Category Archives: Organized crime

MexicoWatch: Cartels, murder, politics, and more


We begin with our Ayotzinapa proest image, this time via Noticias Ayotzinapa, and marking the days and months since the students were disappeared:

BLOG AYotz

Next, teleSUR covers a notable arrest in Guerrero:

Leader of the Acapulco Drug Cartel Arrested in Mexico

  • Various news reports say the drug trafficker is the cousin of the former Guerrero governor, who resigned due to the Ayotzinapa case.

The Mexican Ministry of the Interior confirmed Wednesday that Federal Police officers arrested the leader of the so-called Independent Acapulco Cartel (CIDA). Victor Aguirre Garzon, who is said to be the cousin of the former governor of the violent state of Guerrero, Angel Aguirre, who resigned due to the case of the 43 Ayotzinapa students.

The CIDA is one of the drug gangs that is warring to control the sale and traffic of narcotics in Guerrero and the neighboring state of Morelos, which are under the control of the Beltran Leyva brothers and the United Warriors or Guerreros Unidos. It was members of the Guerreros Unidos allegedly received the 43 Ayotzinapa students from local police on the night of Sept. 26 before supposedly burned them to unidentifiable ashes ashes.

According to unnamed sources by newspaper Excelsior, Aguirre Garzon is a former federal police agent, “who is pointed out by the Sinaloa cartel to be the sole provider of drugs to inmates in the Acapulco state penitentiary with the complacency of state officials.”

Borderland Beat covers a related development:

G.U. turncoats: ‘Sierra Unida’ group cleans up Iguala Plaza for ‘Los Rojos’

  • Sierra Cartel challenging the weaken cartel Guerreros Unidos for the all important Iguala territory

Media interest in the case of the missing normalistas of Guerrero has diminished.

The worldwide audience once hungry of any detail of the shocking case may assume that the situation in Iguala, Guerrero has improved after the events of last September 26th and 27th.

After all, the malevolent mayor Jose Abarca and his wife are imprisoned. Same goes for the municipal police, who acted on orders from the mayor’s office, to kidnap and kill the normalistas group.

And the leadership of the Guerreros Unidos Cartel are either dead or incarcerated.

Federal forces have taken over policing of Iguala, one would hope security of the city would be exponentially better.

But according to the people of Iguala, that is far from the reality. In fact things are worse. Violence has exploded, and according to residents, the federal Gendarmerie is not doing much to control the situation.

For example; In separate incidents, four members of a family, and a taxi driver were killed last two days of February and first week of March recorded in the city of Iguala where the Federal Police Gendarmerie Division took over security after the slaughter and disappearance of the 43 missing normalistas Ayotzinapa.

From Reuters, a murder in Guerrero:

Mexican mayoral candidate decapitated in violent Guerrero state

A 42-year-old woman running for mayor in a violent southwestern Mexican state that sparked the biggest crisis of President Enrique Pena Nieto’s administration has been kidnapped and decapitated.

State prosecutors said on Wednesday the body of Aide Nava was found in northern Guerrero, where 43 trainee teachers were abducted and almost certainly massacred last year, sparking an international outcry over criminal violence in Mexico.

A spokesman for the prosecutors said Nava, a candidate from the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), was kidnapped on Tuesday in the town of Ahuacuotzingo, the municipality she hoped to become mayor of in June elections.

And The News.mx adds some context:

Opium turns Iguala violent

  • Mexican gangs export nearly half of heroin in US

To the residents of Iguala, violence was part of life in before local police allegedly disappeared 43 college students in September, and it remains so now.

The violence continues because Iguala’s most lucrative business still thrives: the opium trade. The city sits on a flat plain halfway between Mexico City and Acapulco in the state of Guerrero, surrounded by steep mountains where farmers milk fields of poppies for opium paste. Rural highways radiate out of mountain valleys toward Iguala, funneling the opium through a key crossroad on the journey north to the United States.

According to one federal case in the United States, heroin dealers on the streets of Chicago have numbers in their cellphones with the Iguala area code.

“Iguala is the route and that hasn’t changed, nor will it,” said Marina Hernandez de la Garza, a city councilwoman. “The bad guys haven’t left. They’re parked here.”

While Latin Correspondent covers another Guerrero development:

Coca Cola plant reopens in Guerrero, Mexico

Mexico’s largest Coca Cola bottler has reopened a distribution plant that it had closed in the southern state of Guerrero after protesters seized trucks, merchandise and company employees.

Coca Cola Femsa said in a statement that distribution was resuming from the facility in Chilpancingo, the state capital.

Two company employees were briefly seized in February by protesters demanding the release of colleagues detained for robbing merchandise from Coca Cola trucks. The anti-government protesters and the employees were quickly released.

From Fox News Latino, a political vigilante/vigilante politician:

Fresh from prison, Mexican vigilante leader Hipólito Mora mulls running for congress

Hipólito Mora, one of the founding members of the “autodefensa” citizen militia group that rose up in the southwestern Mexican state of Michoacán during 2014 to battle cartel gunmen, is ready to start a new chapter in his life.

Mora, an unassuming middle-aged man who wears frameless glasses and usually trims his grey-specked beard into a neat goatee, rose to prominence after convincing a group of his neighbors to take up arms against the notorious Knights Templar cartel that seized control of a wide swath of Michoacán during the administration of former Mexican president, Felipe Calderón.

He battled Templar gunmen, and also “autodefensa” allies, whom he viewed to be compromised by connections to organized crime groups. In a strange on-again, off-again relationship with Mexico’s government, he’s been jailed twice after gunfights between his followers and gunmen loyal to Luis Antonio Torres, a fighter who goes by the nickname “The American.”

Latin Correspondent covers a launch:

Mexico media launch MexicoLeaks platform to combat corruption

A group of Mexican media outlets and civil society groups have launched MexicoLeaks, a digital platform to receive information leaks that could lead to corruption investigations.

Representatives of the effort said Tuesday that those wanting to leak information can do so anonymously. Information and tips will be investigated and confirmed before anything is published.

The effort includes two civil society organizations and six media outlets, including Mexico’s weekly magazine Proceso, the website Animal Político and the investigative unit of journalist Carmen Aristegui.

From BuzzFeed News, hints of smoke and mirrors:

Mexico’s Huge Justice Reforms Are Scrambling To Cross The Finish Line

President Enrique Peña Nieto’s much-hyped reforms depend on a key judicial overhaul. Now, experts are worried that the slowly-moving overhaul will not stand the test of time, or culture.

An overhaul of the judicial system, passed in 2008 and slated to be completed by June 2016, aims to increase transparency in judicial investigations and make courtroom proceedings public and speedy. Oral trials, like the one in the unfinished justice building in Durango, are the backbone of the new system.

Passed under former President Felipe Calderón, the revamp is doing away with the partial inquisitorial system, in which a judge both investigates the facts and renders a decision, in favor of an adversarial one, where both parties in a trial must gather evidence and argue their case before a neutral judge.

The revamp is also instituting a system of alternative justice, which offers accusers and the accused an opportunity to mediate and negotiate a solution before having to take their cases to court. In theory, this will reduce jail populations and ensure that judges can focus on the most contentious cases.

But with only 15 months left before the deadline, implementation remains piecemeal. Only four states are operating under the new system completely. Twenty-five states have managed to partially put the changes into place — others not at all. Courthouses are under construction and thousands of people involved in the judicial process — police, investigators, lawyers, prosecutors, and judges — are yet to receive formal training.

From the Latin American Herald Tribune, rushed to judgment:

Medina Mora Voted to Mexico High Court, Steps down as U.S. Ambassador

Eduardo Medina Mora, who has been voted by lawmakers to Mexico’s Supreme Court, has submitted his resignation as ambassador to the United States, the Foreign Relations Secretariat said.

The secretariat notified the U.S. State Department that Alejandro Estivill Castro, deputy head of mission at the Mexican Embassy in Washington, will take over as charge d’affaires until a new ambassador is designated and confirmed.

Medina Mora, who submitted his resignation to President Enrique Peña Nieto on Tuesday, “contributed to maintaining excellent ties of friendship and cooperation between Mexico and the United States,” the secretariat said.

And some background, via teleSUR English:

Mexico: New Supreme Court Justice linked to police repression

Program notes:

Mexico’s Senate voted on Tuesday to approve the nomination of a major human rights violator to the Supreme Court, according to human rights groups. Eduardo Medina Mora, nominated by President Enrique Peña Nieto to fill a vacant space, has frequently been accused of orchestrating violent police operations against public protests in 2006 and initiating a drug war strategy that has left up to 100,000 people dead. His tenure as Supreme Court Justice will last 15 years. Clayton Conn reports from Mexico City for teleSUR.

Generation Z: The child killers of the Zeta Cartel


A short [28:13] but chilling documentary from the Center for Investigative Reporting about the children pressed into service as assassins for one of Mexico’s most powerful cartels.

Via Journeyman Pictures:

Mexico – Generation Z

Program notes:

Along the US-Mexico border, the violent cartel gang ‘The Zetas’ are increasingly recruiting children. This report investigates a terrifying trend in the drug wars that have claimed the lives of over 60,000 people.

“When you drive around you see lots of houses with black ribbons”, explains a guide in the border town of Nuevo Laredo. “This means someone who lived there has died. Most of the deaths are young people killed in this cruel war.” For decades, hundreds of teenagers have been drawn into the violent world of drug smuggling and murder, sent to the frontline in battles against rival cartels and the Mexican army. “It’s easy to pull the trigger. But the moment you do that, your life changes fast. Why? Because you’ve got blood on your hands”, explains a man who joined The Zetas at thirteen years old. Reta, who was trained at a military training camp in Mexico as a teenager, is now serving an eighty year sentence for murder. The fierce reputation of leader Miguel Travino, along with a strong media presence, solidified the image of The Zetas as ultra-violent criminals, idolised by teenage wannabes and feared by many. Now diversion programs have reduced felony crimes in the area by 48%, but for those who were recruited by the gang, life will never be the same. As Reta’s ex-wife reflects, “They programmed him to just be heartless, a heartless killer”.

InSecurityWatch: Cops, crime, war, terror, history


We begin with cops, first with the Christian Science Monitor:

From Wisconsin to Georgia, police shooting investigations are changing

In the past three days, three unarmed black men in three cities were shot by police. In two out of three cases, the shootings will be examined by an outside investigator as jurisdictions try to instil greater accountability.

The decision by police in Dekalb County, Ga., to hand an investigation into the officer-related shooting of an unarmed, and naked, black man to the state bureau of investigation is part of a dramatic re-think, amid continuing street protests, of how to adjudicate cases where unarmed civilians die at the hands of US police officers.

Dekalb County Police Chief Cedric Alexander tied the decision to investigate the death of Air Force veteran and aspiring R&B singer Anthony Hill to a broader movement toward having independent investigators handle officer-involved shootings, especially in cases where unarmed black men are killed.

The killing of Mr. Hill became the third shooting of an unarmed black man in a span of three days across America. The shootings in Aurora, Colo., Madison, Wisc., and Chamblee, Ga., have put police on guard against another wave of public backlash like the one that swept the US last year in the wake of the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

More from the New York Times:

Georgia Investigators Look Into Police Shooting of Naked, Unarmed Man

A witness to the fatal police shooting of a naked, unarmed man here said Tuesday that the man had approached the officer with his hands in the air, prompting the frightened officer to shoot at close range with a handgun.

The witness, Pedro Castillo, 43, is a maintenance man at the Heights at Chamblee, the apartment complex northeast of Atlanta where Anthony Hill, 27, was shot and killed Monday afternoon. Mr. Castillo, speaking Spanish, said that Mr. Hill, a black man, had seemed out of sorts. He was naked and on all fours in the parking lot when the police officer, who is white, arrived in his squad car, parking a good distance away. Mr. Castillo said.

When Mr. Hill saw the officer, Mr. Castillo said, he stood up and moved toward him with his hands raised, and the officer, obviously frightened, yelled for him to stop. Mr. Castillo said that he had not seen a scuffle, but that he did see the officer pull out the handgun and shoot Mr. Hill.

Ted Rall of the Los Angeles Times ponders another police shooting of an unarmed man in his city:

BLOG Cops

And from Al Jazeera America, revenge by hacking:

Cyber attack hits Madison police department after shooting of unarmed teen

  • Anonymous, the loose network of hackers, has taken credit for the attack on the Madison PD’s computer systems

Cyber attackers have compromised computer systems at the Madison Police Department in retaliation for the police shooting death of a 19-year-old unarmed black man in the Wisconsin capital city, a police spokesman said Tuesday.

The cyber attack appears to be continuing and could be hitting other city and county websites beyond the police department, said police spokesman Joel DeSpain.

The attack, which began Monday afternoon, was thought to be initiated by Anonymous, an international network of activist computer hackers, in response to the fatal shooting of Tony Robinson by a white Madison police officer on Friday.

On to Ferguson with CNN and a resignation:

Judge resigns, Ferguson cases moved after scathing DOJ report

Ferguson’s municipal judge has resigned and the city’s court cases are getting moved after the U.S. Justice Department said the court discriminated against African-Americans.

“To help restore public trust and confidence in the Ferguson municipal court division, the Supreme Court of Missouri today transferred Judge Roy L. Richter of the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District, to the St. Louis County Circuit Court, where he will be assigned to hear all of Ferguson’s pending and future municipal division cases,” the Supreme Court said in a statement Monday.

“Extraordinary action is warranted in Ferguson, but the court also is examining reforms that are needed on a statewide basis,” Chief Justice Mary R. Russell said in the statement.

The announcement came the same day Municipal Court Judge Ronald Brockmeyer resigned as Ferguson’s judge.

More from the Guardian:

Ferguson judge behind aggressive fines policy resigns as city’s court system seized

  • Ronald J Brockmeyer, accused in a scathing report of aggressively using the municipal court to raise revenue for the city, has stepped down

A scathing report by the Department of Justice last week concluded that Ferguson’s police and court system was blighted by racial bias. Investigators accused Brockmeyer and his court officials of aggressively using the municipal court to raise revenue for the city. The policy is blamed by many for damaging relations between the city’s overwhelmingly white authorities and residents, two-thirds of whom are African American.

Brockmeyer, 70, was singled out by investigators as a driving force behind Ferguson’s strategy of using its municipal court to generate revenues aggressively. Investigators found that Brockmeyer had boasted of creating a range of new court fines, “many of which are widely considered abusive and may be unlawful”.

Ferguson is accused in a class-action federal lawsuit, brought by public defenders and legal non-profits, of imprisoning impoverished residents in the city jail for being unable to pay fines of a few hundred dollars for minor offences. While jailing residents, Brockmeyer owes more than $172,000 in unpaid taxes to the US government, the Guardian disclosed last week. A staff member at Brockmeyer’s law offices in St Charles County did not return a call seeking comment.

And the New York Times covers another quitter:

Ferguson City Manager Cited in Justice Department Report Resigns

The city manager of Ferguson, whom a Department of Justice report blamed for overseeing the financially driven policies that led to widespread discrimination and questionable conduct by the police and the courts here, has agreed to resign. The announcement came during a City Council meeting on Tuesday, about a week after the scathing Justice Department report was released.

The manager, John Shaw, 39, had held the post since 2007. As Ferguson’s chief executive, he was the city’s most powerful official.

Mr. Shaw, who has not spoken publicly since the report was issued, offered a staunch defense in a page-long letter to the community that city officials distributed during the Council meeting.

From the Thomson Reuters Foundation, tackling gender-based murder:

Brazil passes femicide law to tackle rise in gender killings

Brazil, where a woman is killed every two hours, is imposing tougher punishments on those who murder women and girls, as part of a government bid to stem a rise in gender killings.

President Dilma Rousseff said the new law gave a legal definition to the crime of femicide – the killing of a woman by a man because of her gender – and set out jail sentences of 12 to 30 years for convicted offenders.

The law also includes longer jail terms for crimes committed against pregnant women, girls under 14, women over 60 and people with disabilities.

From Der Spiegel, Berlin sounds an alarm over Washington war-mongering:

Breedlove’s Bellicosity: Berlin Alarmed by Aggressive NATO Stance on Ukraine

  • US President Obama supports Chancellor Merkel’s efforts at finding a diplomatic solution to the Ukraine crisis. But hawks in Washington seem determined to torpedo Berlin’s approach. And NATO’s top commander in Europe hasn’t been helping either.

It was quiet in eastern Ukraine last Wednesday. Indeed, it was another quiet day in an extended stretch of relative calm. The battles between the Ukrainian army and the pro-Russian separatists had largely stopped and heavy weaponry was being withdrawn. The Minsk cease-fire wasn’t holding perfectly, but it was holding.

On that same day, General Philip Breedlove, the top NATO commander in Europe, stepped before the press in Washington. Putin, the 59-year-old said, had once again “upped the ante” in eastern Ukraine — with “well over a thousand combat vehicles, Russian combat forces, some of their most sophisticated air defense, battalions of artillery” having been sent to the Donbass. “What is clear,” Breedlove said, “is that right now, it is not getting better. It is getting worse every day.”

German leaders in Berlin were stunned. They didn’t understand what Breedlove was talking about. And it wasn’t the first time. Once again, the German government, supported by intelligence gathered by the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, did not share the view of NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR).

A response to other Washington war-mongering, via the Los Angeles Times:

Iran leader says GOP senators’ letter implies U.S. ‘not trustworthy’

Iran’s foreign minister on Tuesday said that a letter from 47 Republican senators warning that any agreement on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program must receive congressional approval suggests that the U.S. is “not trustworthy.”

The open letter released Monday also warned Iran’s leaders that the next U.S. president could revoke a deal reached with President Obama.

“This kind of communication is unprecedented and undiplomatic,” Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said, according to a state-run television website. “In fact it implies that the United States is not trustworthy.”

More from the Guardian:

Senate Democrats denounce Republican letter to Iran as call for war

  • Republicans’ attempt to ‘sabotage’ negotiations between western nations and Iran could escalate into military response, senators say

Prominent Senate Democrats have accused their Republican rivals of wanting to start a war with Iran on Tuesday, a day after conservative senators penned an open letter to Tehran.

Senators Bernie Sanders and Barbara Boxer said that the 47 signatories to the letter are trying to “sabotage” talks between western powers and Iran. Boxer described the Republicans’ letter as “bizarre, inappropriate” and a “desperate ploy to scuttle a comprehensive agreement” that she said is “in the best interests of the United States, Israel and the world”.

“It appears that for most of my Republican colleagues in the Senate, a war in Afghanistan and a war in Iraq were not enough,” said Sanders, who is an independent but caucuses with the Democratic Party, in a statement. “They now apparently want a war in Iran as well.” The Vermont senator called the letter “an outrage”.

After the jump, a Wikimedia suit targets the NSA, the curious case of the rich Spanish cop, old school terror thwarted in the Emerald Isle, neo-nazis busted in an Austrian xenophobic protest, anger follows a German mayor’s resignation under neo-nazi pressure, Sweden ends a lucrative Saudi arms trade, more French arrests of men linked to a slain terrorist, Spain claims a win over an Islamist attack cell, Iraq pushes ISIS back in Tikrit, The ten-year-old soldiers of ISIS, and an ISIS play in Libya facilitated by chaos, an ISIS announcement of more gay men executed, and a child executes an alleged spy, Chinese ISIS recruits head home to Xinjiang, the curious state of that ISIS/Boko Haram hookup, the Boko Haram campaign heats up with stronger foes and a new Nigeria raid, the CIA’s stealthy spookery to crack the iPhone, the man who makes Edward Snowden’s encryption tool, new software enables capture of Facebook login sites, cell phone records track and keep your every move, Spain’s ubiquitous downloading pirates, a rape documentary banned in India gets a gilded U.S. debut, a free speech protest meets a brutal Myanmar crackdown, China prepares a foreign NGO crackdown, Beijing decries Japanese media Nanjing Massacre revisionism, On to Tokyo and a Shinzo Abe advisor’s plea for a prime ministerial acknowledgment of Japanese WWII aggression, Japan’s military popularity hits an all-time high, and Angela Merkel tells Abe to get straight with South Korea on Comfort Women. . . Continue reading

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

InSecurityWatch: Spooks, vandals, war, hacks


We begin with consideration from the New York Times:

Holder Weighs Dismantling the Ferguson Police Dept.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. vowed a firm response on Friday to what he called “appalling” racial misconduct by law enforcement officials in Ferguson, Mo., suggesting he was prepared to seek the dismantling of the police force there if necessary.

“We are prepared to use all the powers that we have, all the power that we have, to ensure that the situation changes there,” Mr. Holder told reporters here after returning from Columbia, S.C., where he appeared with President Obama at a town hall-style meeting at Benedict College. “That means everything from working with them to coming up with an entirely new structure.”

Asked if that included dismantling the police force, Mr. Holder said: “If that’s what’s necessary, we’re prepared to do that.”

From the Intercept, notable spooky news:

Documents Shine Light on Shadowy New Zealand Surveillance Base

Near the heartland of New Zealand’s renowned wine country, there is a place that visitors are not allowed to go. The peculiar large white domes that protrude from the earth in the Waihopai Valley are surrounded by razor wire and shrouded in secrecy.

But now, newly revealed documents from the National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden shine a light on what is behind the security perimeter. The buildings there are crammed with sophisticated NSA spying technology, used by New Zealand to sweep up text messages, emails, phone calls, and other communications in bulk across the Asia-Pacific.

The documents, revealed Saturday by the Sunday Star-Times in collaboration with The Intercept, show how closely New Zealand has worked with the NSA to maintain surveillance coverage of the region. The files also offer an unprecedented insight into the Waihopai base, exposing how it’s been integrated into a global eavesdropping network.

The spying station intercepts data from satellites, and is operated by Government Communications Security Bureau, or GCSB, New Zealand’s equivalent of the NSA. Waihopai is part of a group of surveillance stations used by the so-called Five Eyes, an alliance that New Zealand is part of alongside the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada.

CBC News covers options exercised:

Counter-terrorism work has ‘sidetracked’ 300 RCMP criminal probes

  • RCMP head Bob Paulson says he hopes full, unedited Zehaf-Bibeau video will be released eventually

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson says he thinks the full, unedited version of Parliament Hill shooter Michael Zehaf-Bibeau’s self-filmed video will eventually be released.

In an interview airing Saturday morning on CBC Radio’s The House, host Evan Solomon asked Paulson if 18 seconds from the beginning and end of the video made on the day of the shooting would one day be made public by police.

“I think so, eventually. I would like to think so,” he said. “I can’t give you a time estimate, I don’t think anything is lost in terms of what Canadians are seeing from Zehaf-Bibeau.”

Next, a fusion, via BBC News:

Nigeria’s Boko Haram pledges allegiance to Islamic State

Nigerian militant group Boko Haram has pledged allegiance to Islamic State (IS), according to an audio statement. The message, which could not immediately be verified, was posted on Boko Haram’s Twitter account and appeared to be by the group’s leader.

Boko Haram began a military campaign to impose Islamic rule in northern Nigeria in 2009. The conflict has since spread to neighbouring states. It would be the latest in a series of groups to swear allegiance to IS.

Boko Haram’s insurgency has threatened Nigeria’s territorial integrity and triggered a humanitarian crisis. It has carried out frequent bombings that have left thousands dead and has also attacked targets in the capital, Abuja.

From the Guardian, yet another attempt to reboot history — a UNESCO World Heritage Site:

Isis militants destroy remains of Hatra in northern Iraq

  • 2,000-year-old city has been demolished, says tourism and antiquities ministry

Islamic State militants have bulldozed ancient remains of the 2,000-year-old city of Hatra in northern Iraq.

An official said the tourism and antiquities ministry had received reports from its employees in Mosul, which is controlled by the radical Islamist group, that the site at Hatra had been demolished.

A nearby resident said he heard a powerful explosion early on Saturday and that neighbours had reported that Isis militants had destroyed some of the larger buildings in Hatra and were bulldozing other parts.

The destruction follows a similar incident this week when Isis fighters bulldozed the ancient Assyrian archaeological site of Nimrud, south of Mosul. Some of the works had survived for more than 1,500 years.

Here’s a video tour of what once was, via UNESCO:

Hatra (UNESCO/NHK)

Program notes:

A large fortified city under the influence of the Parthian Empire and capital of the first Arab Kingdom, Hatra withstood invasions by the Romans in A.D. 116 and 198 thanks to its high, thick walls reinforced by towers. The remains of the city, especially the temples where Hellenistic and Roman architecture blend with Eastern decorative features, attest to the greatness of its civilization.

From the Observer, archaeological anxiety spreads:

Isis vandalism has Libya fearing for its cultural treasures

  • With five World Heritage sites and historical remains stretching back to before Roman times, archaeologists worry a unique legacy may be lost

The Libyan capital of Tripoli lies more than 1,700 miles from the ancient Iraqi city of Nimrud. But for Mustafa Turjman, head of archaeological research at the University of Tripoli, the reported destruction of Nimrud’s ruins last week by the bulldozers of Islamic State (Isis) must have seemed rather closer to home.

For Libya, like Iraq, is home to a prized array of temples, tombs, mosques and churches, including five Unesco world heritage sites. And Libya, like Iraq, is racked by a complex civil war in which Isis plays a key role.

“Everything is unpredictable,” Turjman told the Observer. “But our heritage is in danger and it’s very difficult to protect it. We [academics] can protect it through restoration, but to protect it from people and explosions is very difficult. Sites, in particular in the centre and populated areas, are very endangered and very much at risk.”

The Washington Post covers the predictable:

Strains plague Iraqi, U.S. assessments of long-term fight against Islamic State

Signs of strain have emerged recently between the United States and Iraq over the timetable and military components of a campaign to retake major population centers occupied by the Islamic State.

Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter told Congress this week that the U.S. Central Command was “inaccurate” when it told reporters recently that an offensive in Mosul could begin as early as April. But that timeline had already provoked a retort from Carter’s Iraqi counterpart, who said the United States was “not familiar” with Iraq’s battle plan for the northwestern city.

Speaking at a news conference late last month, Iraqi Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi said that Baghdad would determine the timing for the Mosul offensive.

From VICE News, more cadaverous messaging:

Islamic State Hangs Corpses Over Iraq City Entrance During Tikrit Battle

Islamic State militants hung the bodies of men believed to be Iraqi soldiers at the entrance to the town of Hawija in northern Iraq. In a video posted to Youtube, the corpses are shown strung from Hawija’s gates as vehicles passed below.

Witnesses quoted by local Iraqi reports said the bodies, strung upside down, were bodies of Iraqi government soldiers killed while battling ISIS forces in Tikrit, located about 74 miles away.

The gruesome display comes as Iraqi troops and allied Shiite militias mount a massive push to retake Tikrit from Islamic State fighters. Approximately 30,000 troops used jets and helicopters to try to push into the Islamic State-held city that is only 100 miles from Baghdad. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the assault on Tikrit last Sunday during a press conference.

The Washington Post considers things to come:

U.S. sees even bigger test for Iraq and Iran in the aftermath of Tikrit battle

The top U.S. military officer will press the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi during a visit to Iraq this week about its plans for avoiding sectarian fallout once the Iranian-backed operation to dislodge the Islamic State from the city of Tikrit concludes.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he was confident that Iraq would ultimately defeat the Sunni militants in Tikrit, a largely Sunni city north of Baghdad. He said the group’s fighters numbered only in the hundreds there, while the force of Iraqi troops and Iranian-backed militia fighters advancing on the city stands around 23,000.

“The important thing about this operation in the Tikrit in my view is less about how the military aspect of it goes and more about what follows,” he told reporters ahead a visit to Iraq, where he will meet with Iraq’s Shiite-led government. “Because if the Sunni population is then allowed to continue to live its life the way it wants to, and can come back to their homes … then I think we’re in a really good place.”

Mediterranean escalation, via Reuters:

EU considers bigger naval presence to tackle Libya security issues

The European Union is discussing with the United Nations ways to bolster security in Libya, including a naval presence, if U.N.-backed peace talks lead to a settlement, the EU’s foreign policy head said on Saturday.

Libya’s warring factions had held talks on Thursday in an effort to end a conflict between two rival governments that threatens to drive the country into full-blown civil war.

The EU currently has ships that patrol the Mediterranean Sea to help rescue migrants trying to flee from Libya and other North African countries. But Federica Mogherini said this presence could go further.

From Reuters again, more Libyan anxiety:

U.N. experts concerned Libya arms could be diverted to militias

U.N. sanctions monitors said on Friday they are concerned that if a United Nations Security Council committee approves a request by Libya’s government for weapons, tanks and jets, some of the equipment could be diverted to militias supporting them.

The experts, who monitor violations of an arms embargo imposed on Libya in 2011, said in a letter – obtained by Reuters – that arms could also end up in the hands of other militia after battles or if Libyan troops lose control of stockpiles.

Libya’s internationally-recognized government of Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni has operated out of the east since a rival armed faction called Libya Dawn took over Tripoli in fighting last year and set up its own administration.

After the jump, Morsi supporters executed in Egypt, the U.N. Human Rights Council takes up the cause of privacy, the Internet of [hacked] Things, a lie-detecting app for corporate execs, the Saudis spurn blogger-flogging critics, on to the Boko Haram front with a suicide bombing assault in Nigeria and women protesting in Niger, the lynching of an alleged Indian rapist results in a trucker boycott, China jails women activists on the eve of International Women’s Day, an anti-hijab warning in eastern China, on to Tokyo and a hint Shinzo Abe may scale back remilitarization legislation, support for Abe’s agenda on the rise, Tokyo and Taipei ink a Game of Zones fishing pact, and mixed messaging inn the Okinawa/Tokyo feud over a U.S. base move, plus hints the Pope may help solve a four-decade-old murder mystery. . . 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