Category Archives: Latin America

Miners rape Amazonia; climate drives more change


Two new studies from Wake Forest University’s Center for Amazonian Science and Innovation based in Tambopata, Perú reveal profound changes in the lands along the shores of the world’s longest river and the mountains that feed it.

The first study examines the profound and expanding impacts of the quest for gold as forests are felled at an accelerating rate and the land left poisoned by mercury used to extract the precious metal.

From Wake Forest University:

Small-scale gold mining has destroyed more than 170,000 acres of primary rainforest in the Peruvian Amazon in the past five years, according to a new analysis by scientists at Wake Forest University’s Center for Amazonian Scientific Innovation (CINCIA).

That’s an area larger than San Francisco and 30 percent more than previously reported.

“The scale of the deforestation is really shocking,” said Luis Fernandez, executive director of CINCIA and research associate professor in the department of biology.

The scientists at CINCIA, based in the Madre de Dios region of Peru, have developed a new data fusion method to identify areas destroyed by this small- or artisanal-scale mining. Combining existing CLASlite forest monitoring technology and Global Forest Change data sets on forest loss, this new deforestation detection tool is 20-25 percent more accurate than those used previously.

Both CLASlite and the Global Forest map use different kinds of information from light waves to show changes in the landscape. “Combining the two methods gives us really good information about the specific kind of deforestation we’re looking for,” said Miles Silman, associate director of science for CINCIA and director of Wake Forest’s Center for Energy, Environment, and Sustainability (CEES). Silman has researched biodiversity and ecology in the Western Amazon and Andes for more than 25 years.

Artisanal-scale gold mining has been hard to detect because its aftereffects can masquerade as natural wetlands from a satellite view. But the damage is extensive. Small crews of artisanal miners don’t expect to hit the mother lode. Rather, miners set out to collect the flakes of gold in rainforest.

“We’re not talking about huge gold veins here,” Fernandez said. “But there’s enough gold in the landscape to make a great deal of money in a struggling economy. You just have to destroy an immense amount of land to get it.”

To get the gold, they strip the land of trees or suck up river sediment, and then use toxic mercury to tease the precious metal out of the dirt. The results are environmentally catastrophic.

Aerial view of the damage inflicted by miners along the upper reaches of the Amazon in Peru.

Artisanal-scale gold mining took root in the Peruvian Amazon in the early 2000s, coinciding with construction of a new modern highway connecting Peru and Brazil. The Interoceanic Highway made Peru’s once remote rainforest and protected lands accessible to anyone. Where it used to take two weeks by all-terrain vehicle to travel from Cuzco to Puerto Maldonado, the capital of Madre de Dios, during the rainy season, it now takes only six hours aboard an air-conditioned luxury bus.

Because artisanal-scale gold mining requires no heavy machinery and thus involves minimal outlay, it has provided a revolving-door opportunity for poor workers from the Andean highlands to seek their fortune in Madre de Dios. When they return home, they leave a patchwork of mercury-polluted ponds and sand dunes, the landscape denuded of trees and most other vegetation.

CINCIA has partnered with Peru’s Ministry of the Environment to try to understand how the new tool developed by its scientists can be used to identify deforestation caused by artisanal-scale gold mining and take effective action to curb the damage.

“We want to integrate high-quality scientific research into the processes the government is using for environmental conservation in Madre de Dios,” Fernandez said.

CINCIA scientists also are studying native species that can be used for post-mining reforestation. The 115-acre experiment at CINCIA’s headquarters is the largest in the Americas.

Wake Forest University established CINCIA in 2016 through CEES. With support from the U.S. Agency for International Development, World Wildlife Fund, IIAP, the Amazon Aid Foundation, Ecosphere Capital Partners/Althelia Climate Change Fund, ESRI Global Inc., UNAMAD, and Universidad de Ingeniería y Tecnología, CINCIA has brought together scientists and conservationists to develop solutions for sustainable use of tropical landscapes, combat environmental destruction and improve health in Madre de Dios.

From Wake Forest News comes this animation showing rate rate of deforestion since 1985:

Deforestation Sequence in the Peruvian Amazon

Program note:

This animation shows the deforestation in the Peruvian Amazon from 1985 to 2017. Video courtesy Wake Forest University’s Center for Amazonian Scientific Innovation.

Rising temperatures drive Andean tropical trees upslope

As the planet heats up, temperatures in the Amazon’s headwater’s are rising as well, with the heat already showing impacts on the region’s tropical forestdriving them to new heights, mountainous heights.

And that’s bad new for the ecology of lower elevations left behind.

From Wake Forest:

Tropical and subtropical forests across South America’s Andes Mountains are responding to warming temperatures by “migrating” to higher elevations, but probably not quickly enough to avoid loss of biodiversity, functional collapse or even extinction, according to a new study published November 14 in the journal Nature. [$8.99 for short-term access].

The study, supervised by University of Miami researcher Kenneth J. Feeley, was co-authored by Wake Forest biologists Miles Silman and William Farfan-Rios, and used much of the field data they have collected in the Andean forests. Feeley began developing the techniques used in this research when he was a postdoctoral associate at Wake Forest. He also studied at Wake Forest as an undergraduate.

The study confirms for the first time that, like many other plant and animal species around the world, tree species from across the Andean and Amazon forests of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and northern Argentina have been moving to higher, cooler elevations. But unlike the world’s more temperate or boreal forests, which are far more accustomed to dramatic seasonal shifts in temperature, tropical trees are running into environmental roadblocks at higher elevations that are thwarting their upward migration and threatening their survival.

More after the jump. . .

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Sustainable farming curbs greenhouses gases


Our final climate offering of the day blends two of our favorite topics, climate change and sustainable agriculture,m with a special focus on biochar [also known as terra preta]

The pre-Columbian inhabitants of the Amazon Basin had a remarkable secret, lost after their advanced civilization was destroyed by the disease brought by European explorers.

Sailing up the previously unexplored rive, Spanish explorer Francisco de Orellana, traveled down the Amazon in December 1541 on a journey that would last eight months before he sailed into Pacific Ocean, along the way discovering a rich, densely settled civilization producing high crop yields in the rain forest where, contrary to popular perceptions, soils are typically thin and poor.

Orellana’s stories helped fuel the myth of El Dorado, the famous lost City of Gold, but when later explorer’s sailed the Amazon, they found no flourishing cities, leaving Orellana in dispute for the next 500 years until archaeologists found proof of his claims in buried cities and soil rich in pot sherds and bit of partially combusted wood, or char.

The combination of charcoal and pottery turned thin, dreploeted soils in ricb black earth [in Spanish, terra preta], capable of yielding an agricultural bounty able to support a dense, prosperous population.

From David Bennett of the Delta Farm Press:

The properties of terra preta are amazing. Even thousands of years after creation, the soil remains fertile without need for any added fertilizer. For those living in Amazonia, terra preta is increasingly sought out as a commodity. Truckloads of the dark earth are often carted off and sold like potting soil.

Chock-full of charcoal, the soil is often several meters deep. It holds nutrients extremely well and seems to contain a microbial mix especially suited to agriculture.

And it was all created by a people the explorers called savages.

And if your interested in learning more the miraculous Native American discovery, here‘s a good place to start.

And now, on to to the latest development.

Study reveals natural solutions to combat climate change

From Cornell University:

Annual greenhouse gas emissions from all U.S. vehicles could be absorbed by forests, wetlands and agricultural lands – erasing a fifth of all greenhouse gas pollution, according to new research exploring natural climate solutions for the United States.

Peter Woodbury, senior research associate in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, is a co-author on research published Nov. 14 in Science Advances [open access].

The researchers analyzed 21 natural ways to mitigate climate change. They found that adjusting those natural management practices to increase carbon storage and avoid greenhouse emissions could equal 21 percent of the nation’s current net annual emissions. Increased reforestation could be equivalent to eliminating the emissions of 66 million passenger cars, according to the findings.

Improved management of existing croplands has an important role to play, according to the researchers. Woodbury, who led the cropland nutrient management portion of the study, and his colleagues found that many agricultural practices can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Widespread adoption of cover crops – plants grown on farm fields when they would normally be left bare – aids in carbon sequestration and improves soil health, crop yields and yield consistency. The researchers also pointed to improved nutrient management practices that apply fertilizer when and where the crop needs it, using precision agriculture techniques.

These improved practices could reduce nitrogen use 22 percent, leading to a 33 percent reduction in field emissions and 29 percent reduction in upstream emissions with additional benefits for soil, air and water quality. In many cases, these practices also improve profitability for farmers.

“We have demonstrated that agriculture and forestry have real potential to both avoid greenhouse gas emissions and also remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in plants and soil. At the same time, these practices have many other benefits such as improving soil health and water quality by reducing nutrient pollution of fresh water and the coastal zone,” said Woodbury, who develops models to quantify the sustainability of agricultural and forest ecosystems. Woodbury is a fellow at the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future.

The researchers pointed to biochar as one method with high potential, although further research is needed to overcome cultural, technological and cost barriers. In May, Cornell opened the largest pyrolysis kiln of its kind at a U.S. university to study the uses of biochar, a solid, charcoal-like material formed by heating biomass in the absence of oxygen. Biochar can help soil retain water and nutrients, as well as promote drainage when conditions are wet.

The researchers say that, along with reducing the impact of global warming, natural climate solutions have the potential to improve air and water quality, flood control, soil health and wildlife habitats.

Other solutions include: allowing longer periods between timber harvest to increase carbon storage; increasing controlled burns and strategic thinning in forests to reduce the risk of tree-killing fires; and reducing urban sprawl to preserve forests.

“These 21 natural climate solutions are really important because they can greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. and the world while also providing other benefits including clean water, clean air and biodiversity,” said Woodbury.

BBC documents Orellana’s Amazon discoveries

Here’s a remarkable BBC documentary reporting on what scientists are finding as they retrace Orellana’s footsteps, with a special emphasis on terra preta.

The Secret of El Dorado

From the program notes:

The search for clues in the Amazon takes place at grass roots level – in the soil itself. Along Brazil’s Tapajos River, archaeologist Bill Woods has mapped numerous prehistoric sites, some with exquisite, 2,000 year old pottery. There is a common thread: the earth where people have lived is much darker than the rainforest soil nearby. Closer investigation showed that the two soils are the same, the dark loam is just a result of adding biological matter. The Brazilians call this fertile ground terra preta. It is renowned for its productivity and even sold by local people.

Archaeologists have surveyed the distribution of terra preta and found it correlates favourably with the places Orellana reported back in the 16th century. The land area is immense – twice the size of the UK. It seems the prehistoric Amazonian peoples transformed the earth beneath their feet. The terra preta could have sustained permanent intensive agriculture, which in turn would have fostered the development of advanced societies. Archaeologists like Bill Petersen, from the University of Vermont, now regard Orellana’s account as highly plausible. But if the first Conquistadors told the truth, what became of the people they described?

Maps of the day: More climate change impacts


A new study from Cornell University casts new on thee life-threatening reality climate change:

Severe Caribbean droughts may magnify food insecurity

A comparison of drought conditions between 2015 and 2017 on the island of Hispaniola, home to Haiti (in the west) and the Dominican Republic. Using the Palmer Drought Severity Index, dark brown indicates severe to extreme drought, while blue colors indicate wetter than normal conditions. In the summer of 2015, when the Pan-Caribbean drought peaked, most of Hispaniola had severe drought conditions. In contrast, the western portion of the island – mostly Haiti – had wetter-than-normal conditions in January 2017 due to rain from Hurricane Matthew in October 2016. Even after the hurricane, drought conditions remained for the Dominican Republic.

More from Cornell:

Climate change is impacting the Caribbean, with millions facing increasing food insecurity and decreasing freshwater availability as droughts become more likely across the region, according to new Cornell research in Geophysical Research Letters [open access].

“Climate change – where mean temperatures rise – has already affected drought risk in the Caribbean. While our research focused on the role of human-causes for the strong 2013-16 drought there, our findings and climate-model projections show that drought in the region will likely to become more severe over time,” said lead author Dimitris Herrera, postdoctoral associate in earth and atmospheric sciences.

Since 1950, the Caribbean region has seen a drying trend and scattered multiyear droughts. But the recent Pan-Caribbean drought in 2013-16 was unusually severe and placed 2 million people in danger of food insecurity.

In Haiti, for example, over half the crops were lost in 2015 due to drought, which pushed about 1 million people into food insecurity, while an additional 1 million people suffered food shortages throughout the region, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs.

Examining climatological data from the 2013-16 Pan-Caribbean drought, anthropogenic warming accounted for a 15 to 17 percent boost of the drought’s severity, Herrera said.

Climate model simulations indicate the most significant decrease in precipitation in the Caribbean might occur May through August – the rainy season. A failed rainy season in spring and summer, added to a normal dry season in the late fall and winter, prolongs a drought.

Beyond growing crops, the Caribbean also faces dwindling freshwater resources, due to saltwater intrusion from rising seas and pressure from agricultural and municipal sectors.

“This paper documents that human activity is already affecting the drought statistics of the region,” said Toby Ault, assistant professor of earth and atmospheric sciences, and a fellow at Cornell’s Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future. “Hot temperatures in the future will probably continue to play an increasingly important role in exacerbating droughts.”

Although the Caribbean has recently been affected by catastrophic hurricanes – such as Maria and Irma – that caused significant and rapid damage, persistent droughts can slowly bring havoc to vulnerable Caribbean countries, said Herrera: “This is especially true for the agriculture and tourism sectors of this region, which are the most important contributors to gross domestic product in most Caribbean nations.”

Other authors are of “Exacerbation of the 2013-2016 Pan Caribbean Drought by Anthropogenic Warming,” are John Fasullo, National Center for Atmospheric Research; Sloan Coats, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; Carlos Carrillo, Cornell; Benjamin Cook, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies; and A. Park Williams, Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University.

The research was supported by the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the National Science Foundation and NASA.

But there’s some potentially good news, too

Another new study, this one from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, study links over-consumption of alcohol with two curious factors, cold temperatures and alcohol.

While climate change won’t tilt the Earth’s axis further south, it’s already making northern latitudes warmer, so there’ll be less need for somatic antifreeze. . .

We begin with a map from the study comparing levels of booze-guzzling and binge behavior in the counties of the good ol’ U.S of .A. [click on it to embiggen]:

From the University:

Where you live could influence how much you drink. According to new research from the University of Pittsburgh Division of Gastroenterology, people living in colder regions with less sunlight drink more alcohol than their warm-weather counterparts.

The study, recently published online in Hepatology, [$6 for 48-hour access] found that as temperature and sunlight hours dropped, alcohol consumption increased. Climate factors also were tied to binge drinking and the prevalence of alcoholic liver disease, one of the main causes of mortality in patients with prolonged excessive alcohol use.

“It’s something that everyone has assumed for decades, but no one has scientifically demonstrated it. Why do people in Russia drink so much? Why in Wisconsin? Everybody assumes that’s because it’s cold,” said senior author Ramon Bataller, M.D., Ph.D., chief of hepatology at UPMC, professor of medicine at Pitt, and associate director of the Pittsburgh Liver Research Center. “But we couldn’t find a single paper linking climate to alcohol intake or alcoholic cirrhosis. This is the first study that systematically demonstrates that worldwide and in America, in colder areas and areas with less sun, you have more drinking and more alcoholic cirrhosis.”

Alcohol is a vasodilator – it increases the flow of warm blood to the skin, which is full of temperature sensors – so drinking can increase feelings of warmth. In Siberia that could be pleasant, but not so much in the Sahara.

Drinking also is linked to depression, which tends to be worse when sunlight is scarce and there’s a chill in the air.

Using data from the World Health Organization, the World Meteorological Organization and other large, public data sets, Bataller’s group found a clear negative correlation between climate factors – average temperature and sunlight hours – and alcohol consumption, measured as total alcohol intake per capita, percent of the population that drinks alcohol, and the incidence of binge drinking.

The researchers also found evidence that climate contributed to a higher burden of alcoholic liver disease. These trends were true both when comparing across countries around the world and also when comparing across counties within the United States.

“It’s important to highlight the many confounding factors,” said lead author Meritxell Ventura-Cots, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher at the Pittsburgh Liver Research Center. “We tried to control for as many as we could. For instance, we tried to control for religion and how that influences alcohol habits.”

With much of the desert-dwelling Arab world abstaining from alcohol, it was critical to verify that the results would hold up even when excluding these Muslim-majority countries. Likewise, within the U.S., Utah has regulations that limit alcohol intake, which have to be taken into account.

When looking for patterns of cirrhosis, the researchers had to control for health factors that might exacerbate the effects of alcohol on the liver—like viral hepatitis, obesity and smoking.

In addition to settling an age-old debate, this research suggests that policy initiatives aimed at reducing the burden of alcoholism and alcoholic liver disease should target geographic areas where alcohol is more likely to be problematic.

Additional authors on this study include Ariel Watts, B.S., Neil Shah, M.D., Peter McCann, M.D., and A. Sidney Barritt IV, M.D., all of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Monica Cruz-Lemini, M.D., Ph.D., of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México at Juriquilla; Jose Altamirano, M.D., of Hospital Quirónsalud in Barcelona; Juan Abraldes, M.D., from The University of Alberta; Nambi Ndugga, M.P.H., of Harvard; and Anant Jain, M.D., Samhita Ravi, and Carlos Fernández-Carrillo, M.D., Ph.D., all of Pitt.

This research was supported by National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism awards U01AA021908 and U01AA020821, the Mexican National Council for Science and Technology and the Spanish Association for the Study of the Liver.

Schadenfreude alert: Who meddles in elections?


Now that Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State is claiming – based on no evidence whatsoever – Democrats have hacked his state’s election, it’s time for a reminder of the identity of the world’s number one election-rigger.

Guess what?

It’s Uncle Sam.

We begin with a video report from The Intercept:

A Short History of U.S. Meddling in Foreign Elections

Program notes:

Meddling in foreign elections is bad. I think we can all agree on that. And almost everyone – bar Donald Trump – seems to believe that the Russian government meddled in the 2016 election. So that should be condemned. Here’s the problem, though: U.S. politicians and pundits cannot credibly object to Russian interference in U.S. elections without also acknowledging that the United States doesn’t exactly have clean hands. Or are we expected to believe that Russian hackers were the first people in human history to try and undermine a foreign democracy? In this video, I examine the ways in which the the United States has, in fact, spent the past 70 odd years meddling in elections across the world.

From flagship public broadcaster WNYC in New York comes a glimpse of the depth of Uncle Sam’s ongoing meddling:

For decades, American intelligence agencies have historically used clandestine tactics to put leaders into office who are favorable to U.S. national interests. This practice of meddling dates back to the early days of the CIA and was seen as a necessary strategy to contain the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

It’s something Tim Weiner has explored in great detail. He’s won the Pulitzer Prize for his work on clandestine national security programs, and his books include “Enemies: A History of the FBI” and “Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA.” He says election meddling is not a grey area for the CIA.

“Several months after the CIA was created in 1947, it set out to steal the Italian election in 1948 to support the Christian Democrats who were pro-American, against the socialist Democrats, who were pro-Moscow, and they won,” says Weiner. “It’s just the beginning of a long, long story.”

After seeing success in Italy, the CIA took this formula — which involved using millions of dollars to run influence campaigns — and brought it across the world to places like Guatemala, Indonesia, South Vietnam, Afghanistan, and beyond.

“The president [of Afghanistan] after the American invasion post-9/11 was a paid CIA agent, Hamid Karzai,” Weiner says. “The list is very long, and it’s part of what the CIA does in political warfare.”

A report from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram adds up the numbers:

Dov Levin, a researcher with the Institute for Politics and Strategy at Carnegie Mellon University, created a historical database that tracks U.S. involvement in foreign elections. According to Levin, the U.S. meddled in other nation’s elections more than 80 times worldwide between 1946 and 2000. Examples include Italy in 1948; Haiti in 1986; Nicaragua and Czechoslovakia in 1990; and Serbia in 2000.

A more recent example of U.S. election interference occurred in Israel in 2015. A Washington Post report in 2016 revealed U.S. taxpayer dollars were used in an effort to oust Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. According to a bipartisan report from the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI), $350,000 in grants from the U.S. State Department were used “to build valuable political infrastructure—large voter contact lists, a professionally trained network of grassroots organizers/activists, and an impressive social media platform” not only to support peace negotiations, but to launch a large anti-Netanyahu grassroots organizing campaign.

Through the years, the U.S. has also gone so far as to fund the election campaigns of specific parties; make public announcements in favor of the candidates they support; and threaten to withhold foreign aid should voters favor opposition candidates.

More on Levin’s numerical findings on American interference comes from across the pond, via Britain’s Channel 4 News:

According to his research, there were 117 “partisan electoral interventions” between 1946 and 2000. That’s around one of every nine competitive elections held since Second World War.

The majority of these – almost 70 per cent – were cases of US interference.

And these are not all from the Cold War era; 21 such interventions took place between 1990 and 2000, of which 18 were by the US.

“60 different independent countries have been the targets of such interventions,” Levin’s writes. “The targets came from a large variety of sizes and populations, ranging from small states such as Iceland and Grenada to major powers such as West Germany, India, and Brazil.”

It’s important to note that these cases vary greatly – some simply involved steps to publicly support one candidate and undermine another.

But almost two thirds of interventions were done in secret, with voters having no idea that foreign powers were actively trying to influence the results.

Forbes reports on some of the methods employed:

The U.S. uses numerous tools to advance its interests. Explained Nina Agrawal of the Los Angeles Times: “These acts, carried out in secret two-thirds of the time, include funding the election campaigns of specific parties, disseminating misinformation or propaganda, training locals of only one side in various campaigning or get-out-the-vote techniques, helping one side design their campaign materials, making public pronouncements or threats in favor of or against a candidate, and providing or withdrawing foreign aid.”

It’s not clear how much impact Washington’s efforts had: Levin figured the vote increase for U.S.-backed candidates averaged three percent. The consequences often didn’t seem to satisfy Washington; in almost half of the cases America intervened at least a second time in the same country’s electoral affairs.

Ironically, given the outrage directed at Moscow today, in 1996 Washington did what it could to ensure the reelection of Boris Yeltsin over the communist opposition. The U.S. backed a $10.2 billion IMF loan, an ill-disguised bribe were used by the Yeltsin government for social spending before the election. Americans also went over to Russia to help. Time magazine placed Boris Yeltsin on the cover holding an American flag; the article was entitled “Yanks to the Rescue: The Secret Story of How American Advisers Helped Yeltsin Win.”

The Hill gives a voice to the interventionist hidden hand:

When asked whether the U.S. interferes in other countries’ elections, James Woolsey said, “Well, only for a very good cause in the interests of democracy.”

“Oh, probably, but it was for the good of the system in order to avoid communists taking over,” he told Laura Ingraham on her Fox News show on Friday night.

Woolsey served as CIA director under former President Clinton. His comments follow a federal indictment released on Friday that accused 13 Russian individuals and three Russian groups of attempting to influence the 2016 presidential election.

The Russian embassy to the United Kingdom quoted Woolsey on Saturday, adding the comment: “Says it all.”

Yep.

There’s lot’s more, after the jump. . Continue reading

Map of the day: Our planet’s vanishing forests


Here’s a sobering look at the state of the planet’s vanishing forests from the latest and just-released edition of the Global Biodiversity Outlook from the United Nation’s Convention on Biological Diversity [click on the image to enlarge]:

The extent of deforestation and forest degradation worldwide: Intact forests refers to unbroken expanses of natural ecosystems greater than 50,000 hectares. Managed forests refer to forest that is fragmented by roads and/or managed for wood production. Degraded or partially deforested refers to landscapes where there has been a significant decrease in tree canopy density. Deforested refers to previously forested landscapes which have been converted into non-forest.

And there’s even worse to come

The largest area of pristine forest revealed on the U.N. map is in Amazonia, and recent conservation efforts by Latin America’s largest nation had slowed the tide of degradation, at lead until recently.

But now the election of out outspoken neofascist in Brazil guarantees tht things are going to get much, much worse.

From Rachael Garrett, Assistant Professor of the Human Dimensions of Global Change at Boston University, writing in The Conversation, an admirably open source online academic journal written in conversational English:

Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s new president, will make many decisions during his four-year term, from combating violence to stimulating a stagnant economy.

Those decisions will have large impacts on Brazilians, who remain deeply divided over the controversial election of this far-right populist.

But some of Bolsonaro’s decisions will affect the entire world, namely his promises to cut environmental protections in the Brazilian Amazon.

The Amazon’s uncertain fate

The Amazon is the world’s largest tropical rainforest and a major global food exporter.

The Amazon Basin also provides the rains that nourish Brazil’s productive croplands to the south, a breadbasket for the world. The rainforest’s destruction could cause large-scale droughts in Brazil, leading to nationwide crop losses.

An estimated 9 percent of Amazonian forests disappeared between 1985 and 2017, reducing the rainforest’s ability to absorb the carbon emissions that drive climate change.

Deforestation is largely due to land clearing for agricultural purposes, particularly cattle ranching.

Cattle production has an extremely low profit margin in the Brazilian Amazon. It also requires a massive amount of land for grazing. Both factors drive Amazonian farmers to continuously clear forest – illegally – to expand pastureland.

Today, 12 percent of the Brazilian Amazon, or 93 million acres – an area roughly the size of Montana – is used for agriculture, primarily cattle ranching but also soybean production.

Deforestation decreased substantially from 2004 to 2014 thanks to strict environmental protections passed by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in 2004. His Workers Party cracked down on illegal land clearing in the Amazon, making Brazil a world leader in rainforest protection.

But deforestation in the Amazon has begun to climb again recently.

Brazilian President Michel Temer, a conservative who entered office in 2016 during a deep recession, has loosened enforcement of federal anti-deforestation laws, slashed the environmental ministry’s budget and opened the Amazon to mining.

Satellite data reveal that between August 2017 to 2018, 1.1 million acres of Brazilian Amazonian forest were cleared – the highest deforestation rate since 2007.

President-elect Bolsonaro has promised to further slash environmental protections in Brazil, saying that federal conservation zones and hefty fines for cutting down trees hinder economic growth.

Continue reading

The world’s last wilderness is rapidly disappearing


We’ve posted extensively about corporate agriculture’s major land granbs in Africa and Latin America’s Amazon Basin, but the sheer scale of land vanishing under the plow and the land developer’s bulldozer is simply astounding, as exemplified in this map just published by Nature:

More from the University of Queensland:

The world’s last wilderness areas are rapidly disappearing, with explicit international conservation targets critically needed, according to University of Queensland-led research.

The international team recently mapped intact ocean ecosystems, complementing a 2016 project [$2.99 for three-hour access] charting remaining terrestrial wilderness.

Professor James Watson, from UQ’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, said the two studies provided the first full global picture of how little wilderness remains, and he was alarmed at the results.

“A century ago, only 15 per cent of the Earth’s surface was used by humans to grow crops and raise livestock,” he said.

“Today, more than 77 per cent of land – excluding Antarctica – and 87 per cent of the ocean has been modified by the direct effects of human activities.

“It might be hard to believe, but between 1993 and 2009, an area of terrestrial wilderness larger than India — a staggering 3.3 million square kilometres — was lost to human settlement, farming, mining and other pressures.

“And in the ocean, the only regions that are free of industrial fishing, pollution and shipping are almost completely confined to the polar regions.”

UQ Postdoctoral Research Fellow James R. Allan said the world’s remaining wilderness could only be protected if its importance was recognised in international policy.

“Some wilderness areas are protected under national legislation, but in most nations, these areas are not formally defined, mapped or protected,” he said.

“There is nothing to hold nations, industry, society or communities to account for long-term conservation.

“We need the immediate establishment of bold wilderness targets — specifically those aimed at conserving biodiversity, avoiding dangerous climate change and achieving sustainable development.”

The researchers insist that global policy needs to be translated into local action.

“One obvious intervention these nations can prioritise is establishing protected areas in ways that would slow the impacts of industrial activity on the larger landscape or seascape,” Professor Watson said.

“But we must also stop industrial development to protect indigenous livelihoods, create mechanisms that enable the private sector to protect wilderness, and push the expansion of regional fisheries management organisations.

“We have lost so much already, so we must grasp this opportunity to secure the last remaining wilderness before it disappears forever.”

The article has been published in Nature [open, read-only access].

Maps of the day: Climate change and refugees


Nothing has contributed more to the rise of 21st Century global fascist populism than the surge of refugees from the war zones of Middle East and North Africa [MENA], and Latin America as darker-skinned folks fleeing from crises zones flood the paler-skinned nations of North America and Europe..

And the situation can only get worse and climate change fuels an intensification of the refugee streams, with higher temperatures and lower precipitation strike the same regions already generating the refugee flood,

Consider the following maps from the just-released report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC]:

Projected mean temperature [top] and mean precipitation changes [bottom] at 1.5°C global warming [left] and 2°C global warming [right] compared to pre-industrial time period [1861-1880].

As both Mexico and the MENA region fall victim to a drastic reduction in precipitation and higher temperatures in areas already marked by soaring violence, life will grow harder and the temptation to flee grows ever stronger, tensions in the the developed world can only grow stronger as violent and virulent populism soars.

In all the regions affected, U.S. foreign policy has favored oppressive tyrants, installed with the backing of military forces from the developed North, backed by banksters and corporateers eager to “develop” the resources of the afflicted regions, including oil, agriculture and water.

For those nostalgic for the Obama years, consider the military campaigns that the “liberal” administration sponsored, actions which only stoked the flames.

The Trump administration has only added more fuel to the flames by pulling the U.S. out of the climate accord, setting the stage for more refugees and the accelerated rise of fascist parties in the North.

In the rods of the immortal Bette Davis, “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”

TrumpTales™: Stories from South of the Border


Since Mexico never had an Orange Crush, it comes at no surprise that White House xenophobia is generating some response.

What follows are three examples, via teleSUR English. . .

A Tijuana border rally for immigrant solidarity

While Donald Trump holds carefully regular stage-managed rallies in the grand old tradition of European fascists, another kind of rally celebrating those Trump despises:

Metropolitan Archbishop Francisco Moreno Barron led a Catholic mass Sunday next to the border wall between the United States and Mexico in the border city of Tijuana before 30,000 joined in a march in solidarity with migrants worldwide.

The march for “Life, Peace and Migrants” has been organized by the Catholic Church in Tijuana for 17 consecutive years with the goal of uniting the society of Tijuana. However, this year’s march has the added goal of solidarity and prayers for migrants worldwide.

“Every year we proclaim peace and life. Now this year, we add to these values, solidarity with migrants,” stated the Archbishop, adding that “we begin with this simple gesture on the wall that makes us aware of so many brothers who need us through these lands of the Californians and Tijuana.”

This year’s march comes amid the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe as migrants continue to embark on perilous journeys to flee countries in Africa and the Middle East, while migrants living in the United States in general, but especially from Latin America and Muslim-majority nations, face a heightened security crackdown under U.S. President Donald Trump.

And Trumpsters behaving badly. . .

Yep, another reason some folks dread the Turistus americanus:

As the Trump administration continues to peddle its vision of expanding the U.S.-Mexico border wall, U.S. citizens spending spring break in Cancun took to chanting “Build that wall!” while on vacation there.

As reported in an editorial in the Yucatan Times, a local Mexican outlet, a young couple on their honeymoon witnessed the chant while aboard the cruise ship “Pirate Ship,” which sailed out from Puerto Juarez last week.

“Today I was with Suly, my wife (who is a native of Mexico), watching an entertainment show off the coast of Cancun aboard a boat, and at the end of the show, a flock of Americans (maybe under the influence of alcohol, or maybe not), began to sing the infamous ‘Build that wall’ chant louder and louder,” Anaximandro Amable, a Peruvian native, wrote on Facebook.

The chant was often shouted by U.S. President Donald Trump’s supporters backing him on his campaign trail whenever he mentioned the border wall expansion. It is still chanted now by these supporters.

“This situation is far from being an isolated incident, and it adds to the growing number of complaints from tourism sector workers, who point out that in recent days many Spring Breakers have been offensive, rude and haughty towards Mexican people,” wrote the Yucatan Times in its editorial.

And the Zapitistas fire off a hearty ‘Fuck Trump’

And they have grounds for it:

Mexico’s Zapatista Army of National Liberation, EZLN, announced Saturday that it will begin selling organic coffee from Chiapas in order to help migrants persecuted by U.S. President Donald Trump.

Working alongside allied international distributors, the EZLN will use coffee sale funds to provide financial assistance to U.S. deportees in Mexico. They will also use funds to support pro-immigrant resistance groups around the world protesting anti-immigrant governments.

The project is part of the group’s “Global Campaign Against the Walls of Capital,” which calls for worldwide immigrant solidarity against detentions and deportations.

“It’s 100 percent Zapatista coffee, cultivated in Zapatista lands by Zapatista hands,” EZLN insurgent subcommanders Moises and Galeano wrote in a statement.

“We hope that with this support they will be able to initiate work of support for all persecutions and discriminations of the world.”

The EZLN insurgent subcommanders signed their statement with the words “fuck Trump.”

Mexican candidate files TrumpWall™ complaint


Yep, another presidential candidate is making a wall a key element in his campaign, but this time the action is happening south of the U.S. border.

From teleSUR English:

Mexican presidential hopeful Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador filed a complaint with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on Wednesday against U.S. President Donald Trump’s planned border wall and his administration’s treatment of immigrants.

Lopez Obrador, a fiery leftist who has led recent polls for the 2018 election, said he expects the commission to “speak out in accordance with the law to protect immigrants from the harassment they are suffering since Trump took office.”

Trump has ordered a wall built along the nearly 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border, has moved to strip federal funding from “sanctuary” states and cities harboring illegal immigrants, and expanded the force of U.S. immigration agents.

During his election campaign, Trump described Mexican illegal immigrants as rapists and criminals and insisted that Mexico would pay for the wall. That caused simmering diplomatic tension and angered everyday citizens south of the border.

Lopez Obrador, a former Mexico City mayor and two-time runner-up for the presidency, said he hoped the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights would view Trump’s moves as a “violation of human rights and discriminatory.”

Charts of the day: Latin American land inequality


Two significant graphics from Unearthed: land, power and inequality in Latin America, a major study of land distribution in Latin America, reveal the gross inequalities of land distribution in the Americas.

First, a look at agricultural land tenure rates, featuring the percentage of farms in each country owned by the top one percent of landowners:

More from the report:

Latin America is the world’s most unequal region in terms of land distribution. The Gini coefficient for land—an indicator of between 0 and 1, where 1 represents the maximum inequality—is 0.79 for the region as a whole, 0.85 in South America and 0.75 in Central America. These figures indicate much higher levels of land concentration than in Europe (0.57), Africa (0.56) or Asia (0.55).

According to this indicator, Paraguay (with a Gini coefficient of 0.93) is the country where land is most unequally distributed, followed by Chile (0.91) and Venezuela (0.88). At the other end of
the spectrum is Costa Rica (0.67), which has the most equitable land distribution in the region. Most Latin American countries have extremely high levels of concentration with Gini coeffi-
cients above 0.80, while the ratio is over 0.90 in Chile and Paraguay.

Compared with the distribution of income—for which Latin America is also the most unequal region in the world—land distribution is even more inequitable. The regional Gini coefficient for income is 0.48 compared with 0.79 for land, and is higher than in Sub-Saharan Africa (0.43), North America (0.37) or the East Asia-Pacific region (0.37).

And, next, a look at what crops are planted on those vast latifundias:

Note particularly the vast acreage devoted to soybeans.

The great majority of those acres are planted with Monsanto’s genetically modified soybeans, according to this September report from Reuters:

South American farmers are expected to sow 57 percent more area with Monsanto Co’s second-generation, genetically modified soybean seed Intacta RR2 Pro in the new planting season, a company executive said.

Intacta, which tolerates the herbicide glyphosate and resists caterpillars, was planted on 14 million hectares in Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay in 2015/2016.

Farmers are expected to plant 18 million to 22 million hectares this season, Maria Luiza Nachreiner, head of South American soy operations, said in an interview before Monsanto announced it would accept a $66 billion takeover bid from rival Bayer.

“We have a positive outlook this crop,” Nachreiner said.

Intacta will account for 31 percent to 38 percent of the planted area in Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, up from 24 percent this season, she noted.

Monsanto does not release specific numbers about the area planted with its seeds in Brazil, the world’s largest soybean exporter. For years, its Roundup Ready Soybeans dominated the regional GMO seed market, peaking in 2013/14 with 84 percent of Brazil’s soybean area, according to data from local consultant Celeres.

To maintain those crops, farmers are also basically forced to use Monsanto weed-killers, most notably glyphosate, the main chemical ingredient in the company’s Roundup,.

Roundup has been linked with a growing number of human health problems, but weeds have been growing tolerant, forcing the company to create new blends featuring even more toxic chemicals, including 2,4-D, one of two chemicals used in the toxic Agent Orange blend sprayed over much of Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, resulting in a growing number of severe infant deformities.

A call for a ‘liberal genocide’ at a TrumpRally™


The toxic xenophobia long latent of sometimes expressed in American culture has surged since the Pussygrabber declared his candidacy for the White House.

And just as Europe’s fascists never ceased stirring up their base with rage-filled rallies, so Trump’s strategists have kept the campaign spirit alive by holding regular post-election gatherings designed to rouse the basest from the base.

Here’s a report from one such rally, held in Phoenix, Arizona, and reported by Dan Cohen of The Real News Network:, where we learn, among other things, that John McCain is a closet commie, converted in the Hanoi Hilton.

Trump Supporters Call For Imprisoning Liberals at Phoenix Rally

Program note:

In this shocking video, Dan Cohen documents the toxic atmosphere of Trump’s political allies and most fervent supporters.

Quote of the day: U.N. rights chief’s Trump angst


From Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, a statement in his report today to the 34th session of the Human Rights Council:

In the United States of America, I am concerned by the new Administration’s handling of a number of human rights issues. Greater and more consistent leadership is needed to address the recent surge in discrimination, anti-Semitism, and violence against ethnic and religious minorities. Vilification of entire groups such as Mexicans and Muslims, and false claims that migrants commit more crimes than US citizens, are harmful and fuel xenophobic abuses. I am dismayed at attempts by the President to intimidate or undermine journalists and judges. I am also concerned about new immigration policies that ban admission of people from six predominantly Muslim countries for 90 days, as well as policies which greatly expand the number of migrants at immediate risk of deportation – without regard for years spent in the US or family roots. These threaten to vastly increase use of detention, including of children. Expedited deportations could amount to collective expulsions and refoulement [forcible expulsion of refugees to countries where torture or worse is likely — esnl] ], in breach of international law, if undertaken without due process guarantees, including individual assessment. I am especially disturbed by the potential impact of these changes on children, who face being detained, or may see their families torn apart.

Mexico update: Murders, NAFTA, and more


We begin with the latest development in the infamous case of the 43 abducted students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College of Aytozinapa in the blood-soaked state of Guerrero, then move on to yet another murder, followed a a Mexican NAFTA backdown.

U.N. slams Mexico over missing students probe

Nothing has done more to damage the rapidly sinking reputation of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto than the 26 September 2014 abduction of the students from Ayotzinapa, a crime apparently ordered by members of his own party.

Successive investigations by his government have come to nothing, and the lastest review has dran fire from the U.N.

From teleSUR English:

On Wednesday the head of the U.N. Human Rights Office in Mexico slammed a recently released internal review of irregularities in the more than 2-year-old investigation into the disappearance of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa teachers’ training college.

“It is regrettable that it turned out this way,” said Jan Jarab, the representative of the U.N High Commissioner for Human Rights in Mexico. “The final results are a missed opportunity to effectively address the serious violations committed in the investigation of the Ayotzinapa case.”

Jarab noted that the internal review released on Feb. 9 by Mexico’s attorney general failed to address the serious irregularities documented by an earlier international panel of experts from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

That panel reported that former chief investigator, Tomas Zeron, had planted evidence and tortured potential witnesses and suspects, actions which not only sabotaged the investigation but also called into question its conclusion that the 43 students had been killed by a local drug cartel.

The panel found evidence pointing to high-level political involvement — including by state police and military officials — in the disappearance of the students from the primarily Indigenous teachers’ college known as a hotbed of political organizing and activism.

The internal review released just over two weeks ago was ordered after a previous review — which was left unreleased — reportedly recommended criminal charges against Zeron.

Jarab lamented that this final and official report suggested that at worst Zeron and his team had committed only “administrative” errors in the course of the investigation.

“We feel the government’s priority is no longer finding the truth about what happened to the students, but is much more concerned with hiding the reasons behind a historical cover-up,” said Mario Patrón, a lawyer for the families of the missing students, said when the final review was released earlier last month.

Another Mexican journalist murdered

Mexico, which has become a graveyard for journalists, has claimed another victim.

And the killing was also in Guerrero.

From teleSUR English:

Cecilio Pineda Birto, a 38-year-old Mexican journalist in the state of Guerrero, was shot and killed Thursday night, Mexican authorities have confirmed.

Pineda was lying down in a hammock waiting for his car to be washed when multiple armed men passing by on motorcycle shot him and fled.

The 38-year-old covered local news in Guerrero, one of the most violent states in Mexico known for marijuana production, drug cartels and a recent increase in kidnappings. He often collaborated with national media outlet El Universo and local media outlets such as La Voz de Tierra Caliente.

Just hours before his death, Pineda had published a video about the leader of a local criminal group responsible for kidnappings, in which he indicated that these kidnappings could not be happening without government complicity.

Pineda had previously shared on social media that he received threats in relation to his work. In September 2015, he narrowly escaped an attack outside his home.

Mexico is the most dangerous country in Latin America for journalists, particularly those working to expose corruption and criminal networks. At least 48 journalists were killed in Mexico in 2016 and 72 in 2015, according to The Committee to Protect Journalists.

Mexico signals a shift on NAFTA

Finally, faced with the reality of the current occupant of the White House, Mexico is bowing to the seemingly inevitable.

From Reuters:

Mexico is prepared to negotiate changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement to modernize the 23-year-old open trade pact grouping the United States, Canada and Mexico, Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said on Friday.

Guajardo said Mexico is prepared to discuss with the Trump administration and Canada revisions to NAFTA, such as including labor and environmental standards. Mexico “is willing to modernize NAFTA,” he said.

However, Guajardo said Mexico will not accept tariffs. U.S. President Donald Trump has called for new border taxes on Mexican-made goods. “It makes no sense to introduce an agreement with border restrictions or tariffs,” he said.

Mass deportation is system rooted in racism


And until we grasp how fear of the Other has been used to stroke fear and resentment, it’s a tragedy we’re liable to reenact again and again.

Kelly Lytle Hernandez, Associate Professor of  History and African-American Studies at the University of California–Los Angeles, gives us a look at this less-than-grand-old propensity in this essay for The Conversation, an academic journal written for the rest of us:

A rowdy segment of the American electorate is hell-bent on banning a specific group of immigrants from entering the United States. Thousands upon thousands of other people – citizens and immigrants, alike – oppose them, choosing to go to court rather than fulfill the electorate’s narrow vision of what America should look like: white, middle-class and Christian.

Soon a series of U.S. Supreme Court rulings could grant unrestrained power to Congress and the president over immigration control. More than 50 million people could be deported. Countless others might be barred from entering. Most of them would be poor, nonwhite and non-Christian.

This may sound like wild speculation about what is to come in President Donald Trump’s America. It is not. It is the history of U.S. immigration control, which is the focus of my work in the books “Migra! A History of the U.S. Border Patrol” and “City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles.”

Historically speaking, immigration control is one of the least constitutional and most racist realms of governance in U.S. law and life.

Made in the American West

The modern system of U.S. immigration control began in the 19th-century American West. Between the 1840s and 1880s, the United States government warred with indigenous peoples and Mexico to lay claim to the region. Droves of Anglo-American families soon followed, believing it was their Manifest Destiny to dominate land, law and life in the region.

But indigenous peoples never disappeared (see Standing Rock) and nonwhite migrants arrived (see the state of California). Chinese immigrants, in particular, arrived in large numbers during the 19th century. A travel writer who was popular at the time, Bayard Taylor, expressed the sentiment settlers felt toward Chinese immigrants in one of his books:

“The Chinese are, morally, the most debased people on the face of the earth… their touch is pollution… They should not be allowed to settle on our soil.”

When discriminatory laws and settler violence failed to expel them from the region, the settlers pounded Congress to develop a system of federal immigration control.

In response to their demands, Congress passed the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, which prohibited Chinese laborers from entering the country for 10 years. The law focused on Chinese laborers, the single largest sector of the Chinese immigrant community. In 1884, Congress required all Chinese laborers admitted before the Exclusion Act was passed to secure a certificate of reentry if they wanted to leave and return. But, in 1888, Congress banned even those with certificates from reentering.

Illustration, ‘How John may dodge the exclusion act’ shows Uncle Sam’s boot kicking a Chinese immigrant off a dock. Library of Congress.

Illustration, ‘How John may dodge the exclusion act’ shows Uncle Sam’s boot kicking a Chinese immigrant off a dock. Library of Congress.

Then, when the Chinese Exclusion Act was set to expire in 1892, Congress passed the Geary Act, which again banned all Chinese laborers and required all Chinese immigrants to verify their lawful presence by registering with the federal government. The federal authorities were empowered by the law to find, imprison and deport all Chinese immigrants who failed to register by May 1893.

Together, these laws banned a nationally targeted population from entering the United States and invented the first system of mass deportation. Nothing quite like this had ever before been tried in the United States.

Chinese immigrants rebelled against the new laws. In 1888, a laborer named Chae Chan Ping was denied the right of return despite having a reentry certificate and was subsequently confined on a steamship. The Chinese immigrant community hired lawyers to fight his case. The lawyers argued the case up to the U.S. Supreme Court but lost when the court ruled that “the power of exclusion of foreigners [is an] incident of sovereignty belonging to the government of the United States” and “cannot be granted away or restrained on behalf of anyone.”

Simply put, Chae Chan Ping v. U.S. established that Congress and the president hold “absolute” and “unqualified” authority over immigrant entry and exclusion at U.S. borders.

Continue reading

Border wall moves ahead; Mexican resistance stirs


Yep, the border wall is moving ahead.

From the Chicago Tribune:

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Friday that it plans to start awarding contracts by mid-April for President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico, signaling that he is aggressively pursuing plans to erect “a great wall” along the 2,000-mile border.

The agency said it will request bids on or around March 6 and that companies would have to submit “concept papers” to design and build prototypes by March 10, according to FedBizOpps.gov, a website for federal contractors. The field of candidates will be narrowed by March 20, and finalists must submit offers with their proposed costs by March 24.

The president told the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday that construction will start “very soon” and is “way, way, way ahead of schedule.”

The agency’s notice gave no details on where the wall would be built first and how many miles would be covered initially. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has sought employees’ opinions during border tours of California, Arizona and Texas.

Announcement comes a day after cross-border meeting

The wall wasn’t even mentioned when two cabinet members traveled south of the border the day before the announcement.

From NBC News:

There were promises of cooperation, of closer economic ties, and frequent odes to the enduring partnership between the U.S. and its southern neighbor. But there were no public mentions of that massive border wall or President Donald Trump’s plan to deport non-Mexicans to Mexico as top U.S. officials visited the Mexican capital.

Instead, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson played it safe, acknowledging generally that the U.S. and Mexico are in a period of disagreement without putting any specific dispute under the microscope. It fell to their hosts, and especially Mexican Foreign Secretary Luis Videgaray, to thrust those issues into the spotlight.

“It is an evident fact that Mexicans feel concern and irritation over what are perceived as policies that may hurt Mexicans and the national interest of Mexicans here and abroad,” Videgaray said Thursday after meeting with Kelly and Tillerson.

The Americans focused instead on putting to rest some of the fears reverberating across Latin America – such as the notion that the U.S. military might be enlisted to deport immigrants in the U.S. illegally en masse. Not so, said Kelly. He said there would be “no mass deportations” and no U.S. military role.

Sure, Mexico can trust anything that comes out of an administration headed by a man who can’t even keep his own lies straight, then flies into a rage any time anyone dares point that out.

Trump may do the impossible for Peña

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has been polling at all-time lows, earning an abysmal 12 percent approval rate in one recent survey., making Trump’s current 42 percent approval rating look like a rave review.

But Trump may prove a boost for the beleaguered Mexican President is Agent Orange continues with his self-serving racist rants, especially now that Peña’s administration is showing a little resistance.

From teleSUR English:

The U.S. wants to pressure Mexico into keeping migrants and refugees as they await trial, forcing Mexico to deport them instead. Mexico isn’t falling for it.

Mexico will reject the remaining funds of the Merida Plan if they’re used by the U.S. to coerce the country on immigration policy, said Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong on Friday.

The US$2.6 billion security assistance package on the drug war has been almost been entirely distributed since 2008, mostly on military equipment like helicopters and training for its security forces.

The plan has been widely criticized for worsening, rather than improving, violence and disappearances in the country and being partly responsible for the disappearance of the 43 student-teachers in Ayotzinapa. It already contains a proviso to withhold funds if Mexico doesn’t improve its rule of law or human rights abuses, though the U.S. has never enacted this demand.

Besides now taking into account U.S. President Donald Trump’s plan to build a border wall, the aid may be dependent on Mexico hosting undocumented immigrants from third countries as they are awaiting processing of their deportation trials in the U.S.

“They can’t leave them here on the border because we have to reject them. There is no chance they would be received by Mexico,” said Osorio Chong on Friday, speaking with Radio Formula after a cool reception of U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, who visited on Thursday.

Mexico already deports hundreds of thousands of Central Americans apprehended at its southern border, but cities like Mexico City are among the largest receptors of refugees deported from the U.S.

Mexico hints at a trade war

A not-so-veiled threat was issued Thursday at the same time Trump administration officials were meeting with their Mexican counterparts.

From Reuters:

Mexico’s economy minister said on Thursday that applying tariffs on U.S. goods is “plan B” for Mexico in trade talks with the United States if negotiations aimed at achieving a new mutually beneficial agreement fail.

Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo told local broadcaster Televisa that he expected North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations with both the United States and Canada to begin this summer and conclude by the end of this year.

And promptly takes the first step

Guajardo’s warming was accompanied by action as well,

From teleSUR English:

Amid trade tensions with the United States, Mexico plans to send a delegation next month to visit Brazilian corn, beef, chicken and soy producers as an alterative to U.S. suppliers, its representative in Brazil said on Friday.

Mexican chargé d’affaires Eleazar Velasco said Brazil is uniquely positioned to expand agricultural commodity sales to Mexico if trade with the United States is disrupted because it is closer than other potential suppliers like Australia.

“The United States unilaterally wants to change the established rules of the game,” Velasco told Reuters. “This will evidently lead us to rebalance our trade relations.”

Mexican Agriculture Secretary Jose Calzada was due to visit Brazil last week but had to postpone his trip until March due to scheduling issues, Velasco said.

Calzada will bring Mexican food industry executives to do deals with Brazilian exporters, the diplomat said. The trip is part of a drive to lessen dependence on U.S. exports as President Donald Trump threatens to upend long-standing free trade between the two countries.

And Mexico acts on the financial front as well

The country has been engaged in a massive buttressing of its currency.

From CNNMoney:

Mexico’s currency, the peso, is one of the best performers in the world in February, up over 5%.

Before the U.S. election, the country’s central bank started implementing what its governor, Agustin Carstens, called a “contingency plan.” Carstens says Trump’s potential policies would hit Mexico’s economy like a “hurricane.”

For ordinary Mexicans, the peso’s momentum doesn’t mean much. Gas prices rose as much as 20% in January while economic growth and wages continue to be sluggish. Life is getting more expensive.

Still, it’s a swift turnaround for a country and currency facing an uncertain future with the U.S.

Since November, Mexico’s central bank has raised interest rates three times and sold U.S. dollars to international investors. Among other efforts, it’s all meant to buoy the peso that’s been weighed down by Trump’s threats.

Things are starting to get interesting. . .

Chart of the day II: Growing U.S. Latino anxiety


From the new report from the Pew Research Center:

blog-chart

Intolerance II: A censored potent white racism talk


You would think the University wouldn’t censor a talk by Tim Wise, an outspoken, articulate, well-informed critique of white racism and its deep cultural and institutional roots in American culture.

On 25 January, the University of California–Santa Barbara Multicultural Center hosted An Evening with Tim Wise, A White Anti-racist Advocate.

It’s a powerfully informative talk, a rant [in the best sense of the term] revealing the Trump campaign’s skillful use of racism to mobilize his voters.

And in making his points, Wise employs the occasional shit, a fuck or two, and what we suspect is one instance of asshole.

The words are used in the best rhetorical tradition, as potent emphases.

But where the words were only a brief silence remains in the version posted online by University of California Television today [24 February].

How stupid.

But that hypocritically ironic flaw aside, do watch a very memorable talk.

From University of California Television:

An Evening with Tim Wise: A White Anti-Racist Advocate

Program notes:

Author and anti-racist activist Tim Wise speaks about the importance of being a white ally to communities of color, and how we can all work together to create a healthier community on campuses and in the world beyond. Wise spoke as part of UCSB’s Resilient Love in a Time of Hate series.

Intolerance I: Who are America’s worst terrorists?


This is the first of two offerings on intolerance.

President Pussygrabbers seized the White House at the end of a campaign designed to rouse racist fears in a masterful act of misdirection, shifting blame for the very real pains of his grass roots base away from the real culprits — people like Trump himself — onto alien Others.

Always at play within his rhetorical was the portrayal of the Other as a violent criminal, a murderer and rapist in the case of folks from south of the border, or as a bombing-and-beheading non-Christian fanatic, in the case of the Muslim.

But who are the real terrorist fanatics in the United States?

[Hint: They don’t pray toward Mecca.]

A wide-ranging, multi-university study looks at the numbers, and the terrorists probably voted the Trump.

The study, Threats of violent Islamist and far-right extremism: What does the research say?, is published in The Conversation, an open source academic journal written in conversational English.

The authors are William Parkin, Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at Seattle University; Brent Klein, a doctoral student at the Michigan State University School of Criminal Justice; Jeff Gruenewald, Assistant Professor of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis; Joshua D. Freilich, Professor of Criminal Justice at City University of New York; and Steven Chermak, Professor of Criminal Justice at Michigan State University.

From The Conversation:

On a Tuesday morning in September 2001, the American experience with terrorism was fundamentally altered. Two thousand, nine hundred and ninety-six people were murdered in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania. Thousands more, including many first responders, lost their lives to health complications from working at or being near Ground Zero.

The 9/11 attacks were perpetrated by Islamist extremists, resulting in nearly 18 times more deaths than America’s second most devastating terrorist attack – the Oklahoma City bombing. More than any other terrorist event in U.S. history, 9/11 drives Americans’ perspectives on who and what ideologies are associated with violent extremism.

But focusing solely on Islamist extremism when investigating, researching and developing counterterrorism policies goes against what the numbers tell us. Far-right extremism also poses a significant threat to the lives and well-being of Americans. This risk is often ignored or underestimated because of the devastating impact of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

We have spent more than 10 years collecting and analyzing empirical data that show us how these ideologies vary in important ways that can inform policy decisions. Our conclusion is that a “one size fits all” approach to countering violent extremism may not be effective.

By the numbers

Historically, the U.S. has been home to adherents of many types of extremist ideologies. The two current most prominent threats are motivated by Islamist extremism and far-right extremism.

To help assess these threats, the Department of Homeland Security and recently the Department of Justice have funded the Extremist Crime Database to collect data on crimes committed by ideologically motivated extremists in the United States. The results of our analyses are published in peer-reviewed journals and on the website for the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism & Responses to Terrorism.

The ECDB includes data on ideologically motivated homicides committed by both Islamist extremists and far-right extremists going back more than 25 years.

blog-chart-1

Between 1990 and 2014, the ECDB has identified 38 homicide events motivated by Islamist extremism that killed 62 people. When you include 9/11, those numbers jump dramatically to 39 homicide events and 3,058 killed.

The database also identified 177 homicide events motivated by far-right extremism, with 245 killed. And when you include the Oklahoma City bombing, it rises to 178 homicide events and 413 killed.

Although our data for 2015 through 2017 are still being verified, we counted five homicide events perpetrated by Islamist extremists that resulted in the murders of 74 people. This includes the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando, which killed 49 people. In the same time period, there were eight homicide events committed by far-right extremists that killed 27 people.

These data reveal that far-right extremists tend to be more active in committing homicides, yet Islamist extremists tend to be more deadly.

Our research has also identified violent Islamist extremist plots against 272 targets that were either foiled or failed between 2001 and 2014. We are in the process of compiling similar data on far-right plots. Although data collection is only about 50 percent complete, we have already identified 213 far-right targets from the same time period.

blog-chart-2

The locations of violent extremist activity also differ by ideology. Our data show that between 1990 and 2014, most Islamist extremist attacks occurred in the South (56.5 percent), and most far-right extremist attacks occurred in the West (34.7 percent). Both forms of violence were least likely to occur in the Midwest, with only three incidents committed by Islamist extremists (4.8 percent) and 33 events committed by far-right extremists (13.5 percent).

Continue reading

Headline of the day: Another Trump legacy?


From the London Daily Mail:

Mexico: We fear refugee camps along our border because Trump immigration crackdown will deport illegals to where they crossed into U.S.

  • New Department of Homeland Security laws say that migrants who cross illegally from Mexico will be deported  back there 
  • Until now illegals were deported to their country of origin – meaning those who were not Mexicans were not sent back across the border 
  • Mexicans say they fear huge numbers of illegals being dumped in their territory which could lead to ‘Other Than Mexicans’ camped on the border 
  • Tens of thousands of non-Mexicans come into the country to flood through to the U.S. illegally, often with people smugglers and drug cartels involved
  • Human rights center boss in Tijuana says Mexico could reject deportees one by one and create chaos for U.S. enforcement agents

Trump’s NAFTA stance sparks Mexico trade war


And the first commodity under attack is corn grown by farmers in the U.S.

From teleSUR English:

The foreign affairs commission at the Mexican Senate will introduce a bill this week that would make the country buy corn from Brazil and Argentina instead of the United States.

Mexico is one of the top buyers of U.S. corn and the move will be a tough blow to the U.S. agriculture industry, said the president of the commission Armando Ríos Piter from the leftist PRD party.

The bill is seen as a counter-attack to the protectionist threats made by U.S. President Donald Trump, who has threatened to kill the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, signed by Mexico, the United States and Canada in the early ’90s. Experts say such a bill would be very costly for U.S. farmers.

“If we do indeed see a trade war where Mexico starts buying from Brazil … we’re going to see it affect the corn market and ripple out to the rest of the agricultural economy,”  Darin Newsom, senior analyst at agricultural management firm DTN, said to CNN.

If approved, this bill would be one of the first signs of concrete action by the Mexican government after it has been directly targeted by Trump’s rhetoric and policies, particularly an executive order enabling construction of a border wall and the promise to make Mexico foot the bill.

However, to unions of Mexican farmers and academics, Trump’s pledge to end NAFTA will be a good opportunity to boost the agriculture sector in Mexico.

The treaty has helped to dismantle Mexico’s agricultural production system through neoliberal policies that have left millions of poor farmers without state support and made the country increasingly dependent on food from abroad.

And an update, also from teleSUR:

Mexico’s agriculture minister said on Thursday he will lead a business delegation to Argentina and Brazil to explore buying yellow corn, part of a drive to lessen Mexico’s U.S. dependence given uncertainty over President Donald Trump’s trade policies.

The trip will happen within the next 20 days, Agriculture Secretary Jose Calzada said, adding that the government could explore quotas and changing the tariff regime for imports from South America if needed.