Category Archives: Latin America

InSecurityWatch: Divisions, warfare, militarism


We begin with a real source of InSecurity, via the Independent:

Britain’s divided decade: the rich are 64% richer than before the recession, while the poor are 57% poorer

The gap between richest and poorest has dramatically widened in the past decade as wealthy households paid off their debts and piled up savings following the financial crisis, a report warns today.

By contrast, the worst-off families are far less financially secure than before the recession triggered by the near- collapse of several major banks. They have an average of less than a week’s pay set aside and are more often in the red.

Younger workers have fallen behind older people while homeowners – particularly those who have paid off their mortgages – have become increasingly affluent compared with their neighbours who are paying rent.

From the New York Times, more real InSecurity:

U.N. Finds ‘Alarmingly High’ Levels of Violence Against Women

The evidence is ubiquitous. The gang rape of a young woman on a bus in New Delhi sets off an unusual burst of national outrage in India. In South Sudan, women are assaulted by both sides in the civil war. In Iraq, jihadists enslave women for sex. And American colleges face mounting scrutiny about campus rape.

Despite the many gains women have made in education, health and even political power in the course of a generation, violence against women and girls worldwide “persists at alarmingly high levels,” according to a United Nations analysis that the Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is scheduled to present to the General Assembly on Monday.

About 35 percent of women worldwide — more than one in three — said they had experienced physical violence in their lifetime, the report finds. One in 10 girls under the age of 18 was forced to have sex, it says.

From the Guardian, Netanyahu’s acolytes:

Republicans threaten Iran nuclear deal may not survive Obama tenure

  • Letter from 47 senators says nuclear accord needs congressional backing to last
  • White House accuses Republicans of ‘rush to war’ with Iran

Forty-seven Republican senators warned on Monday that any agreement the Obama administration strikes with Iran to limit Tehran’s nuclear programme may be short-lived unless Congress approves the deal. The White House accused the Republicans of advocating a “rush to war”.

In an open letter to Iranian leaders, freshman Senator Tom Cotton and 46 other Republicans said that without congressional approval any deal between Iran and the US would be merely an agreement between President Barack Obama and Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

“The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen,” they wrote, “and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”

From StarAfrica, plumbers summoned:

S/Africa probes leaking of spy docs to Al Jazeera

South Africa’s State Security Agency (SSA) has launched a full investigation into the leaking of documents detailing its operations following the recent leakage of sensitive documents to the Qatar-based Al Jazeera TV news network, APA learnt on Sunday.

“A full investigation has been launched into the purported leakage, its veracity and verification will be handled in terms of the protocols governing the management of classified information,” State Security Minister David Mahlobo said.

The probe follows the web of dealings between the South African spy agency and several foreign agencies which have been revealed through hundreds of documents leaked to Al Jazeera, which broadcast the items last week.

Among other issues the documents, dated from 2006 to 2012, included an alleged assassination plot against African Union (AU) Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Iran’s efforts to use Pretoria to work around its international sanctions imposed by Western powers and the flawed capabilities of the country’s intelligence, according to the Al Jazeera, which did not reveal who leaked the documents to it.

From Deutsche Welle, did you Hope™ for this Change™?:

US deploying 3,000 troops to the Baltics

  • The US announced it is deploying 3000 troops to the Baltics to take part in military exercises over the next three months. The Baltic states and other eastern European nations are wary of renewed Russian aggression.

The United States is sending 3,000 troops to the Baltic states to partake in joint military exercises with NATO partners in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania over the next three months, US defense officials announced Monday.

The mission, part of “Operation Atlantic Resolve” is designed to reassure NATO allies concerned over renewed Russian aggression amid the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.

Around 750 US Army tanks, fighting vehicles and other military equipment arrived in Latvia Monday, and US ground troops are expected to begin arriving next week, US Army Col. Steve Warren told reporters.

According to a US military source speaking on condition of anonymity, the military equipment will remain in the Baltics even after the US troops return to base.

From the Guardian, suppression:

Saudi Arabia accused of blocking criticism of human rights record

  • Sweden’s foreign minister, Margot Wallström, has said the kingdom stopped her addressing an Arab League meeting

Sweden’s foreign minister has reportedly accused Saudi Arabia of blocking her speech at an Arab League meeting to stop her highlighting human rights cases such as the imprisonment of a blogger for insulting Islam.

Speaking in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, on Monday, Margot Wallström told the TT news agency: “The explanation we have been given is that Sweden has highlighted the situation for democracy and human rights and that is why they do not want me to speak.

“It’s a shame that a country has blocked my participation.”

An Arab diplomat confirmed to Agence France-Presse that Riyadh had stopped her making the speech.

A sharp Saudi response to flogging condemnation, via the Independent:

Raif Badawi: Saudi Arabia accuses western media of attacking its sovereignty

Saudi Arabia has finally responded to the international outcry over the treatment of jailed blogger Raif Badawi, accusing the western media of launching an unjustified attack on its sovereignty under the “pretext of human rights”.

In its first official statement on the case, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it would not allow outside interference with Saudi Arabia’s judicial system and that pressure from the media and human rights groups would have no impact on his punishment.

Mr Badawi has been sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes – of which so far only 50 have been carried out – for using his liberal blog to criticise Saudi Arabia’s clerics. Judges in the country’s criminal court want him to undergo a retrial for apostasy, which carries the death sentence.

From the Guardian, Indian free speech suppression:

Activist arrested for showing rape documentary in Indian village

  • Ketan Dixit used borrowed equipment and bedsheets to screen India’s Daughter, which has been banned by the authorities, to 60 people

A young activist who defied the Indian government’s ban on the documentary India’s Daughter and screened the film for a village audience near the northern city of Agra has been apprehended by police.

Ketan Dixit was quoted on Monday as saying he was ready to “face any action that was initiated” after showing the documentary on Sunday on a makeshift screen made of white bedsheets in the compound of a journalist’s family home in Roopdhanu, around 30km from the Taj Mahal.

Around 60 men, women and children watched the film, which has been the subject of furious controversy since the Indian authorities’ decision to pull it from the air last week. The film, by British documentary-maker Leslee Udwin, is about the fatal gang rape of a young woman in Delhi in December 2012.

From BBC News, a German mayor resigns facing xenophobic agitation:

German Mayor Markus Nierth resigns over NPD protest fears

A village mayor in eastern Germany has resigned after threats to march on his house from far-right protesters angry about plans to house asylum seekers.

Markus Nierth, who was honorary mayor of Troeglitz in Saxony-Anhalt, south of Berlin, said he quit because local authorities refused to ban the march. He said he would not expose his family to “racist and hate-filled chants”.

Saxony-Anhalt’s Interior Ministry said it opposed “all forms of xenophobia and racism’‘.

After the jump, Netanyahu adopts a harder line as a former spy boss declares him the country’s biggest threat, on to the ISIS war, first with advances in the battle for Tikrit, and fears of retribution if ISIS withdraws, Germany mulls an Islamist military checkup, on to Africa and an advance on Boko Haram, Islamist oil field kidnapping in Libya, Pakistan extends its nuclear missile reach to all of India, on to Japan as Shinzo Abe pushes for rapid legislative realization of his remilitarization agenda, Merkel urges Abe to hold to the traditional apology for World War II actions, and Tokyo issues a testy response, and Abe wins metadata enabling legislation. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Ills, climate, toxins, water, nukes


We begin with an outbreak from Outbreak News Today:

Ecuador city declares chikungunya ‘state of emergency’

The northwestern Ecuadorian city of Esmeraldas has declared a state of emergency due to the spread of chikungunya, according to a Globedia report (computer translated).

Esmeraldas mayor, Lenin Lara, declared the state of emergency to allocate resources to combat the spread of the mosquito borne viral disease.

Since the first autochthonous transmission of chikungunya reported was reported in the country in December, Ecuador has seen in excess of 200 cases, with approximately half being reported from the city of Esmeraldas, which borders Colombia.

Another epidemic via Outbreak News Today:

Dengue fever in the Americas: 100,000 cases through February

Brazil has reported the most cases in the Americas with 72,254 of the 106,465 suspected and confirmed cases, or 68 percent.

Following Brazil in case burden is Colombia, which has seen 11,242 cases to date. Paraguay and Peru have reported in excess of 1,000 cases this year.

Central America and Mexico account for more than 17,500 cases with Mexico (6391), Nicaragua (3823) and Honduras (4302) seeing the most.

From the Associated Press, a connection:

UNICEF warns lack of toilets in Pakistan tied to stunting

More than 40 million people in Pakistan do not have access to a toilet, forcing them to defecate in the open, which in turn is a major contributor to stunting in the country, a top UNICEF official said.

“There are 41 million people who do not have access to a toilet in Pakistan and as a result they are defecating in the open. And open defecation has significant health and nutritional consequences,” said Geeta Rao Gupta, deputy executive director at UNICEF. She recently spoke to The Associated Press during a trip to Pakistan to draw attention to the problem.

“Open defecation is a major contributor to stunting and that’s why we’ve got to do all we can to stop it,” she said.

Pakistan is the third-largest country when it comes to people going to the bathroom in the open, behind India and Indonesia. The problem can spread disease and lead to intestinal infections, which can contribute to stunting in young children, she said.

And from BBC News, a canine diagnostician:

Frankie the dog ‘sniffs out thyroid cancer’

A dog has been used to sniff out thyroid cancer in people who had not yet been diagnosed, US researchers say. Tests on 34 patients showed an 88% success rate in finding tumours.

The team, presenting their findings at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society, said the animal had an “unbelievable” sense of smell.

Cancer Research UK said using dogs would be impractical, but discovering the chemicals the dogs can smell could lead to new tests.

From the Guardian, accelerating:

Global warming ‘set to speed up to rates not seen for 1,000 years’

  • By 2020 the average temperature rise per decade will be 0.25C in the northern hemisphere, more than double the 900 years preceding the 20th century

People need to brace themselves for accelerating climate change that could alter the way we live even over short time scales, scientists have warned.

New evidence suggests the rate at which temperatures are rising in the northern hemisphere could be 0.25C per decade by 2020 – a level not seen for at least 1,000 years.

The analysis, based on a combination of data from more than two dozen climate simulation models from around the world, looked at the rate of change in 40-year long time spans.

Lead scientist Dr Steve Smith, from the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, said: “We focused on changes over 40-year periods, which is similar to the lifetime of houses and human-built infrastructure such as buildings and roads.

“In the near term, we’re going to have to adapt to these changes.”

And from the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, Republican insanity:

In Florida, officials ban term climate change

The state of Florida is the region most susceptible to the effects of global warming in this country, according to scientists. Sea-level rise alone threatens 30 percent of the state’s beaches over the next 85 years.

But you would not know that by talking to officials at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the state agency on the front lines of studying and planning for these changes.

DEP officials have been ordered not to use the term “climate change” or “global warming” in any official communications, emails, or reports, according to former DEP employees, consultants, volunteers and records obtained by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.

The policy goes beyond semantics and has affected reports, educational efforts and public policy in a department with about 3,200 employees and $1.4 billion budget.

“We were told not to use the terms ‘climate change,’ ‘global warming’ or ‘sustainability,’” said Christopher Byrd, an attorney with the DEP’s Office of General Counsel in Tallahassee from 2008 to 2013. “That message was communicated to me and my colleagues by our superiors in the Office of General Counsel.”

Homeland Security News Wire adds a complication:

Sea level rise causing changes in ocean tide levels, tidal ranges

Scientists have found that ocean tides have changed significantly over the last century at many coastal locations around the world. Increases in high tide levels and the tidal range were found to have been similar to increases in average sea level at several locations.

Scientists from the University of Southampton have found that ocean tides have changed significantly over the last century at many coastal locations around the world. Increases in high tide levels and the tidal range were found to have been similar to increases in average sea level at several locations.

The findings of the study are published online in the journal Earth’s Future.
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/enhanced/doi/10.1002/2014EF000282/

While the New York Times discovers greener ag in the heartland:

Farmers Put Down the Plow for More Productive Soil

Gabe Brown is in such demand as a speaker that for every invitation he accepts, he turns down 10 more. At conferences, like the one held here at a Best Western hotel recently, people line up to seek his advice.

“The greatest roadblock to solving a problem is the human mind,” he tells audiences.

Mr. Brown, a balding North Dakota farmer who favors baseball caps and red-striped polo shirts, is not talking about disruptive technology start-ups, political causes, or the latest self-help fad.

He is talking about farming, specifically soil-conservation farming, a movement that promotes leaving fields untilled, “green manures” and other soil-enhancing methods with an almost evangelistic fervor.

Such farming methods, which mimic the biology of virgin land, can revive degenerated earth, minimize erosion, encourage plant growth and increase farmers’ profits, their proponents say. And by using them, Mr. Brown told more than 250 farmers and ranchers who gathered at the hotel for the first Southern Soil Health Conference, he has produced crops that thrive on his 5,000-acre farm outside of Bismarck, N.D., even during droughts or flooding.

From the Guardian, a call to clear the air:

‘Environmental racism’: Bronx activists decry Fresh Direct’s impact on air quality

Whites and minorities in the US breathe different quality air, with the latter exposed to 38% higher levels of nitrogen dioxide. And it is decisions like the one to place trucking operations for Fresh Direct in the Bronx, says activist group South Bronx Unite, that exacerbate the problem

A comprehensive 2006 study carried out by NYU researchers found a direct correlation between the air pollution (diesel fumes in particular) in [Danny] Chervoni’s neighborhood and the high rates of asthma among residents. The densely populated area – there are over 90,000 people living within 2.2 sq miles – is surrounded by four major highways funneling commercial and other traffic in and out of Manhattan. And the waterfront, where as a child Chervoni and his friends used to swim in the river and pick fruit from the apple and pear trees, is now home to several fossil fuel plants, a 5,000-ton-a-day waste transfer station, a sewage treatment facility, a FedEx hub and a Wall Street Journal/New York Post printing and distribution center.

One of the key recommendations of the NYU study was to curb pollution from truck exhaust. So when state and local officials proposed in 2012 to subsidize the relocation of Fresh Direct, a major trucking business, to one of the few remaining vacant lots on the waterfront – a move that would add an estimated 1,000 more truck trips through the neighborhood every day – a variety of community groups decided enough was enough. They joined together to form South Bronx Unite, and they’ve been fighting the proposal ever since.

The group contends that the levels of pollution their community is being subjected to is “environmental racism”. It is a claim echoed by many low-income communities of color around the country, whom research has shown are disproportionately impacted by polluting industries – specifically trash incinerators, landfills and fossil fuel power plants.

From the Guardian, more water woes ahead:

Why fresh water shortages will cause the next great global crisis

  • Last week drought in São Paulo was so bad, residents tried drilling through basement floors for groundwater. As reservoirs dry up across the world, a billion people have no access to safe drinking water. Rationing and a battle to control supplies will follow

Water is the driving force of all nature, Leonardo da Vinci claimed. Unfortunately for our planet, supplies are now running dry – at an alarming rate. The world’s population continues to soar but that rise in numbers has not been matched by an accompanying increase in supplies of fresh water.

The consequences are proving to be profound. Across the globe, reports reveal huge areas in crisis today as reservoirs and aquifers dry up. More than a billion individuals – one in seven people on the planet – now lack access to safe drinking water.

Last week in the Brazilian city of São Paulo, home to 20 million people, and once known as the City of Drizzle,drought got so bad that residents began drilling through basement floors and car parks to try to reach groundwater. City officials warned last week that rationing of supplies was likely soon. Citizens might have access to water for only two days a week, they added.

In California, officials have revealed that the state has entered its fourth year of drought with January this year becoming the driest since meteorological records began. At the same time, per capita water use has continued to rise.

On to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with the Mainichi:

Radiation decontamination volunteers not supported by national gov’t

At least 30,000 volunteer workers have been involved in forays into areas in Fukushima Prefecture that fall under direct management of the national government due to high level of radiation, it has been learned from volunteer organizations.

These volunteer workers, who are not given any support by the national government for the management of their radiation levels, have engaged in decontamination work such as cutting grass over 2,500 times, efforts supposed be carried out by the government.

While the national government introduces volunteers to work in areas of relatively low radiation that are being decontaminated by municipal governments, it has little awareness of volunteer work in areas under its own direct jurisdiction.

From JapanToday, a continuing conflict:

Fukushima residents torn over nuclear waste storage plan

Norio Kimura lost his wife, father and 7-year-old daughter Yuna in the March 2011 tsunami.

Now, he fears he may lose his land, too, as Japan’s government wants to build a sprawling radioactive waste storage site in the shadow of the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant.

Like many here, Kimura is angry the government is set to park 30 million tons of radioactive debris raked up after the nuclear accident on his former doorstep. Few believe Tokyo’s assurances that the site will be cleaned up and shut down after 30 years.

“I can’t believe they’re going to dump their trash here after all we’ve been put through,” said Kimura, 49, standing near the weathered planks on a shrub-covered hill that represent all that’s left of his home.

From the Asahi Shimbun, piling up:

FOUR YEARS AFTER: Radioactive debris continues to stack up at Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant

With nowhere to put it, refuse and debris contaminated with radioactive materials continue to pile up at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant here.

A total of 258,300 cubic meters of radioactive debris was produced from the March 2011 accident to the end of this January in the plant, where decommissioning work is under way.

The amount is equivalent to the capacity of about 650 25-meter-long swimming pools.

NHK WORLD covers a delay:

Public housing for Fukushima facing delays

Construction of public housing in Fukushima Prefecture is facing significant delays. The housing is meant for those forced to leave their homes after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, and the ensuing nuclear accident.

Fukushima Prefecture plans to build around 2,700 units for people affected by the earthquake and tsunami. 4,900 are planned for those affected by the nuclear accident at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant.

But only 44 percent of the units for quake and tsunami victims were ready for occupancy at the end of February. Only 5 percent has been completed for the nuclear evacuees.

And from the Mainichi, a symbolic move:

Evacuated Fukushima town to remove ironic nuclear signboards

The town of Futaba, which has been evacuated since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident, decided Monday to remove street signboards propagating the positive aspects of nuclear power.

The signboards in desolated streets carry slogans promoting atomic energy, including one reading, “Nuclear power: the energy for a bright future.” Town officials said they will be removed because they have become decrepit.

The town authority on the same day submitted to the municipal assembly the fiscal 2015 draft budget earmarking some 4.1 million yen for the removal. If the budget is approved, the removal will begin from as early as in August, the officials said.

MexicoWatch: Protest, vanishings, cops, torture


We begin with a protest, via teleSUR:

On Women’s Day, Mothers of Missing Mexican Students Head March

  • The mothers said the government’s recent removal of the attorney general will not end their efforts to find their loved ones.

The mothers of Ayotzinapa’s 43 missing students headed an International Women’s Day march Sunday in Mexico City.

The march was proceeded by an event late Saturday, titled “Women and Ayotzinapa”, where the mothers of the disappeared students spoke about their experiences and vowed to continue their search.

“We want to make it very clear to the federal government that we are not afraid. That is why we ask (people) to continue uniting and organizing, because they (the government) know where our sons and daughters are, and if they have not found them it’s because they have not wanted to,” said Carmen Cruz, the mother of one of the missing students.

And the first disappearances story, via Mexico News Daily:

Four mine employees believed kidnapped

  • They were returning home after a night shift at the Los Filos mine

State authorities said yesterday they are investigating the “possible deprivation of the liberty” of mineworkers in the municipality of Eduardo Neri. Juan Carlos Merino González, Juan Carlos Peña and Mauro Galicia were identified as missing. As of yesterday it wasn’t known who the fourth person was.

Located in the Guerrero Gold Belt, Los Filos is Mexico’s largest gold mine. The gold belt is not far from the city of Iguala, where 46 students were massacred in a joint operation involving municipal police and a criminal gang last September.

At least 10 people were kidnapped in nearby Cocula last month, one of whom was connected with the Media Luna mine project, owned by another Canadian mining firm, Torex Gold Resources Inc.

Al Jazeera America covers more vanishings:

Terror in Coahuila: Up to 300 disappeared in Mexico’s forgotten massacre

  • 43 missing students sparked outrage around the world, but earlier atrocity in northern Mexico went virtually ignored

In March and April of 2011, the Zetas kept the northern municipalities of Allende, Piedras Negras, Nava, Zaragoza and Morelos — all close to the U.S. border — under constant attack. They fired their arms, set fire to several businesses and disappeared at least 300 people, according to testimony from residents. Gang members operated without a trace of military or civic intervention.

The majority of these cases happened in Allende, so that time referred to as the Allende Massacre.

Local media, fearing reprisals, did not report the violence until years later. Armando Castilla, the publisher of the newspaper Vanguardia de Coahuila, says his publication was the first to report the case, in December 2013. In April of 2014, Allende’s Mayor Luis Reynaldo Tapia Valadez told the national outlet La Jornada, “There are approximately 300 [victims], but it’s not out of the question that there are a few more.”

It wasn’t until January 2014 that the Coahuila government launched a formal investigation into the case. In December the state’s attorney general, Homero Ramos Gloria, said the investigation found evidence of only 28 disappearances, not 300. The state says it does not know the status of another 1,808 missing people.

From Mexico News Daily, corruption:

14 police arrested; gunmen attack mayor

  • Federal officers suspects in kidnapping as violence continues in Matamoros

Citizens of Matamoros have had good reason to doubt the effectiveness of security efforts in their city following a rash of violence in recent weeks.

Further reasons to do so came with the arrest of 14 Federal Police officers on kidnapping charges and an armed attack on the mayor on Saturday.

The federal Attorney General confirmed the detention of the officers after a local businessman was freed by army and navy forces. He had been held for at least two days while his captors sought a ransom payment of US $2 million.

And from teleSUR, condemnation:

UN: Torture by Mexican State is Widespread

  • A report by the U.N. special rapporteur on torture claims that abuse and torture are a regular occurrence in Mexico.

A report by the U.N. Human Rights Council, set to be released on Monday, states that torture by the Mexican state has become a regular occurrence.

The 22-page report by the U.N. Special Rapporteur Juan Mendez was leaked to Mexican weekly magazine, Proceso. The report is the product of an investigation conducted by Mendez in Mexico in April and May of last year.

“Torture and abuse are widespread in Mexico,” states Mendez’ report.

Proceso states that the U.N. report includes allegations of physical violence, electric shock, suffocation, sexual assault, and psychological abuse. Mendez reveals that multiple elements of the state are guilty of utilizing torture, from local police, to state and federal police, as well as the armed forces.

And to close, our Ayotzinapa protest image of the day, via Damjd Designz:

Mexico has a skeleton in the closet

EnviroWatch: Outbreaks, climate, oil, & nukes


We begin with an epidemiological warning in Casa esnl’s neighborhood via Outbreak News Today:

Berkeley officials warn of possible measles exposure at local libraries

Just one week after Berkeley health officials warned of a possible measles exposure at the La Mediterranee restaurant, city officials say an adult who may have measles (it has not yet been confirmed) was at the City of Berkeley West Branch Library throughout the day on February 27 and February 28, and was at the Central Branch Library on the afternoon of February 27 only.

Individuals who were at these locations could have been exposed. Patrons of these libraries during these dates should monitor themselves for symptoms until March 21. The risk is very slight for those who have received the recommended two doses of the measles vaccine.

On the days in question, the person had not yet developed the tell-tale rash -a circumstance that contributes to the rapid spread of the highly infectious, airborne virus- so did not know that the illness might be measles-. Symptoms can develop between 7 and 21 days after exposure to the virus.

From the Guardian, more on a story covered here in our previous EnviroWatch:

Health costs of hormone disrupting chemicals over €150bn a year in Europe, says study

  • Lower IQ, adult obesity and 5% of autism cases are all linked to exposure to endocrine disruptors found in food containers, plastics, furniture, toys, carpeting and cosmetics, says new expert study

Europe is experiencing an explosion in health costs caused by endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) that is comparable to the cost of lead and mercury poisoning, according to the most comprehensive study of the subject yet published.

Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that interfere with the human hormone system, and can be found in food containers, plastics, furniture, toys, carpeting and cosmetics.

The new series of reports by 18 of the world’s foremost experts on endocrine science pegs the health costs of exposure to them at between €157bn-€270bn (£113bn-£195bn), or at least 1.23% of the continent’s GDP.

“The shocking thing is that the major component of that cost is related to the loss of brain function in the next generation,” one of the report’s authors, Professor Philippe Grandjean of Harvard University, told the Guardian.

“Our brains need particular hormones to develop normally – the thyroid hormone and sex hormones like testosterone and oestrogen. They’re very important in pregnancy and a child can very well be mentally retarded because of a lack of iodine and the thyroid hormone caused by chemical exposure.”

And number for another outbreak, via Outbreak News Today:

Chikungunya cases rise by 9,000, most new cases from Colombia

While some countries in the Caribbeans have seen their chikungunya situation get under control, in fact Dominica declared their outbreak over earlier this week, some areas of South America are reporting an increase in cases of the mosquito borne viral disease.

During the past week, Colombia saw an increase of 7,848 cases bringing the country’s total to more than 185,000 suspected and confirmed cases, according to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), by far the most on the continent.

Colombia has also reported three chikungunya related fatalities. Other South American countries seeing an increase in confirmed chikungunya cases include Bolivia (+45), Ecuador (+147) and Paraguay (+130).

Still anouther outbreak this time from StarAfrica:

Mozambique warns against the deadly dengue outbreak

Mozambique´s Health authorities in the northern province of Nampula have warned against outbreak of dengue, a deadly fever, that is transmitted by the bite of female mosquitoes and causes severe pain, reports said on Saturday.

State-controlled Radio Mozambique quotes the provincial health chief, Jocelina Clavete as saying that at least 90 samples of suspected cases were taken and analyzed at the hospital in Nampula, of which 50 percent tested positive. She said further laboratory tests are being carried out on suspected patients in the region.

There is no vaccine for dengue, which kills an estimated 20,000 people each year and infects up to 100 million around the world, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). However, experts say the number of people infected each year could be more than three times the WHO estimate.

From the Guardian, dry resignation in the Golden State:

California farmers resign themselves to drought: ‘Nobody’s fault but God’s’

  • Despite efforts to dig deeper into the earth to get at diminishing groundwater, the spectre of desertification may cost Central Valley farmers too much to carry on

As California faces a likely fourth year of drought, demand for drilling in the Central Valley has exploded. Hammond’s company, Arthur & Orum, can barely keep up: its seven rigs are working flat-out, yet a white folder with pending requests is thicker than three telephone books.

The waiting list has grown to three years, leaving many farmers to contemplate parched fields and ruin in what has been one of the world’s most productive agricultural regions. It supplies half of America’s fruit, nuts and vegetables.

“We’re overwhelmed. We’re going crazy,” said Hammond. “Everyone is in a desperate situation. Everyone has a sad story.”

Arthur & Orum has bought an additional rig for $1.2m, and out-of-state drillers have moved into the area. But as drills criss-cross the landscape, boring ever deeper into the earth, there is a haunting fear: what if they suck up all the groundwater? What if, one day, the water runs out?

And CCTV America covers another kind of environmental devastation:

Patagonia forest fires may be worst in Argentina’s history

Program notes:

Fires have been raging in the thousands of years old forests of southern Argentina in Patagonia. While the operation to save the local environment is still on-going, the question is how and why the fires started in the first place. The Patagonia forest fires have been called the worst fires in the country’s history.

From the McClatchy Washington Bureau, on the wrong track?:

Derailments put oil train expansion in the crosshairs

After a BNSF Railway oil train derailed and burst into flames Thursday near Galena, Ill., at least one community group has asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to suspend permits for rail expansions along the upper Mississippi River.

Of the 70 oil trains a week that leave North Dakota’s Bakken region for coastal refineries, more than half of them funnel through a roughly 400-mile stretch from Minnesota’s Twin Cities to the Quad Cities on the Illinois-Iowa border.

BNSF and Canadian Pacific haul both crude oil and ethanol on both sides of the Mississippi River, and the region has become a bottleneck. BNSF alone plans to spend more than $780 million in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois this year to add new track and improve signal systems.

Because the projects affect wetlands along the river, the railroads must seek permits under the federal Clean Water Act. And as elsewhere in the country, the permitting process has become a primary tool of community and environmental groups to slow or stop the growth of such rail shipments.

And a similar problem north of the border, via the Guardian:

Third oil train in less than a month derails in Ontario and starts fire

  • CN Rail has seen three derailments in Canadian province since 14 February
  • No injuries reported in Saturday blaze

Train operator CN Rail said on Saturday a train carrying crude oil had derailed in northern Ontario, setting off a fire at the site. There were no reports of injuries.

It is the third CN oil train derailment in northern Ontario in less than a month, and the second in the same area.

A CN spokeswoman, Emily Hamer, said the crew on the eastbound freight train reported that cars derailed about 2.45am near Gogama, Ontario, about 125 miles north of Sudbury. She said emergency crew were assessing the site and activating an emergency response plan. Photos on social media showed a large fireball at the site.

A CN freight train derailed on Thursday east of Hornepayne; on 14 February 29 cars of a CN freight train carrying crude oil derailed in a remote area south of Timmins, Ontario.

Obama notes an oily problem, via CBC News:

Canadian oil extraction is ‘extraordinarily dirty’ process, Obama says

  • Keystone XL pipeline vetoed by president in February

U.S. President Barack Obama has some less-than-laudatory words for Canada’s oil industry in a new example of his increasingly critical take on the oilsands.

He was asked about the Keystone XL pipeline during a town-hall session Friday — and he launched into an explanation of why so many environmentalists oppose it.

“The way that you get oil out in Canada is an extraordinarily dirty way of extracting oil,” Obama said during the event at a South Carolina college. “Obviously,” he added, “there are always risks in piping a lot of oil through Nebraska farmland and other parts of the country.”

After the jump, yet more oil woes — in the form of corruption — in Brazil, a deeply endangered species, on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with watery woes, a reluctance to return, and California researchers get a look at the reactor [plus video], and another reminder of nuclear sins of the past. . . Continue reading

InSecurityWatch: Ferguson, spooks, hacks, war


We begin with Ferguson, first from the New York Times:

Some in Ferguson Who Are Part of Problem Are Asked to Help Solve It

Many of those same officials will now be the ones attempting to carry out the reforms demanded by the Justice Department.

“We cannot just leave this region to its own devices to take care of this problem itself,” said Patricia Bynes, a Democratic committeewoman in Ferguson and the surrounding area who has become a national critic of the Police Department since Officer Darren Wilson, who is white, shot and killed an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, in August. “I know that people in power do not have the courage, the boldness or the persistence to actually do the right thing.”

In particular, the responsibility for making changes will fall to John Shaw, the 39-year-old city manager. He is the city’s chief executive, responsible for supervising the police department, nominating the municipal judge and running the city. And he is cited repeatedly in the Justice Department’s scathing report.

From the Guardian, a law-enforcing Ferguson scofflaw:

Ferguson judge behind aggressive fines policy owes $170,000 in unpaid taxes

  • Ronald J Brockmeyer, who is accused of fixing traffic tickets for himself and associates, was a driving force behind using fines and fees to generate revenue

The judge in Ferguson, Missouri, who is accused of fixing traffic tickets for himself and colleagues while inflicting a punishing regime of fines and fees on the city’s residents, also owes more than $170,000 in unpaid taxes.

Ronald J Brockmeyer, whose court allegedly jailed impoverished defendants unable to pay fines of a few hundred dollars, has a string of outstanding debts to the US government dating back to 2007, according to tax filings obtained by the Guardian from authorities in Missouri.

Brockmeyer, 70, was this week singled out by Department of Justice investigators as being a driving force behind Ferguson’s strategy of using its municipal court to aggressively generate revenues. The policy has been blamed for a breakdown in relations between the city’s overwhelmingly white authorities and residents, two-thirds of whom are African American.

United Press International covers quitters:

Two Ferguson police officers resign over racist emails

Two Ferguson police officers resigned Thursday after a U.S. Department of Justice report revealed some city officials sent racist emails using their work accounts.

Ferguson city spokesman Jeff Small told CNN officers Rick Henke and William Mudd left the department. Small told NBC News the two men were placed on administrative leave from the department Wednesday for sending racist emails.

The emails were uncovered in a Justice Department investigation into the city’s law enforcement and judicial system after the shooting death of unarmed black teen Michael Brown. A second report from the department found the officer responsible for the shooting, Darren Wilson, shouldn’t face charges for the incident.

From the Guardian, she’s outta there:

Ferguson clerk fired over racist emails also accused of fixing traffic tickets

  • Senior court official Mary Ann Twitty, who lost her job after scathing Justice Department report was released, accused of dismissing tickets for acquaintances

A senior court official in Ferguson, Missouri, who was fired by the city over racist emails, is also accused of fixing traffic tickets for colleagues.

Mary Ann Twitty, Ferguson’s influential court clerk, has been identified as the first city official to lose her job as a result of the Department of Justice’s scathing report on the St Louis suburb’s criminal justice system that was published this week.

Twitty, 60, was fired in connection with racist emails that were detailed in the report, according to the New York Times. “This type of behaviour will not be tolerated in the Ferguson police department or in any department in the city of Ferguson,” Mayor James Knowles III told a press conference on Wednesday.

From the New York Times, a spooky shakeup:

Major Overhaul Set for C.I.A., With Thousands to Be Reassigned

John O. Brennan, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, is planning to reassign thousands of undercover spies and intelligence analysts into new departments as part of a restructuring of the 67-year-old agency, a move he said would make it more successful against modern threats and crises.

Drawing from disparate sources — from the Pentagon to corporate America — Mr. Brennan’s plan would partly abandon the agency’s current structure that keeps spies and analysts separate as they target specific regions or countries. Instead, C.I.A. officers will be assigned to 10 new mission centers focused on terrorism, weapons proliferation, the Middle East and other areas with responsibility for espionage operations, intelligence analysis and covert actions.

During a briefing with reporters on Wednesday, Mr. Brennan gave few specifics about how a new structure would make the C.I.A. better at spying in an era of continued terrorism, cyberspying and tumult across the Middle East. But he said the current structure of having undercover spies and analysts cloistered separately — with little interaction and answering to different bosses — was anachronistic given the myriad global issues the agency faces.

Allegations a matter of dispute, via the Los Angeles Times:

South African officials draw ridicule for probe of alleged CIA spies

South Africa’s government was accused Friday of trying to smear the ombudsman and several top opposition politicians when it announced an inquiry into allegations they were CIA spies that were based on claims of an anonymous blog.

U.S. Ambassador Patrick Gaspard dismissed the allegations as “rubbish.” “I have faith in intelligence of South Africans,” said Gaspard on Twitter. “This story is a joke in any serious nation.”

The government announced Thursday night that the State Security Agency was probing claims that ombudsman Thuli Madonsela, opposition figures Julius Malema and Lindiwe Mazibuko, and union leader Joseph Mathunjwa were CIA spies.

From BBC News, a former CIA operator yearns for Swiss asylum:

US spy case: Snowden seeks Switzerland asylum move

The fugitive US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden says he would love to get asylum in Switzerland. He was speaking via video link to a Geneva audience, from Moscow where he is sheltering from US prosecutors.

“I would love to return to Switzerland, some of my favourite memories are from Geneva,” he said. Previously he worked in Geneva undercover for the CIA.

“I do think Switzerland would be a sort of great political option because it has a history of neutrality,” he told the Geneva audience. He said he had requested asylum in 21 countries, most in Central and Eastern Europe, but none had granted his wish. He blamed US “political interference”.

Ecuador promotes a spooky expose, via teleSUR:

Ecuador Alerts Public to CIA Actions Across the Continent

  • The Foreign Ministry is backing a new book outlining CIA actions in Ecuador to raise public awareness of interventions committed by the organization.

Imprisoned on various occasions and subjected to numerous interrogations, Dr. Jaime Galarza Zavala is one of the estimated 120 direct victims of the CIA’s record in Ecuador.

Persecuted by the CIA for his political organizing, Galarza described to teleSUR English that “they told me that I was working as a guerrilla in the Dominican Republic. I, to this day, have never visited the Dominican Republic. But they accused me of being a guerrilla leader in the Dominican Republic. And this was a common theme with various interrogations.”

He added that, “while they interrogated me, there was somebody that called every now and then from another room. Afterward, they told me that this person they were talking with was a gringo, a North American, who never presented himself to me. But he gave them instructions as to how to continue the interrogation,” said Galarza.

A fierce critic of U.S foreign policy in the region, Galarza recently published a book titled, “The CIA Against Latin America, the Special Case of Ecuador,” co-authored  by Francisco Herrera Arauz.

From Reuters, spooky ambitions:

Japan eyes MI6-style spy agency as it seeks to shed pacifist past

Japan is looking into creating an overseas intelligence agency possibly modeled on Britain’s MI6 spy service, ruling party lawmakers say, 70 years after Allied victors dismantled Japan’s fearsome military intelligence apparatus following World War Two.

A new foreign intelligence agency would be an integral part of a security framework Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is building as he seeks to loosen the post-war pacifist constitution’s limits on the military’s ability to operate overseas.

The idea that Japan’s fragmented intelligence community needs a makeover has also gained momentum since the killing of two Japanese captives by Islamic State militants in Syria earlier this year showed how much Tokyo relied on friendly countries for information.

Abe has already set up a U.S.-style National Security Council and enacted strict state secrets legislation, and is now working on laws to lift a ban on exercising the right of collective self-defense, or militarily aiding an ally under attack.

TheLocal.it covers Italian domestic insecurity:

Mafia threats against local politicians rising

Italy’s local councils are increasingly being intimidated by the mafia and other criminals, a new Senate investigation has found.

There were 1,265 acts of intimidation in the 15 months to April 2014, recorded in a Senate report presented on Thursday.

Discussing the findings on Thursday, Senator Doris Lo Moro said such incidents were on the increase across Italy. “Since the start of the year [2013] hundreds and hundreds of acts of intimidation have been recorded,” she told journalists in Rome, with cases ranging in severity from insults to murders.

From the Independent, a car-killing military laser debuts:

Laser beam capable of burning hole in car from one mile away unveiled by Lockheed Martin

A photo of a car on fire, which wouldn’t look out of place in a Hollywood action movie, has displayed the startling power of a new laser weapon which can disable a running car from over a mile away.

Demonstrating the power of the 30 kilo-watt laser, the image shows a small truck with smoke billowing from a hole seared into its bonnet.

The prototype of the device known as Advanced Test High Energy Asset (Athena) successfully disabled the engine of the vehicle in a matter of seconds in its test run.

And another generation of French intelligence malware, via SecurityWeek:

Reconnaissance Tool Linked to French Intelligence Malware Babar

Researchers at security firms ESET and Cyphort continue to analyze the malware families believed to have been developed by a French intelligence agency. The latest threat uncovered by experts has been dubbed “Casper.”

In March 2014, the French publication LeMonde published some slides from Canada’s Communications Security Establishment (CSE) describing “Operation Snowglobe,” a campaign discovered by the agency in 2009. Additional slides were made available by the German publication Der Spiegel in January 2015. The presentation revealed details on a piece of malware named Babar, which appeared to be the work of a French intelligence agency.

Based on the information from the slides, researchers first uncovered a piece of spyware, dubbed “EvilBunny,” which they believe is linked to Operation Snowglobe. Last month, G DATA and Cyphort published the details of a threat which they believe is Babar, the malware described in the CSE slides. Now, they have come across Casper, which also appears to have been developed by the same authors.

After the jump. Bunga Bunga wiretaps disclosed, a Pentagon hacker busted, Old Blighty conducts a major cybercrime crackdown, busts in a billion e-mail address theft, ISIS hones its Twitter skills, on to the ISIS front and well-honed Twitter skills, Iran’s growing influence in the ISIS crisis, the Iraqis retake a key town, their archaeological vandalism raises global ire, And they raise big bucks from Afghan smack, on to the Boko Haram battlefront as forces mass, then on to Tanzania and a crackdown on albino killers and two are sentenced to death, Europe warned of massive Libyan immigration, another Latin American journalist slain, Sri Lanka warns of attacks on Indian fishing boats, massive displacement from war against Philippine Muslim rebels, Laos and Japan tighten ties in a strategic alliance, South Korea suspects the north in an ambassadorial attack, Japan’s Shinzo Abe aims at militaristic constitutional revisions, Parsing the semantics of military emergencies, citizen resistance, and ISIS provides handy justification, while Abe’s state broadcaster renounces the government’s official recognition of World War II sexual slavery. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Outbreaks, climate, water, nukes


We begin with measles, via Deutsche Welle:

Berlin measles epidemic reaches new high

  • A measles outbreak in Berlin continues to see a rise in new cases. Calls for compulsory vaccination are becoming ever louder, with a strong majority of Germans supporting a new law in favor of vaccination.

A measles outbreak in Berlin continues to see a rise in new cases. Calls for compulsory vaccination are becoming ever louder, with a strong majority of Germans supporting a new law in favor of vaccination.

Berlin saw 111 new cases of measles this week, health officials said on Friday, making it the worst for new infections since the current outbreak began in October.

A spokeswoman for the State Office of Health and Social Affairs said 724 people had sickened since the start of the epidemic, an overwhelming majority of whom had not been vaccinated. Around a quarter of the infected patients have required hospital treatment. Seventy babies under the age of one have also caught the illness.

The outbreak has provoked new calls for vaccination against measles and other preventable diseases to be made compulsory in Germany. According to a survey commissioned this week by public service broadcaster ARD, 72 percent of Germans are in favor of compulsory vaccination.

From the Thomson Reuters Foundation, a climate/illness linkage:

Malaria resurfaces in Rio as drought displaces mosquitoes

Malaria has resurfaced in Rio de Janeiro as a historic drought in Brazil’s southeastern region is driving mosquitoes in the Atlantic Forest to seek water in areas frequented by people, such as waterfalls.

“The mosquitoes in this area habitually lay their eggs in water collected in bromeliads (plants), deep in the forest,” said infectologist Alberto Chebabo.

“So the drought probably forced them to look for water in more humid places, such as rivers and waterfalls, where people often go at this time of year,” Chebabo, of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, said in a recent interview.

“This may have increased contamination.”

From Outbreak News Today, an old familiar returns:

Chickenpox outbreaks in California and Indiana schools

The vaccine preventable childhood disease, chickenpox, has been implicated in school outbreaks in California and Indiana, according to local health officials.

In Santa Barbara County, CA, the health department  has confirmed 5 cases of chickenpox and 1 case of shingles associated with a yet unnamed local school in the county. The majority of confirmed cases were in children who were not vaccinated.

In Central Indiana, parents received an email yesterday notifying them that there are an unspecified number of confirmed cases of chickenpox in the Carmel Clay Schools. Indiana law requires that all students in kindergarten through 12th grade have two doses of the varicella vaccine, unless the child has a history of chickenpox.

From CBC News, Big Pharma victims get a long-delayed payout:

Thalidomide survivors to receive $125,000 lump sum payment each

  • Compensation package also includes up to $168 million for ongoing medical assistance

The federal government is offering a $125,000 lump-sum payment to each of Canada’s 95 thalidomide victims.

Health Minister Rona Ambrose said the money is tax free and intended to cover urgent health-care needs.

The long-awaited compensation package also includes a total of up to $168 million for ongoing medical assistance based on individual circumstances.

“I would like to express heartfelt sympathy and great regret for the decades of tremendous suffering and personal struggle that exposure to thalidomide has inflicted on survivors and their loved ones,” Ambrose told a news conference in Edmonton.

From BBC News, a subject we’ve been devoted to since our first posts:

Sex-change chemicals in Potomac

An investigation into the cleanliness of rivers feeding Washington’s Potomac River has revealed the presence of sex-changing chemicals.

Pollutants which contain the chemicals, known as endocrine disrupters, were found in several tributaries and in the smallmouth bass fish living within. The US Geological Survey (USGS) study followed the discovery of high numbers of intersex fish in the Potomac basin.

Endocrine disrupters can mimic or block hormones in the body. Either naturally occurring or man-made, they can interfere with the endocrine system causing birth defects and reproductive irregularities.

More from BBC News:

Chemicals linked to problems with otters’ penis bones

Otters’ reproductive organs may be affected by chemicals in our waterways, according to scientists.

Experts studying the reproductive health of the mammals in England and Wales were concerned to find a decrease in the weight of otters’ penis bones.

Other health problems in males included an increase in undescended testicles and cysts on sperm-carrying tubes. Experts suggest that, based on previous research, the changes could be linked to hormone-disrupting chemicals.

The study, funded by the Environment Agency, was co-authored by the Chemicals, Health and Environment (CHEM) Trust and the Cardiff University Otter Project, and features on BBC One series Countryfile.

The Guardian examines an ancient toxic pollutant:

20th century lead pollution in South America was worst in two millennia

  • Lead pollution tripled after 1960s to highest levels on the continent in 2,000 years, despite region’s long history of mining

Mankind’s increasing potential to damage and then partially remediate the environment has been underlined by a new study of lead pollution found in Bolivian ice cores.

Swiss researchers found that less than half a century of leaded gasoline use in South America caused more Pb pollution (lead in the periodic table) than anything else in the previous two millennia, despite the long, precolonial history of mining and metal work in the region.

While this confirms one of the enormous negative impact of motor traffic and increased fossil fuel use, the study also showed that intervention by policymakers can make a significant difference because Pb levels dropped rapidly following the introduction of unleaded petrol.

From Reuters, Big Pharma doing what Big Pharma Does to atone for doing it:

GSK sacks 110 China staff in wake of drug bribery case: sources

Drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline (GSK.L), which was fined 3 billion yuan ($479 million) in China last year for bribery, is dismissing 110 employees in the country for misconduct, people familiar with the matter said on Friday.

The British company confirmed it had taken disciplinary action against staff whose conduct contravened its values and code of conduct but declined to specify the number involved. The misconduct took place before mid-2013, GSK added in a statement.

The dismissals follow detailed investigations into wrongdoing by employees in the wake of the corruption scandal, which badly damaged the drugmaker’s reputation and hit its business in a fast-growing emerging market.

Chinese police first accused GSK of bribery in July 2013, alleging the firm had funneled as much as 3 billion yuan to travel agencies to facilitate bribes to doctors and officials.

From the New York Times, what could possibly go wrong?:

F.D.A. Approves Zarxio, First Biosimilar Drug

The Food and Drug Administration has approved the first so-called biosimilar drug for use in the United States, paving the way for alternatives to an entire class of complex and costly drugs to go on the market.

The drug, called Zarxio, produced by Sandoz, Inc., is used to help the body make white blood cells in cancer therapy and is a close copy of an existing medication called Neupogen. It was approved in Europe in 2009 as Zarzio but has not been used in the United States, in part because no regulatory pathway existed to bring copies of biologic drugs to market.

But in January an expert panel unanimously recommended that the F.D.A. approve it, and the agency on Friday announced that it had taken the panel’s advice.

To to California parched, first with the Los Angeles Times:

Rising temperatures are amplifying drought effects, study finds

Climate change is increasing the risk of severe drought in California by causing warm periods and dry periods to overlap more often, according to a new study.

Rising temperatures resulting from increased greenhouse gas emissions mean warm and dry periods are coinciding more frequently, the study authors say. And that is amplifying the effects of low precipitation.

“The key for drought stress is not just how much precipitation there is,” said Noah Diffenbaugh, the paper’s lead author and an associate professor at Stanford University’s School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences. “Temperature is an important influence on the water available in California.”

Higher temperatures decrease soil moisture, increase evaporation and intensify California’s annual dry season. All of these accentuate the effects of below-normal precipitation.

From the paper [PDF], published by in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, three graphs representing the drought index, precipitation, and temperatures in California over the span between 1896 and 2014:

BLOG Cal drought

And a side effect, from the Los Angeles Times:

A dry January pulled down water conservation rate in California

After getting a gold star for saving water in December, California’s conservation efforts flagged in January.

Urban water use figures released Tuesday by the state show that Californians in January again fell far short of the 20% conservation goal set a year ago by Gov. Jerry Brown. Statewide, water use dropped 8.8% from January 2014’s level. In December, it was down 22.2% from the same month a year earlier.

The reason lies in the weather extremes between the two months. December was wet, and people turned off their sprinklers. They apparently turned them back on the next month, which was the driest January on record in parts of the state.

After the jump, still more California water woes and an El Niño letdown, water woes in a Caribbean island, Europe adopts climate talking points, dangerous Indian program gets revived, drug violence and illegal mines fuel a Colombian refugee crisis, China purges a hugely popular pollution documentary, and on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with that leak thing, radioactive agricultural waste piles up, up to six more years for communities to recover, an interactive regional food radiation map debuts, and fears still keep the seafood industry in recession. . . Continue reading

MexicoWatch: A very, vert short post today


While there were news stories, most dealt with cartel leaders arrested, events that always draw the mainstream media and which we largely leave to them.

From Reuters, gee, wonder why?:

Mexican ruling party insiders fear embattled president a liability

Mexican ruling party lawmakers fear President Enrique Pena Nieto’s lurch into scandal, weak economic record and struggle to tame corruption could hurt them in upcoming elections, raising pressure on him to take bold steps or shake up the cabinet.

Pena Nieto’s approval rating has slumped to as low as 25 percent since events began to spiral out of control with the September abduction and apparent massacre of 43 trainee teachers by corrupt police and a drug gang in southwest Mexico.

Slow to respond to the crisis, Pena Nieto never visited the scene. He was then caught in a separate row over conflicts of interest when it emerged that he, his wife, and his finance minister had all bought or used homes built by a firm that has won millions of dollars in government contracts on his watch.

“It shouldn’t have happened,” Patricio Flores, a lawmaker in the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), said tersely of the homes scandal even as he tried to deflect blame from Pena Nieto. “It’s a fact that it’s helped other parties.”

From Latin Correspondent, a relevant question:

How effective is Mexico’s ‘kingpin strategy’?

Mexican security forces captured the heads of two of the nation’s most feared and violent drug cartels in the last week, but security experts remain unconvinced of the effectiveness of the government’s strategy in the war on drugs.

For every capo the government brings down, several more spring up in his place like the snarling heads of a Hydra, while the cartels’ finances and the shady figures that protect them remain untouched.

This week’s arrests were the latest in a string of recent detentions and killings of key figures within the pseudo-religious Knights Templar cartel and the ultraviolent paramilitary group Los Zetas.

And from Motherboard, the story of a class of the disappeared exemplified by Felipe del Jesús Peréz García who disappeared 19 March 2013, and featuring and interview with his spouse, Tanya:

The Drug Cartels’ IT Guy

“It’s known that these kind of people get kidnapped,” Tanya said, referring to telecommunications specialists like Felipe. “It’s real.” She tends to think her husband’s disappearance “may be related to the knowledge he has.”

It’s hard to say when “Radio Narco” went live. It was probably sometime in the mid to late 2000s, when the first reports of disappeared cell network workers began trickling out of Northeastern Mexico.

There was José Antonio Rebledo Fernández, an engineer who was working for a construction company jointly owned by Mexican and American firms when he disappeared in January 2009. There was an IBM engineer, Alejandro A?lfonso Moreno Baca, who was kidnapped while driving from Monterrey to Laredo, Texas, in January 2011. In 2009, in perhaps the most famous mass kidnapping of specialists, nine contracted cell tower workers vanished in the border town of Nuevo Laredo. The kidnappers, whoever they are, came back later for the crew’s vehicles and kit.

According to a report by Animal Politico, an independent Mexico-based investigative media company, about the so-called “slaves of narco,” 36 communications specialists had gone missing in the region between 2008 and 2012. There have been no ransoms, and it’s unclear what sort of conditions kidnapped specialists are kept in.

And to conclude, an image from solociudadanos with parents and fellow students of the missing Ayotzinapa students standing vigil outside the state legislative palacaein Chilipacango, Gurerro:

BLOG Ayotz