice in 1993 by Hanoi’s all-powerful Public Security Service (PSS). But unlike the CIA, Vietnam’s security service constantly engaged in Marxist-style “self-criticism” to review its mistakes, particularly those caused by relying on confessions extracted by torture, the recently translated Communist documents show.

The documents were obtained and translated by Christopher E. Goscha, a history professor at the University of Montreal and one of the leading international scholars on Indochina during the French colonial period. He included them in his book, Historical Dictionary of the Indochina War (1945-1954): An International and Interdisciplinary Approach, which was published to little notice in Denmark in 2011. “Torture and intelligence gathering in a time of war are a tricky combination,” he told Newsweek, “and the [Communists’] policing and military intelligence services were no exception to the rule.”

On to the battlefield, via BBC News:

IS leaders killed by US air strikes, Pentagon chief says

US air strikes have killed several high-ranking military leaders of Islamic State (IS) in Iraq, the Pentagon’s top officer says. Gen Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the strikes aimed to hamper the Islamist group’s ability to conduct attacks, supply fighters and finance operations.

IS controls a swathe of Iraq and Syria, where it has declared a caliphate.

Meanwhile, Kurdish forces say they have broken the IS siege of Mount Sinjar.

Gen Dempsey told the Wall Street Journal that the loss of IS leaders was “disruptive to their planning and command and control”. He added: “These are high-value targets, senior leadership.”

Cyberconvolutions from CBC News:

Hackers posing as Syrian-Canadians may be tied to ISIS

  • Malware aims to expose location of attacker’s target

Hackers suspected of ties to ISIS posed as Syrian-Canadians to try to implant malicious software on a computer of a Syrian citizen media group, an internet watchdog says.

A Citizen Lab report released today says there’s strong evidence that the Islamic jihadist group sent the phishing email in late November, but it’s not conclusive.

“This bears little resemblance to anything we’ve seen from the usual suspects,” said report co-author John Scott-Railton. “That, combined with who they are targeting … gives us pause and makes us think that maybe we’re looking at ISIS malware.”

If ISIS is responsible for the attempted attack on the citizen media group, it could mark an early warning sign that the group is embracing a new tactic in its fight to establish a caliphate.

Another ironic hack, via Nextgov:

48,000 Federal Employees Potentially Affected by Second Background Check Hack

The Office of Personnel Management is alerting more than 48,000 federal employees their personal information may have been exposed following a breach at KeyPoint Government Solutions, which conducts background investigations of federal employees seeking security clearances.

The total number of employees affected is 48,439, according to an email from OPM Chief Information Officer Donna Seymour obtained by Nextgov.

Seymour said OPM worked closely with the Department of Homeland Security to investigate the incident, “and while we found no conclusive evidence that [personally identifiable information] was taken by the intruder, OPM has elected to conduct these notifications out of an abundance of caution.”

And yet another embarrassing hack, via the Los Angeles Times:

Internet authority ICANN says it was hacked

The Internet authority responsible the Web’s address system has been hacked, compromising employee emails and personal information.

The Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, said Tuesday that it fell victim to a “spear phishing” attack in November. The hack involved emails crafted to look as though they came from the organization’s own domain.

Earlier this month, ICANN learned that the stolen employee credentials were used to access other systems aside from email, including the Centralized Zone Data System that grants access to private employee information. Hackers accessed employees’ names, addresses, email addresses, phone numbers and usernames. The digital thieves also found employee passwords, though that information was encrypted instead of saved as plain text, ICANN said.

And a transition our first after-the-jump, hack-of-the-year stories, via the Associated Press:

Sony hacking fallout puts all companies on alert

Companies across the globe are on high alert to tighten up network security to avoid being the next company brought to its knees by hackers like those that executed the dramatic cyberattack against Sony Pictures Entertainment.

The hack, which a U.S. official has said investigators believe is linked to North Korea, culminated in the cancellation of a Sony film and ultimately could cost the movie studio hundreds of millions of dollars. That the hack included terrorist threats and was focused on causing major corporate damage, rather than on stealing customer information for fraud like in the breaches at Home Depot and Target, indicates a whole new frontier has emerged in cybersecurity. Suddenly every major company could be the target of cyberextortion.

“The Sony breach is a real wake-up call even after the year of mega-breaches we’ve seen,” says Lee Weiner, Boston security firm Rapid7’s senior vice president of products and engineering. “This is a completely different type of data stolen with the aim to harm the company.”

“Movie studios have, by and large, behaved as high-security intellectual property purveyors; prints have been tightly controlled, screeners are watermarked, and bootleggers are prosecuted wherever possible,” says Seth Shapiro, a professor at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. He said that’s what makes it so surprising that email leaks showed that Sony executives apparently gave out passwords in unencrypted emails and made other security blunders.

After the jump, on to the hack of the year, starting with another film pulled by another studio, a White House declaration, possible responses, a media war victor, potential impacts on the studio system, Sony emails force apologetics, an author enters the game, a plot twist about plot twists, revelations about studio battles with Google, plus curious legal ties, major router hackability revealed, Japanese ransomware debuts, a rebel ceasefire in Colombian and a violent protest in Brazil, complaints of wasted aid in Pakistan, thousands may be headed for Pakistani gallows, while Pakistan asks for help for Washington, and a court bails a major terrorism suspect, Christian fear in Indian as Hindu violence rises, a U.N. call for punitive action against North Korea and a North Korean nuclear count, a South Korean rift complicates air force plans, China clamps down on foreign television, Japan redefines scope of future military actions, and allegations of a curious cabal of upper crust British killer pedophiles. . .   Continue reading

MexicoWatch: Protests, vigilantes, & kidnaping


We begin with another teleSUR report about the parents of the missing youths:

Ayotzinapa Parents Accuse Mexican Attorney General of Cover-Up

  • The parents of the forcibly disappeared students also say the president is repressing protests with an “iron fist” strategy.

The family members of the 43 Atyotzinapa students are accusing Mexico’s Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam of covering up federal involvement in the deaths and forced disappearences.

During a press conference Wednesday, the relatives reiterated their demand for a direct investigation into the participation of the Mexican army and federal police in the deaths and enforced disappearances of the students, as well as into organized crime groups.

Spokesman for the families, Felipe de la Cruz, said that the authorities want people to forget about the state crimes committed in Iguala, Guerrero state on Sept. 26.

He said that while cover-ups happen all too often in Mexico, “in this case, the army, federal police, Iguala local police, ex Governor Angel Aguirre, and the President of Mexico himself have to own up to what really happened in Iguala.”

From BBC News, reaction to a lawless violence caused by lawlessness:

Mexico troops sent to La Ruana after vigilante shoot-out

  • More than 400 federal police officers and soldiers have been sent to a town in Mexico’s western Michoacan state.

The deployment follows a shoot-out between two vigilante groups on Tuesday in which 11 people were killed.

Ballistic tests showed all of those killed had fired their weapons in the two-hour gun battle in La Ruana.

The two groups of vigilantes were set up to fight the local drug cartel, but have since become bitter rivals and have started fighting each other.

March on Ayitla, from photographer Alberto Buitre via his Tumblr, #OficioRojo. http://oficiorojo.tumblr.com/post/105561798603/ayotzinapa-marcha-y-planton-contra-el-ejercito

March on Ayutla de los Libres, from photographer Alberto Buitre via his Tumblr, #OficioRojo.

And from teleSUR, the story of that dramatic confrontation over their own vigilantes:

Thousands Demand Army to Retreat from Mexican Town

  • Residents of Ayutla de los Libres, Guerrero, block a highway for six hours arguing that vigilante groups provide security to the communities.

Thousands of residents of the Mexican county of Ayutla de los Libres, in Guerrero, marched Wednesday on a local highway to demand that the Mexican army be ordered to retreat from the zone.

The demonstrators said that although Guerrero undergoes a serious security crisis the county is safe thanks, in part, to the vigilante groups, known as self-defense groups.

“Military checkpoints on highways are illegal and it has been proven that they do not really work,” said Luis Salgado Leyva during a rally in Ayutla-Cruz Grande highway.

Seventy of the 108 communities that constitute Ayutla took part in the peaceful demonstration. Local media estimated about 3,000 people participated in the rally.

teleSUR English covers electoral questions:

Mexican electoral authorities in Guerrero assess electoral landscape

Program notes:

As Mexico’s federal government remains under fire for its less than adequate response to the Ayotzinapa case, federal electoral officials are in Guerrero state in response to a meeting between the Ayotzinapa families and the Senate in which a request was made to halt upcoming elections in Guerrero due to the institutionalized political corruption at all levels in the coastal state. teleSUR

The Latin American Herald Tribune covers Guerrero cartel business as usual:

Mexican Lawmaker Rescued from Kidnappers

Authorities in the central Mexican state of Morelos rescued a lawmaker hours after he was abducted by members of the Guerreros Unidos drug cartel, the state’s governor said Thursday.

“Legislator David Martinez has been rescued,” Gov. Graco Ramirez said on Twitter.

Martinez, a member of the center-left PRD, was beaten and subjected to psychological torture by his captors, the state public safety commissioner said. “Fortunately, he is very strong and he is happy with this second chance that life is giving him,” Alberto Capella told Milenio Television.

The rescue operation led to the capture of eight members of Guerreros Unidos, an outfit active in southern and central Mexico that has been linked to the Sept. 26 disappearance of 43 students in Guerrero state.

And from teleSUR, a dose of common sense from the south:

Bolivian President Critical of Mexico’s Drug-War Model

  • At a graduation event of national police, Bolivia’s president said the violence in Mexico was a result of the country’s anti-narcotics model.

Bolivian President Evo Morales criticized what he calls a “failed” anti-narcotics model in Mexico and Colombia Thursday in a graduation ceremony of the country’s National Police Academy, while also celebrating Bolivia’s policies towards fighting narcotraficking.

“The market for cocaine is generally in industrialized and developing countries. But … look at what is happening in Colombia, and especially how it is in Mexico,” said Morales at the event.

The former union leader pointed to recent events in Mexico regarding the forced disappearance of 42 teacher-training students of the Ayotzinapa college as a result of the country’s anti-organized crime policies.

“The recent events [in Ayotzinapa-Mexico], I still think that [the forced disappearance of the students] is a failed model, a model of free market that is unfortunately subject to the U.S. empire. And now there are deep problems,” said Morales.

EnviroWatch: Fracked, nuked, heated, dried


Plus critters, health, and more.

First, via United Press International, a major development:

New York state bans fracking

New York state on Wednesday banned the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, as a means of extracting natural gas after a years-long study by environmental and health officials.

There had been an indefinite moratorium placed on fracking in the state since 2008 when then-N.Y. Gov. David Paterson ordered a review on the safety of the controversial process.

N.Y. State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker on Wednesday declared he wouldn’t be comfortable if his own children were to live near a fracking site.

“I cannot support high-volume hydraulic fracturing in the great state of New York,” he said during a year-end meeting of N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s cabinet.

From Al Jazeera America, implications:

New York fracking ban reverberates nationally

  • Activists say the ban, announced by Gov. Cuomo Wednesday, will embolden the anti-fracking movement in several states

The news took even the most seasoned environmental activists by surprise: after years of review, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday that New York State would ban hydraulic fracturing.

“I can barely contain myself,” said Nadia Steinzor, the eastern coordinator for national non-profit Earthworks. “Even though Cuomo recently said he was going to make a clear decision, we were not expecting something as exciting and straightforward as this.”

Activists hope that Cuomo’s decision will spark more bans across the country. “The fact that they took such a clear conclusion on these health risks sends a very strong signal that will reverberate nationwide about the risks to water, land and health,” Steinzor said.

From EcoWatch, more reinforcement:

Families Forced to Flee Their Homes From Out-of-Control Leak at Fracking Well

More than two dozen families have been forced to flee their homes in Monroe County in eastern Ohio as natural gas poured from a leak at an unused fracking well, the C0lumbus Dispatch revealed.

According to Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) spokeswoman Bethany McCorkle, crews lost control of the well Saturday and have not yet been able to stop the leak. Families were evacuated from homes within a 1.5-mile radius of the well near the Ohio River. “There’s still a steady stream of natural gas coming from the wellhead,” said McCorkle.

Texas-based Triad Hunter, which owns the drilling site, released a statement saying it had “experienced a loss of control of a well, the Stalder 3UH, located in Monroe County, Ohio. The previously drilled and completed Stalder 3UH well had been temporarily plugged and abandoned in preparation for the drilling of three additional Utica horizontal wells on the Stalder pad. However, despite numerous precautionary measures taken in connection with the temporary plugging and abandonment operation, the well began to flow uncontrollably while recommencing production operations. Triad Hunter personnel were removing the well’s night cap flange when a pressure disruption occurred. They attempted to bolt back down this equipment but were not able to safely do so prior to natural gas flowback.”

From the Ecologist, more fracking woes, potentially much more devastating:

With sub-$60 oil, fracking and tar sands losses threaten the whole financial system

A new financial crisis is threatening to dwarf the ‘subprime’ mortgage debacle, writes Paul Mobbs. Cheap money from central banks has fuelled some $1.3 trillion of risky investments in high-cost ‘unconventional’ oil and gas. Now, with oil sinking below $60, all that paper is turning to junk – and that’s putting the entire economic system at risk.

Brought about by the recent fall in oil prices, investors are beginning to review the economics of unconventional oil and gas. For the last few years there have been a number of damning reports about the economics of unconventional fossil fuels.

Now it seems those long-ignored observations are being taken seriously by the money-lenders of Wall Street.

Deck the halls with. . .Whoa! WTF? Via the Guardian:

Toxic chemicals found in majority of holiday decorations

A new study tested seasonal products from retailers Walmart, Target and CVS. Two-thirds contained substances linked to cancer, learning disabilities and other health problems

A range of seasonal holiday products containing high levels of toxic chemicals are being sold by top retailers, including Walmart, Target, Walgreens, Kroger, Lowe’s, CVS and Dollar Tree, according to a new study.

Researchers for the environmental non-profit The Ecology Center tested 69 seasonal holiday products and found that two-thirds contained one or more hazardous chemicals that have been linked to serious health problems.

Purchased at seven retail stores in southeast Michigan, researchers tested beaded and tinsel garlands, artificial wreaths and greenery, stockings, figurines and other tabletop decorations, and gift bags. The study identified lead, flame retardants, tin compounds and phthalates, among other hazardous substances. These have been variously linked to asthma, birth defects, learning disabilities, reproductive problems, liver toxicity and cancer.

Measles on the rise in South Africa, via StarAfrica:

S/Africa on measles alert

South Africa’s five provinces of Gauteng, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, Northern Cape and Western Cape have been hit by measles, Health Ministry spokesman Joe Maila confirmed on Tuesday.

Some 49 laboratory stations confirmed measles cases had been noted since the beginning of this year, with the majority of the cases being reported in the Northern Cape Province which has recorded 18 measles cases to date, Maila said.

He said the ministry was working with the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) to contain the virus and ensure that it would not spread further.

“Indeed, there is a breakout of measles in South Africa. However, we are doing everything (possible) to make sure that we contain it so that it should not spread at the level that would get people worried,” he added.

Global Times covers the tragic:

Village votes to expel HIV-positive child

  • Expert: needs care ‘immediately’

An 8-year-old boy was allegedly facing expulsion from a village in Southwest China’s Sichuan Province for being HIV-positive, news portal people.com.cn reported on Wednesday.

More than 200 villagers, including the boy’s grandfather, in Shufangya village, Liqiao township, signed an agreement on December 7 agreeing to expel the boy in an effort to “protect villagers’ health.”

Kunkun (pseudonym), the boy, was found to be HIV-positive in 2011 when he received treatment for minor injuries, according to his grandfather, surnamed Luo.

Luo, 69, said that the HIV virus was transmitted to the boy from his mother.

From the Associated Press, corporate killings:

14 charged in deadly 2012 meningitis outbreak

In the biggest criminal case ever brought in the U.S. over contaminated medicine, 14 former owners or employees of a Massachusetts pharmacy were charged Wednesday in connection with a 2012 meningitis outbreak that killed 64 people.

The nationwide outbreak was traced to tainted drug injections manufactured by the now-closed New England Compounding Pharmacy of Framingham.

Barry Cadden, a co-founder of the business, and Glenn Adam Chin, a pharmacist who was in charge of the sterile room, were hit with the most serious charges, accused in a federal racketeering indictment of causing the deaths of 25 patients in seven states by “acting in wanton and willful disregard of the likelihood” of death or great bodily harm.

Among other things, Cadden, Chin and others are accused of using expired ingredients, failing to properly sterilize drugs and failing to test them to make sure they were pure. The other defendants were charged with such crimes as fraud and interstate sale of adulterated drugs.

From the Guardian, GMO incrementalism?:

Australian organic regulator pushes for GM-tainted crops to retain certification

  • Move would protect farmers from losing their organic certification because of accidental contamination

One of the bodies that regulates Australian organic standards is pushing to allow crops that are accidentally contaminated with genetically modified material to retain their organic certification, in a move that would bring Australia in line with European regulators.

Under current Australian organic standards, products lose organic certification if they contain any level of GM material.

That’s what happened to Western Australian farmer Steve Marsh, who took his neighbour Mark Baxter to the WA supreme court claiming GM pollen from Baxter’s farm caused him to lose organic certification on part of his property. Marsh lost the case and has lodged an appeal.

But regulator Australian Certified Organic (ACO) has applied to the Organic Industry Standards and Certification Council (OISCC) to change the standards to allow a minimum level of “advantageous contamination” in organic crops, so long as GM material is not detectable in the end product.

Reuters covers more GMO politicking:

U.S, China making progress on biotech crop talks: USDA’s Vilsack

The United States and China are making progress in talks over Beijing’s acceptance of new biotechnology for crops, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on Wednesday.

The countries are “moving toward an understanding of how we might be able to establish a strategic dialogue on biotechnology,” Vilsack told Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang in a bilateral meeting in Chicago.

Biotech crops are a key trade issue between the countries because China has rejected more than 1 million tons of U.S. corn containing traces of a type of genetically modified corn, Agrisure Viptera, in the past year. The strain, developed by Syngenta AG, is approved for planting in the United States but not for import by Beijing.

From the Guardian, resistance to the neoliberal environmental agenda:

Italy says it will oppose EU plans to scrap environment law

  • Eleven member states signed letter opposing withdrawal of draft EU law on air quality and waste

Plans by European policymakers to scrap a draft EU law on air quality and waste send a “negative signal” about Europe’s ambition to curb climate change and governments will challenge them, the Italian environment minister said on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the European commission laid out its legislative plans for 2015, saying it would focus on priorities such as jobs and economic growth. At the same time, it planned to withdraw some proposals made by the previous EU executive, including on improving air quality and cutting waste.

Environment minister Gian Luca Galletti of Italy, holder of the rotating EU presidency, was one of 11 EU ministers who signed a letter to the commission saying they opposed plans to tear up environmental legislation. He told journalists the opposition would continue.

After the jump, climatic grounds for pick-me-up angst, the U.S. Southwest looks to replenish a critical reservoir, oceans now come with a plastic lining?, Obama saves a bay — at least for now, Peruvian environmental murders, the tragic price of Chinese ivory hunger, the Navajo coal problem, on to Fukushimapocalypse Now! and yet another leak, and a singularly bad timing problem, bad news for Japan’s power customer, another nuclear plant moves closer to a restart, and more ratepayer woes. . . Continue reading

MexicoWatch: Protests, anger, shootouts, more


We begin with a graphic, this one with a presidential twist from the Mexicanisimo Tumblr:

BLOG Pena

From teleSUR, direct action:

Ayotzinapa Supporters Take Over Local Governments in Guerrero

  • Members of the National Popular Assembly in Guerrero have taken over 43 percent of all local governments in the state, according to news reports.

Recent takeovers and new forms of government are scarcely publicized, yet highly significant responses to the police attack on the students of the Raul Isidro Burgos teacher training school at Ayotzinapa las September 26, resulting in six deaths, 25 injuries and 43 forced disappearances.

After the massacre, massive protests prompted former Governor Angel Aguirre to resign and some arrests to be made, yet family, teacher and self-defense groups were not satisfied with such token gestures. They came to a decision that the total complicity of government officials, organized crime groups, police and military formations made it impossible to gain justice uwithout making structural changes.

As part of their program of action, they decided that the indefinite takeover of all 81 town and city councils in the state of Guerrero would be a first step towards setting up Zapatista-style autonomous governments.

Protest in Mexico City, via the Latin American Herald Tribune:

Religious Protesters Light Christmas Tree in Solidarity with Missing Students

Catholics, Protestants and members of other religious groups gathered in the Mexican capital to light a Christmas tree decorated with the photos of missing trainee teachers.

“It’s an ecumenical act that unites us (in solidarity with) the Ayotzinapa students,” Noe Amezcua, one of the organizers, said Tuesday.

Participants in the event read aloud the names of the 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Normal School, a teacher-training facility in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero, who disappeared on the night of Sept. 26 in the nearby city of Iguala.

One of the missing students has been identified from charred remains found near the town of Cocula.

And from teleSUR English, things to come:

Mexico: No vacation break for Ayotzinapa protests

Program notes:

While Mexicans are beginning their holiday festivities, activists say there will be no vacation break for demonstrations and other protests demanding the safe return of the 42 missing Ayotzinapa students. Anger over the injustice remains high and police repression will only inflame tensions. Clayton Conn reports from Mexico City.

From teleSUR, action taken abroad:

German Parliament Moves to Suspend Security Agreement with Mexico

  • The move by the EU nation comes in the midst of allegations that Mexican federal police were involved in the Iguala massacre.

Arguing that “the human rights situation in Mexico is disastrous,” the opposition in the German parliament will present this Thursday three motions designed to suspend negotiations of a security agreement with Mexico, and to force the German government to adopt a critical stance following the disappearance of 43 Ayotzinapa teachers’ college students in Iguala.

Tom Koenigs, representing the Green Party, is scheduled to unveil a document regarding the lack of human rights in Mexico. The report considers the Iguala case not as an isolated incident, but as the tip of the iceberg of what is happening in the Latin American country.

The Left Party spokesperson Heike Hänsel will likewise present a motion to suspend the security agreement with Mexico and urge Germany, as a European Union member state, to lead in the cancellation of the Global Accord and that future collaboration with Mexico is conditioned with clauses that protect human rights.

BBC News covers a deadly vigilante clash:

Mexico vigilantes in deadly shoot-out in Michoacan

At least 11 people have been killed in clashes between rival vigilante groups in Michoacan state, western Mexico. The two groups confronted each other in the town of La Ruana.

The vigilante groups were created almost two years ago by locals who said the security forces had not done enough to protect them from drug cartels.

Earlier this year, the government tried to gain control of the vigilantes by integrating them into a rural police force and registering their weapons.

Michoacan Security Commissioner Alfredo Castillo said the clashes were triggered by a “historic rivalry” between their leaders.

A video of the attack via Borderland Beat:

From teleSUR, the imperial presidency:

Mexican President Spent $590M on Trips, Expenses: Report

  • The report revealed the expenses of officials from the Executive, Judicial and Legislative branches of Mexico’s government.

The administration of Mexican President, Enrique Peña Nieto, spent hundreds of millions on trips and expenses during 2013, according to the Federal Institute of Information Access (IFAI).

The organization announced this week that the President and his team, which have been criticized for the high number of external visits made during the two first years at office, expensed US$590,482,924 on more than 20 trips.

The IFAI also noted that the Presidency is, by far, the governmental institution or organization that highest spender of all government branches..

The Executive branch was followed by the Legislative power in spending, with the IFAI noting that Mexican lawmakers spent US$10,537,373 dollars on trips during the same period. The Judiciary spent US$10 million.

And we conclude with another graphic, this time from photographer Diana May and shot at the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana Unidad Xochimilco:

BLOG Skull

MexicoWatch: Corruption, protest, disappointment


We begin with a teleSUR English report on one of the missing 43:

They took Luis Ángel Arzola alive, we want him back alive

Program notes:

Lorenzo Francisco Gálvez talks about his son, Luis Ángel Francisco Arzola, who is one of the 43 students of the Ayotzinapa Rural Teacher Training College who were kidnapped in Iguala on September 26 and not seen since.

From the Guardian, a report about the day’s blockbuster story:

Mexico authorities ‘knew about attack on students as it happened’

  • Leaked government documents say federal officials did nothing to stop disappearance and probable massacre of missing 43

Mexican federal authorities had real-time information of an attack on a group of student teachers by corrupt local police, but did nothing to stop the disappearance and probable massacre of 43 people, according to new evidence published by the news magazine Proceso.

Based on leaked government documents, the new allegations are likely to further fuel public anger at the government of the president, Enrique Peña Nieto, which has insisted that federal authorities share no responsibility for the students’ disappearance.

The documents include a detailed record of the student’s movements made by a government information command post – known as a C4 – as the group left their college in Ayotzinapa in the town of Tixtla.

Anabel Hernández, one of the report’s authors, told MCS Noticias radio station: “When we see that the federal government and the state government were following the students since they left the college in Ayotzinapa, it becomes very difficult to think that everything else that happened was an accident.”

The story was assembled with the help of the UC Berkeley journalism school for the Mexican magazine Proceso.

We know one of the authors, Steve Fisher, who has done excellent reporting on environmental issues. And here how teleSUR describes co-author Anabel Hernández in a must-read interview with the reporters:

The ever-passionate and expressive Hernandez is no stranger to explosive investigations and allegations, so much so that her home was raided by official authorities late last year. The award-winning and internationally-acclaimed journalist has also been subjected to harrowing, threatening acts, such as having found animal body parts at the doorstep of her home.

Now for the Proceso story, via a Borderland Beat translation:

Iguala: Unofficial history

Federal forces participated in the attack against the students at the normal Ayotzinapa the night of September 26 in Iguala, Guerrero, during which died three teacher training and 43 went missing in a succession of facts that was known in real time by the federal government.

A study done with the support of the Journalism Program of Research from the University of California at Berkeley on the basis of testimonies, videos, unpublished reports and judicial statements shows that the Federal Police (PF) participated actively and were directly involved in the attack.

Even more, according to information obtained by the normal process of Ayotzinapa, the attack and disappearance of the students was directed specifically to the ideological structure and governance of the institution, because one of the 43 missing  was part of the Committee on student Struggle, the highest governing body of the school and 10 were “political activists in training” of the committee of political and ideological orientation (COPI).

Until now the official version is that the then mayor of Iguala, José Luis Abarca, ordered the aggression, concerned about the possibility that students interrupted the report on the activities of his wife, Maria de los Angeles Pineda Villa, President of the municipal DIF.

According to this version, municipal police of Iguala and the neighboring municipality of Cocula attacked and captured the students, while members of Guerreros Unidos killed the missing and burned their corpses. with the ignorance of the federal agents and soldiers stationed in the area.

And there’s a video of confrontations and one of the first shootings in Iguala, with another cell phone visible and recording as well, via Proceso:

Iguala: The Unofficial History

Program notes:

Audiovideos captured by witnesses to the attack on Ayotzinapa students.

Next, a damning admission, via teleSUR:

Federal Police Claim They Knew but Didn’t Participate in Iguala

A high ranking federal police officer agreed that the Ayotzinapa students were under surveillance, but denied that agents participated actively in the events of September 26, meaning the government has been hiding information for over two months.

Enrique Galindo, general commissioner of Mexico’s Federal Police, accepted on Monday that the organization knew about the attack on Ayotzinapa Teacher Training School students on September 26. However, he denied that federal officers were among the ones attacking and eventually abducting students in the southern state of Guerrero.

“Federal Police do not intervene, there’s no clear evidence of their active participation in the incidents … that truck [apparently a federal police truck, seen in a video shown by Proceso magazine] it’s not a federal police truck.”

“We did know about that day’s demonstrations because they [the students] came by bus. Our jurisdiction only applies to federal roads. The federal officers did go after the call for help, to respond to the violent acts against the soccer team, but we didn’t act at all in the city,” declared the official yesterday during an interview.

And from Eric J. Garcia’s El Machete Illustrated, a graphic response:

U.S. helping drug war

U.S. helping drug war

Followed by the inevitable poster protection, covered in a subsequent teleSUR story:

Mexico Government Denies Federal Involvement in Ayotzinapa Case

  • Attorney General Jesus Murillo said he has no evidence of Federal Police participating in the attack against the students.

Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo denied this Tuesday news reports suggesting involvement of federal police forces in the attack against the Ayotzinapa students in Iguala, Guerrero on Sept. 26, when three of them were killed and 43 others forcibly disappeared.

“Is absolutely not true that the Federal Police participated, there are many statements that have no foundation,” said Murillo in an interview with Mexican broadcaster MVS.

Murillo said that even when the Federal Police knew about the moves of the students that does not imply that it participated in the attack.

“I do not have the evidence that they claim to have. I do not know where that evidence comes from. If they have it I hope they hand it to me for analyzing it.” said Murillo in another interview with Mexican journalist Carmen Aristegui.

Reuters covers a disappointing development:

Austrian experts may need months to identify murdered Mexican students

Austrian forensics experts who helped solve the mystery of Russia’s murdered imperial family identified one student earlier this month using samples sent to Innsbruck’s Medical University.

The remaining samples, however, are in such a bad state that even time-consuming specialist analysis, focusing on so-called mitochondrial DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), might take months, if it yields any good data at all.

“We hope for results in the next two to three months,” molecular biologist Walther Parson, a leading expert at Innsbruck Medical University’s forensics institute, who is working on the Mexican case, said.

“The chances for useful results even with mitochondrial DNA are very slim, but we will try everything to create more potential DNA profiles.”

The Guardian covers police suppression:

Mexican police clash with protesters at site of concert for missing students

  • Injuries to 21 people reported and cars burned near venue of solidarity concert for 43 students missing since September

Clashes between federal police and protesters organising a concert in solidarity with 43 missing college students left at least 21 people injured and several cars in flames on Sunday in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero.

A police official said eight officers were injured, including five who were run over by a vehicle. Three others were said to have been beaten by protesting teachers, leaving one officer with “severe brain damage”. The official was not authorised to talk to the press and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Tlachinollan human rights group, which supports the relatives of the missing students, said the violence left at least 13 people injured, including students, teachers, parents of the missing students and two journalists, including a photographer who was working with Associated Press.

From teleSUR, the response from those who matter the most:

Relatives of Missing 43 Suspend Dialogue with Mexican Gov’t

  • Victims claim that the federal government is carrying out a strategy of provocation to orchestrate a violent end to the mass protests.

Claiming the government has been taunting the relatives of the missing 43, their lawyer announced the temporary suspension of the dialogue with federal officials on Tuesday.

“Right now we suspend the talks with the federal government because of all the things that have been happening,” said Vidulfo Rosales, lawyer of the missing 43 relatives.

However, Rosales also noted that the parents are willing to receive information from the government in order to find out what really happened to their sons.

The teleSUR English video report:

Mexico: government charged with seeking to criminalize protests

Program notes:

Family members of the 42 missing Ayotzinapa Teachers Training College students and human rights lawyers charged that Sunday’s confrontation with federal police at a concert in Chilpancingo, Guerrero was a provocation designed to criminalize the growing protest movement in Mexico. Meanwhile, there is mounting pressure on the Federal Attorney General’s Office to explain the role of the federal police and the military in the killing and kidnapping of the Ayotzinapa students as reported by the weekly magazine Proceso and contrary to the government line that only municipal police were involved. Clayton Conn reports from Mexico City.

From the Latin American Herald Tribune, vigilantes return:

Armed Civilians Block Roads in Western Mexico to Press for Cartel Crackdown

Hundreds of armed civilians blocked highways over the weekend in nine of the 113 cities in the western Mexican state of Michoacan to pressure the federal government to arrest Caballeros Templarios drug cartel members.

The civilians, who were armed with assault rifles and pistols, used buses, trucks and pick-up trucks, to block the roads on Sunday.

The protesters unfurled banners that called for the arrest of Servando Gomez Martinez, the cartel’s leader.

The demonstrators also called for the arrest of Sergio Huerta Tena, a close associate of Gomez Martinez, and Ignacio Andrade Renteria, a former associate of the drug lord.

And from teleSUR, the battle to keep military murder under wraps:

Mexico: Tlatlaya Massacre Witnesses Released

  • Orders are given for two women who witnessed a massacre of 22 presumed criminals by the Mexican army to be released.

A federal judge ordered the immediate release on Monday of two women who were arrested by the Mexican army in June this year, witnesses to the mass execution of 22 presumed organized crime members by the army in a warehouse in the town of Tlatlaya, State of Mexico.

The Fourth District Court in the State of Mexico ordered the dismissal of the criminal charges of illegal possession of firearms and cartridges for the exclusive use of the military.

The two women remain detained in the Women’s Federal Social Rehabilitation Center in Tepic, Nayarit.

And a story that should inspire students at the University of California, via teleSUR:

Mexican University Resumes Classes after 76-Day Student Strike

  • Students returned to classes Monday after fighting against proposed reforms for more than two months.

About 12,000 students from the National Polytechnic Institute (IPN) resumed classes Monday, ending a 76-day student strike against changes to the curriculum and other major reforms.

The IPN´s 40,000 students and nearly 4,000 employees resumed their normal academic activities, starting with the medicine and health science colleges, while the engineering department will commence classes on Jan. 7.

The students have demanded that federal government and IPN authorities suspend changes to the curriculum because they would lower the quality of education. Students also called for the removal of IPN’s dean, Yoloxochitl Bustamante.

Tens of thousands of undergraduates took to the streets, and by October they achieved these two demands. However, realizing the strength of their movement, the students called for further changes and proposed to hold negotiations with the government.

Finally, a graphic from Vancouver, British Columbia photographer Paulo Noe Mariles of a demonstration of solidarity at the Vancouver Art Gallery:

bLOG Ayotzinapa

EnviroWatch: Species, air, water, bugs, & fuels


We begin with the first major downer of the day, via the Independent:

Earth could face sixth mass extinction within 100 years

The earth could face a mass extinction by the next century if species continue to disappear at the current rate, according to a report by the scientific journal Nature.

Despite conservation attempts by governments across the world to save endangered species, thousands of animal types continue to face extinction every year.

Nature found that 41 per cent of all amphibian species are threatened with extinction, the highest at risk group. A more modest, but still alarming, 26 per cent of mammal species and 13 per cent of bird species are also threatened.

And from the New York Times, the first of three headlines abut the same event:

Climate Deal Would Commit Every Nation to Limiting Emissions

Negotiators from around the globe reached a climate change agreement early Sunday that would, for the first time in history, commit every nation to reducing its rate of greenhouse gas emissions — yet would still fall far short of what is needed to stave off the dangerous and costly early impact of global warming.

The agreement reached by delegates from 196 countries establishes a framework for a climate change accord to be signed by world leaders in Paris next year. While United Nations officials had been scheduled to release the plan on Friday at noon, longstanding divisions between rich and poor countries kept them wrangling through Friday and Saturday nights to early Sunday.

The agreement requires every nation to put forward, over the next six months, a detailed domestic policy plan to limit its emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gases from burning coal, gas and oil. Those plans, which would be published on a United Nations website, would form the basis of the accord to be signed next December and enacted by 2020.

That basic structure represents a breakthrough in the impasse that has plagued the United Nations’ 20 years of efforts to create a serious global warming deal. Until now, negotiations had followed a divide put in place by the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which required developed countries to act but did not demand anything of developing nations, including China and India, two of the largest greenhouse gas polluters.

Next, via, a less affirmative headline from CBC News:

UN climate negotiators pass watered-down deal in Lima

  • Wide range of options on the table for global deal at 2015 conference in Paris

Negotiators have reached a watered-down deal at U.N. talks in Peru that sets the stage for a global climate pact in Paris next year.

The Lima agreement was reached early Sunday after late-night wrangling between rich and poor countries.

About 190 nations agreed on the building blocks of a deal to combat climate change in 2015 amid warnings that far tougher action will be needed to cut rising world greenhouse gas emissions.

Finally, the downer, via the Observer:

World set for climate disaster, say activists, as Lima talks falter

  • Proposals too weak to keep global warming to the agreed limit of two degrees above pre-industrial levels

Frustrated climate campaigners have claimed that the world was on course for an unsustainable four-degree rise in temperatures, as two weeks of negotiations for a climate change agreement headed for an unsatisfying conclusion.

The proposals, still under discussion on Saturday, a day after the talks were scheduled to end, were too weak to keep global warming to the agreed limit of two degrees above preindustrial levels, setting the world on course to a climate disaster, according to developing countries at the summit.

“We are on a path to three or four degrees with this outcome,” said Tasneem Essop, international climate strategist for WWF.

She said the final draft text, a five-page document put forward for approval on Saturday, offered little assurance of cutting emissions fast enough and deeply enough to curb warming. “We are really unhappy about the weakening of the text. This gives us no level of comfort that we will be able to close the emissions gap to get emissions to peak before 2020,” she said. Saleemul Huq, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Environment and Development, put it even more succinctly: “It sucks. It is taking us backwards.”

CBC News looks ahead:

Rising sea levels could make Florida residents ‘climate refugees’

  • 3.5 million Canadians travel to the sunshine state every year

Florida’s vulnerability to the effects of climate change doesn’t seem at first blush to be a Canadian issue.

But every year, some 3.5 million Canadians travel to the sunshine state. What’s more, about half a million Canadians own property in Florida, much of it at risk from rising sea levels.

A lot of that property, particularly if it’s situated along one of the coveted stretches of Miami’s fabled beaches, could well be worthless and literally underwater in a few decades, says Harold Wanless, the chair of the department of Geological Sciences at the University of Miami.

His word for the future of Miami and much south Florida? Doomed.

The “monster” in climate change, as Wanless sees it, is a warming ocean. Sea levels will rise because water expands as it gets warmer, and oceans are taking up vast amounts of heat produced by global warming.

And the Observer looks at one dry spell not attributed to climate change [or some day]:

American drought: California’s crisis

A storm has hit California, but that’s not going to end the ‘worst drought in a generation’ that is turning much of the centre of the state into a dust bowl. Chris McGreal reports on the drought bringing one of the richest states in America to its knees

Esidronio Arreola never gave much thought to the well that so reliably pumped water to his traditional clapboard house in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. But one day in March, he opened the tap and all he got was air.

Through the searing summer heat, the Mexican immigrant to California’s Central Valley and his family endured a daily routine of collecting water in his pickup truck from an emergency communal tank, washing from buckets and struggling to keep their withering orchard alive while they waited for snow to return to the mountains and begin the cycle of replenishing the aquifer that provides water to almost all the homes in the region.

But as more of Arreola’s neighbours in East Porterville, a ramshackle, low-income town in sprawling Tulare County, reported their wells running dry, and state officials warned that the most severe drought in living memory may well extend into 2015 and beyond, he realised he might not have water for years to come.

So Arreola, who makes his living dealing in old fridges and washing machines from his garage, bit the bullet and borrowed the lion’s share of the $11,000 it cost to drill a new well four times as deep as his old one. In mid-November, seven months after the pipes went dry, water began flowing to his taps again. Arreola just doesn’t know for how long.

Another water problem, via Want China Times:

Yangtze water not a cure-all for Beijing’s thirst

Beijing is looking to water from the Yangtze river to ease its drought, but experts say the ambitious south-to-north water diversion project is not a cure-all for the capital’s thirst.

With Yangtze water piped in, Beijing will have 150 cubic meters per person, an increase of 50%, according to figures provided by the Beijing water authority.

It said the Chinese capital’s per capita water volume is currently 100 cubic meters, only 1.25% of the world’s average level.

Beijing needs at least 3.6 billion cubic meters of water a year to supply its 20 million residents and to keep local businesses running, but its own water supply was only 2.1 billion cubic meters annually in the past decade.

“The city is facing a severe water crisis,” said Xu Xinyi, a water conservancy specialist with Beijing Normal University. “It’s like five people stuffed into a room designed for two.”

Protest over anticipated water problems to come, via TheLocal.es:

Protesters strip off to oppose Repsol plans

Protesters plunged half-naked into the icy sea and unfurled banners Saturday to try to stop oil prospecting near Spain’s Canary Islands, a major tourist destination.

Ten boats from the archipelago took protesters eight nautical miles from where Spanish firm Repsol is exploring with a view to possibly drilling off the islands in the Atlantic ocean.

Protesters warn the oil and gas project is a threat to the environment and the tourist industry on which the Canary Islands rely.

They say drilling would raise the risk of an oil spill like the Deepwater Horizon disaster that struck at a BP oil prospect in the Gulf of Mexico in
2010.

And from Want China Times, another water protest:

Thousands take to street in Nicaragua to protest China canal deal

A massive demonstration rocked Nicaragua’s capital of Managua as protestors opposed to the construction of a US$50 billion Nicaragua Canal took to the streets on Wednesday. Protesters said the construction will damage local freshwater sources and the environment, reports Shanghai-based newspaper the Paper.

Some protesters held banners reading “Chinese gets out!” and “No canal.” The project, which is to begin construction on Dec. 22 and scheduled to be completed in 2019, will dwarf the neighboring Panama Canal. It will be 278 kilometers in length and pass through Central America’s largest lake.

Chinese-funded Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development Investment won the bid for the project and the right to operate the canal and its facilities for 100 years. One protester said he does not want to see the lake being cut in half and the fact that a foreign company will operate the canal for a century means that not even his children will see benefits from the project.

From Want China Times yet again, China’s killer air:

Air pollution cause of high lung cancer rate in China: experts

China’s chronic air pollution is being named the key culprit behind the prevalence of lung cancer, with cases predicted to top 1 million by 2025, the highest worldwide, according to Chinese-language Economic Information.

Lung cancer has topped the list of cancers in China, passing liver cancer as the number of lung-cancer patients has doubled every 10-15 years in the past decades, according to statistics of the National Cancer Registration Center.

China now has 3.12 million new cancer cases a year and over 2 million Chinese people die of cancer annually. The number of lung-cancer patients has been increasing at an annual clip of 26.9% in recent years, with the disease’s mortality rate surging 465% over the past 30 years, which makes it the most lethal cancer, according to NCRC data.

From VOA Video, another report about the intersection of things inhaled and lung health:

Gold Miners Join Class Action Suit in South Africa Over Lung Disease

Program notes:

Five of South Africa’s largest gold mining companies recently announced they will create a working group to deal with the issue of occupational lung disease. This move comes as the sector faces what could be South Africa’s biggest-ever class action lawsuit. More than 25,000 miners are seeking compensation from gold mining companies, saying they failed to protect them from Silicosis, a debilitating and incurable lung disease. Emilie IOB reports from South Africa and neighboring Lesotho.

From JapanToday, amazing if confirmed:

Tohoku University team discovers blue light is effective at killing insects

And now in a report published in Scientific Reports, a team of researchers from Tohoku University have found a new use for blue LED. When used in the right frequency it can be an effective, safe, clean, and cheap way to kill insects. For the first time, they showed that visible light around the blue part of the spectrum is lethal to insects such as mosquitoes and fruit flies.

In the experiment, the team of Masatoshi Hori, Kazuki Shibuya, Mitsunari Sato, and Yoshino Sato gathered samples of three species of insects; fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster), London Underground mosquito (Culex pipiens f. molestus), and confused flour beetles (Tribolium confusum). The names of these bugs are probably worthy of their own article, but we can’t get sidetracked now.

The team then hit these insects with different intensities of colored lights at different stages of their development from egg to adult. Interestingly, they found that wavelengths of light from ultraviolet (378 nanometers) to visible blue-green (508nm) killed off the bugs, whereas wavelengths of light in red and yellow had essentially no effect.

Even more interestingly, the wavelength of light did not directly correspond to its lethalness. For example, fruit flies dropped dead with under a 467nm far more efficiently than with any other longer or shorter wavelengths. Mosquitoes on the other hand were weaker to a more lavender 417nm wavelength light. When swapped, only a few fruit flies went down under 417nm, whereas mosquitoes barely flinched at the 467nm light.

And from CBC News, another grab for Arctic oil, gas, and minerals:

Denmark says Greenland subsea ridge gives it a claim to North Pole

  • Denmark says scientific data shows Greenland’s continental shelf is connected to a ridge beneath the Arctic Ocean, giving Danes a claim to the North Pole and any potential energy resources beneath it.

Denmark will deliver a claim on Monday to a United Nations panel in New York that will eventually decide control of the area, which Russia and Canada are also coveting, Foreign Minister Martin Lidegaard said.

Lidegaard told the Associated Press he hopes the other nations that also have made claims in the Arctic will continue to keep to “the rules of the game.”

The United States, Russia, Norway, Canada and Denmark all have areas surrounding the North Pole, but only Canada and Russia had indicated an interest in it before Denmark’s claim.

MexicoWatch: Remains, anger, numbers, more


We begin with another graphic, this time from the Accomplished Ignorant Tumblr:

BLOG Mexico

Next, the major development of the day from teleSUR:

Mexico: Human Remains Found in Ashes of Village Bonfire

  • Local media reports that remains found in Cocula may belong to missing Ayotzinapa students.

Members of the Union of Peoples and Organizations of the State of Guerrero (Upoeg) claim to have found human remains in the ashes of a bonfire burnt in La Barranca de la Carniceria, located in Cocula reports local media. According to Upoeg members, the remains are charred bones that may belong to the disappeared 43 Ayotzinapa teacher college students.

The remains were located based on information from witnesses that reported smoke.

Miguel Angel Jimenez, Upoeg representative, informed the Attorney General’s Office about the finding. Experts are expected to arrive at the scene on Monday to examine the remains.

National Public Radio covers a survivor:

Survivor Of Mexican Student Attacks Tells Of Bullet-Riddled Escape

  • In Mexico, authorities continue the investigation into the kidnapping and presumed murder of 43 students from a college in the southern state of Guerrero.

On a recent afternoon at the teaching school in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, I spoke to one man who says he survived the attacks on Sept. 26. NPR couldn’t independently confirm 22-year-old Carlos Martinez’s account, but it is consistent with other eyewitness versions and investigator’s statements.

That night back in September, three buses loaded with students headed out of the school toward Iguala, Guerrero, about an hour and a half away. Martinez, a junior at the school, says unfortunately they arrived just as the mayor’s wife was giving a political speech.

Thinking the students came to disrupt the event, and on orders of the mayor, police chased the students out of downtown and onto the main road, where Martinez says more patrol cars arrived and surrounded the buses.

The police jumped out and started shooting, Martinez says. More would come and start shooting, too. “You just heard shots everywhere,” he says.

From Turin, Italy, La Stampa’s Vatican Insider covers the religious response:

“They took them alive, we want them back alive!”

  • On the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, millions of Mexicans prayed for the missing students from Ayotzinapa

While the hymns of the Missa Criolla were being sung in St. Peter’s Basilica, 10 thousand kilometres away, in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, the following slogan was rolling off people’s lips: “They took them alive, we want them back alive!” The voices of protest at the disappearance of the students from Ayotzinapa did not stop even on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The day marked the 483rd anniversary of the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe on Mount Tepeyac. But this anniversary will probably be remembered as the year of prayer for victims of violence in Mexico.

It was religious leaders themselves who referred indirectly to the events which shook Mexican public opinion. During the traditional Mass of Roses – the main celebration that marks the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe –, the Apostolic Nuncio to Mexico, Mgr. Christopher Pierre, prayed to the Virgin Mary to “comfort” victims of “violence” and “poverty” in Mexico.

From the altar of the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Nuncio said: “We give thanks to you and pray for our many brothers and sisters in Mexico and around the world who are suffering as a result of violence, poverty and illness. May the Lord give them consolation and free them from evil, through the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe.”

From teleSUR, another major confirmation of what was suspected:

New Study Shows Federal Police Involved in Ayotzinapa Attack

  • The participation of federal forces in the attack opposes the official explanation of the events.

A new investigation on the case of the 43 Mexican students that disappeared on September 26 in the city of Iguala, Guerrero, shows that agents from the Federal Police planned the attack and took part in it.

On the night of September 26, Iguala municipal police and armed masked men shot and killed six people, including three students, in a confrontation while 43 other students were taken away. Their whereabouts remain a mystery.

According to the version by Mexican authorities, the armed men kidnapped the students and handed them to a local criminal gang known as United Warriors (Guerreros Unidos), then the students were burned to ashes in a dump near Iguala, which has not been confirmed by forensic experts.

From Deutsche Welle:

Mexicans fight back after student kidnappings

Program notes:

More than two months ago, 43 students disappeared in the Mexican state of Guerrero. They were abducted and then murdered, allegedly by local drug cartels with the assistance of the police and the mayor. Relatives and demonstrators are now campaigning against corruption and poverty.

More police violence against protesters, via teleSUR:

Mexico: Ayotzinapa Students and Teachers’ Repressed by Police

  • Parents of the 43 abducted students, journalists, as well as students and teachers from the Ayotzinapa teacher training college were injured during clashes in Chilpancingo.

Mexican Federal Police repressed early Sunday, in Chilpancingo, Guerrero, a group of students from the Ayotzinapa teacher training school, parents of the 43 Ayotzinapa abducted students, members of the State Coordinator of Education Workers of Guerrero (CETEG) as well as other students and journalists.

Around 17 people were injured during the clashes. They were denied medical care at the Chilpancingo Red Cross, therefore they were taken to other hospitals.

According to a statement published by the National Association of Democratic Lawyers (ANAD), a group of students from the Ayotzinapa teacher training college were heading towards a place called “El Caballito” in Chilpancingo to begin preparations for a concert in support of their 43 missing partners, which was scheduled for Sunday afternoon.

More Chilpancingo violence, via Borderland Beat:

Family Members of the Three Youths Found Executed in Chihuahua Flee in Fear

  • As reported by El Diario Juárez

Members of the Archuleta family fled from the municipality due to the fear of suffering a new attack and the absence of security guarantees, as the authors of the forced disappearance and later assassination of three young men remain free and remain in the town, they denounced.

“We can no longer be here”, one of the members of this family told El Diario that he had to decline participating in the funeral service of his loved ones, but he refused to identify the site in which he was refuging.

In this town one can not bury their dead, lamented the bereaved.

“We are afraid to remain longer in the town”, said the person interviewed upon making what would be his last communication.

The fear, he affirmed, is because they are poor people, laborers, and without any relation with organized crime, despite the fact that they kidnapped his three relatives, tortured them, and killed them.

From Al Jazeera America, a logical suspicion:

Mexico’s police overhaul may not curtail violence, corruption

  • President Peña Nieto’s proposal to dismantle country’s municipal forces ignores state and federal collusion

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has a launched a proposal to overhaul the police force in Mexico, finally acting in response to the thousands of marchers protesting the deteriorated security system and disappearance of 43 students in Guerrero.

The proposal, which Peña Nieto introduced to Congress on Dec. 2, would radically reshape the structure of policing in Mexico, dismantling municipal police forces and replacing them with 32 state police corps. It’s a move designed to show action against corruption on the local level — tragically illustrated by the Iguala police officers who dutifully handed over the students to organized crime at the command of the mayor.

The plan, however, point blank ignores state and federal collusion, despite their obvious contribution to a growing sense of lawlessness in Mexico, and the overall proposal strikes many as a hodgepodge of old ideas.

“This is an improvised and ill-prepared strategy,” said Alejandro Orozco, a Mexico City–based senior security consultant with FTI Consulting. “The way it has been planned and presented contrasts sharply with the energy reform and other sets of reforms that had been developed since the beginning of Peña Nieto’s term and had involved negotiations with the opposition [parties].”

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times publishes the final of four major investigative pieces on the plight of the Mexican people who harvest the food for tables in the U.S.:

Children harvest crops and sacrifice dreams in Mexico’s fields

An estimated 100,000 Mexican children under 14 pick crops for pay. Alejandrina, 12, wanted to be a teacher. Instead, she became a nomadic laborer, following the pepper harvest from farm to farm.

Child labor has been largely eradicated at the giant agribusinesses that have fueled the boom in Mexican exports to the United States. But children pick crops at hundreds of small- and mid-size farms across Mexico, and some of the produce they harvest makes its way into American kitchens and markets.

The Times pieced together a picture of child labor on Mexican farms by interviewing growers, field bosses, brokers and wholesalers, and by observing children picking crops in the states of Sinaloa, Michoacan, Jalisco and Guanajuato.

Produce from farms that employ children reaches the United States through long chains of middlemen. A pepper picked by a child can change hands five or six times before reaching an American grocery store or salsa factory.

Data on child labor are scarce; many growers and distributors will not talk about it. About 100,000 Mexican children under 14 pick crops for pay, according to estimates in a 2012 study by the World Bank and other international agencies. It is illegal to employ workers younger than 15.

And the plight of Mexicans who work on farms across the U.S. border via Frontera NorteSur:

Border Farmworkers Still Lack Health Care

According to Harald Bauder, academic director of the Ryerson Centre for Immigration and Settlement, they are part of a larger global migration phenomenon that produces labor segmentation whereby the labor market is divided into primary and secondary segments.  In the secondary labor market, jobs are unstable and the market lacks enforcement of labor standards.  It is evident that farmworkers are laboring in the secondary labor market.

Over the summer, I interviewed 58 farmworkers in El Paso, Texas about their access to health care.  The farmworkers surveyed live and work in the U.S.-Mexico border area of West Texas and Southern New Mexico. The area studied contains approximately 12,000 farmworkers and, according to the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, the workers in question earn an average of $9,000 per year for a family of four.  This is well below the annual income of $23,850, tagged as the poverty level for a family of four in 2014 by the U.S. Health and Human Services.

The abysmal wages earned by these farmworkers is even puzzling considering that, according to a 2012 report written by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, the net profit in 2011 for New Mexico’s agricultural industry was $1.35 billion. The farmworkers primarily labor in the chile and onion fields, two of the biggest cash crops in New Mexico.

A double tragedy, via teleSUR:

Most Missing People in Mexico Are Under 17

There are currently over 22,000 missing people in the country – 41 percent of them went missing during President Pena Nieto’s time in office.

More than 20,000 people are currently missing in Mexico, most of whom are underage children, according to nongovernment organizations in the country.

“We found out that six out of 10 missing people in Mexico are children, but there is no information of how they were kidnapped. We need much more information to take the right measures and find these kids,” said advocate Luis Alberto Barquera, from the Organization for Social Development and Education For All (ODISEA A.C).

Barquera also told the Mexican news site Sin Embargo that according to the National Registration of Missing People 2013, at least 59 percent of the disappeared people are children and teenagers from 0 to 17 years old.

And from the New York Times, the same is true on both sides of the border:

Mexico Faces Growing Gap Between Political Class and Calls for Change

As the Nobel Peace Prize was being awarded in Oslo this week, a young man dashed on stage, unfurled a Mexican flag streaked with red paint and begged for help for his country because more than 40 college students have been missing for months after clashing with the police.

At the Latin Grammy Awards ceremony in Las Vegas last month, the big winners, Calle 13, shouted solidarity with the victims as they performed. At home, mass marches have regularly filled Mexican streets with angry calls for the government to act against corruption and crime.

But is the country’s political class listening?

In the coming days, Mexico is expected to name a special prosecutor to investigate corruption — a supposed Elliot Ness who would spare no sacred cows and answer the clamor of the public. The prosecutor is supposed to finally root out bribery, favoritism, kickbacks and reveal the kinds of organized crime that prosecutors say were at play in the case of the missing students.

That kind of prosecutorial determination may be what the public demands. What it is getting, however, is a prosecutor with little of the independence necessary to carry out the stated mission, government watchdog groups say.