.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Friday, July 31

Big money changing hands is fueling migrant crisis

"The migrant centres, often run on contract by cooperative social organisations, have proved a rich source of income for unscrupulous operators ..."

Before heading to Europe, first to Australia, where the Associated Press reported June 17 that the businesses that smuggle people and use Indonesia as a transit point are being paid off by Australian government officials to return their human cargoes to Indonesia.  

The result?  People who've paid money to the smugglers are beaten and forced into rickety boats by the traffickers, who know they can cash in on the payoff system.  So the crooks are profiting twice. 

Note also from the report that the migrants quoted were a Bangladeshi and a Sri Lankan. So while the report mentions that Indonesian officials are huffy about the reported Aussie payoff, the question would be how much the transnational human trafficking companies that use Indonesia as a big staging area for smuggling people across a wide region are bribing Indonesian officials to look the other way.
        
Now to Rome, Italy.  On June 4 James Mackenzie reported for Reuters, Italy hit by new corruption scandal over migrant centres by James Mackenzie:

Italian police said they arrested 44 people on Thursday suspected of being part of a network of corrupt politicians, officials and business people in Rome accused of rigging public contracts to manage migrant reception centres.

The arrests follow the discovery of a vast system of corruption in the Rome city government last year -- a case dubbed "Mafia Capital" which prompted the city hall to ask the national anti-corruption authority to investigate a list of suspect public contracts.

The latest arrests were the result of further investigations linked to the Mafia Capital scandal.

As well as the 44 people arrested, warrants were also issued against another 21 people in the area around Rome, L'Aquila in central Italy and Catania and Enna in Sicily.

The investigation uncovered a system designed to ensure a cartel won lucrative contracts to manage migrant reception centres, exploiting the growing refugee crisis in the Mediterranean.

The highest profile figure caught up in the Mafia Capital scandal was the former mayor of Rome Gianni Alemanno, who resigned from his offices in the right wing Brothers of Italy party last year.

But the case, which has affected politicians across the political spectrum, prompted Prime Minister Matteo Renzi to place the whole local organisation of his centre-left Democratic Party (PD) in Rome under special administration.
[...]
The migrant centres, often run on contract by cooperative social organisations, have proved a rich source of income for unscrupulous operators as the Mediterranean migrant boat crisis has intensified, leaving authorities struggling to deal with the tens of thousands of arrivals.

"We need to stop the boat departures and stop the public tenders immediately," Matteo Salvini, head of the anti-immigrant Northern League party said following the latest arrests.

The case has underlined the persistent problem of political corruption in Italy, which ranked 69 out of 177 countries in the latest index by Transparency International, the global anti-corruption group.

Police said "Mafia Capital" was based around a network running back over many years in Rome involving local politicians, business people and criminals linked to violent neo-fascist groups active in the 1970s and 1980s.

They said the cartel had been able to secure "significant economic benefits" by fixing public contracts to manage migrant reception centres and excluding rival bidders.
[...]
[END REPORT]

I think the AP and Reuters reports are pointing to the proverbial tip of the iceberg.  There have been notable exceptions such as the BBC's tough-minded May 13 report, The Facebook smugglers selling the dream of Europeand British tabloids ("Meanwhile, Britain's tabloid media took great pleasure Thursday in lashing out at two of their favourite targets: government immigration policy and the French. ... "Send In The Army", the right-wing Daily Mail splashed on its front page."), but the plight of refugees has blinded many reporters to the fact that the huge diasporas are a business.

The business is so big it couldn't operate without the cooperation of corrupt politicians and officials -- a fact that applies across the world.  The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review investigative report on American 'coyotes' I highlighted recently mentioned that the corruption that makes human smuggling from Mexico a big business exists on both sides of the border. That is probably why the fees charged by the smugglers keep increasing:  since the U.S. crackdown at the border there's an increasing number of palms to grease.

Yet central government officials from the U.S. to Europe to Australia to Mexico are not confronting the implication. Corrupt politicians and officials in the target and transit border areas have made a market in human trafficking. The grotesque irony is that the market has injected so much noise in the system that genuine refugees are shoved out.

In their place are people who are working the refugee system:
One population not found in Calais [migrant camps], he said, is Syrians, who usually qualify for asylum when they land in Greece or Italy. Instead, the migrants are mostly Afghans, Eritreans, Sudanese, and other sub-Saharan Africans who move inward in Europe because they won’t be guaranteed asylum in the countries where they land.
“These are purposeful people who want to go to the U.K. because that they understand their families, relatives, friends, or ethnic groups are there,” Papademetriou told FP.
“They’re looking for opportunities to stay in the U.K. and survive within these ethnic enclaves that have been created there.”
Those who argue such people are 'economic refugees' are also injecting noise into the system. They're also are sweeping the complexities of this era under a carpet they term "bad governance."  To add insult to intelligence, they yap in Worldbankese when called to explain what they mean.  If only all these badly governed countries would follow the sound economic prescriptions the IMF has given them, all these people wouldn't be fleeing their own countries.

The truth is that governments in the poorer countries have gone broke paying a bloody fortune to import oil priced in U.S. dollars in a doomed attempt to carry out IMF economic prescriptions.  

The truth is that remittances, industrialized by the middle of the last decade at the behest of the World Bank-IMF, have doled out just enough money to people in the recipient countries so they don't rise up and overthrow their corrupt governments.

The truth is that Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej was right when he observed (more politely than I'm doing here) that most of the world's peoples weren't ready for the vision of utopia marketed by the World Bank-IMF, and that it was time "to take a careful step backward."

That's the truth about economic refugees. All other explanations are hot air. 

********

Middle East heat wave: "staggering" temperature and heat index readings

Current Conditions: Iraq, Iran, Kuwait
Official weather observations including sky cover, temperature, humidity and winds for Iraq, Kuwait, western Iran and nearby areas.


Current Heat Index (Feels-Like Temperature)
The heat index combines temperature and humidity to estimate what the air feels like to humans.

Feels-Like Temp Reaches 163 Degrees in Iran; Days Off Ordered as Mideast Broils in Extreme Heat Wave
By Nick Wiltgen
Published Jul 31 2015 12:14 PM EDT
weather.com

Even in the Middle East, where scorching heat is part of everyday life during the summer, coping with extreme temperatures has its limits. A heat wave that has been building for days is testing those limits – and will test the region's national temperature records too.

The searing heat has led to an impromptu, mandatory four-day holiday in Iraq beginning this past Thursday.

The government has urged residents to stay out of the sun and drink plenty of water, but for many of the more than 3 million Iraqis displaced by violent conflict, that poses a dilemma.

Chronic electricity and water cuts in Iraq and other conflict-ridden countries make heat waves like the present one even more unbearable – particularly for the more than 14 million people displaced by violence across the region. In the southern Iraqi city of Basrah earlier this month, protesters clashed with police as they demonstrated for better power services, leaving one person dead.

Unlike other countries in the region, Iraq lacks beaches and travel restrictions make it difficult for people to escape the sweltering heat, leaving many - even those fortunate enough to live in their homes - with limited options for cooling off. Some swim in rivers and irrigation canals, while others spend these days in air-conditioned shopping malls.

To the south, in the similarly sweltering Persian Gulf region, residents cranked up their air conditioners, and elsewhere in the Middle East, those who could headed to the beach to escape Thursday's soaring temperatures, high even by the standards of the region.

Water temperatures in the Persian Gulf routinely warm into the 90s each summer, releasing massive amounts of water vapor into the air above. For those unlucky enough to catch a breeze from the Gulf, the humidity can be stifling.

On Thursday, those breezes blew toward the Iranian side of the Gulf. At 3:30 p.m. local time (1100 GMT) Thursday, the manned observation site at the Mahshahr Airport in southwest Iran reported a temperature of 109 degrees (43 degrees Celsius) and a dewpoint of 90 degrees (32 degrees Celsius). Using the American heat index formula, those figures yielded a mind-boggling feels-like temperature of 159 degrees (70 degrees Celsius).

It was even hotter on Friday at the Mahshahr Airport when temperatures reached 114.8 degrees at 4:30 pm local time with a dew point of 89.6 degrees, leading to a heat index value of an incredible 163 degrees (72.7 degrees Celsius).

It is not uncommon for well-off Gulf citizens to decamp with their luxury cars and servants to cooler spots such as Britain or Switzerland as temperatures rise. Saudi Arabia's King Salman, joined by a delegation numbering in the hundreds, is currently cooling off in the south of France, where high temperatures Thursday were in a comparatively mild range between 73 and 93 degrees (23 and 33 degrees Celsius).

Several Gulf states, including the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, mandate midday breaks when temperatures are at their highest for low-paid migrant laborers during the summer months. But that only provides some relief as many still spend long hours working in the heat and travel to job sites on buses without air conditioning.

[lots more about other affected areas; forecast map]

Iranian city Bandar Mahshahr hits 'incredible' temperature of 43C during Middle East heatwave
Siobhan Fenton
July 31, 2015
The Independent

An Iranian city has reached a heat index of 68C, as a heat wave continues to engulf the Middle East.

A temperature of 43C (109 F) and a dew point of 32C (90 F) have been observed in Bandar Mahshahr.

When humidity is factored in, this means that residents are experiencing an environment of 68C (154 F).

[See website for temp. chart]

The staggering readings were spotted by meteorologist Anthony Sagliani, who called them: “probably the most incredible [observations] I’ve ever seen.”

Bandar Mahshahr is the capital of Iran’s Mahshahr County in the Khuzestan Province. It is home to just over two hundred thousand inhabitants.

Temperatures have been soaring in the Middle East in recent weeks. In Iraq, a mandatory four-day holiday was announced and began yesterday.

[END REPORT]

America and its allies created a disaster in Syria. Now Russia is again offering help. Better take it.


MOSCOW (Sputnik):
Talks between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US State Secretary John Kerry on the issue of the Syrian conflict will be held in the Qatari capital, Doha, on August 3, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said Thursday. "The talks will be held on Monday," Bogdanov told RIA Novosti, adding that Saudi Arabian officials "could join the meeting."
Sputnik is also reporting UN Chief Admits Shameful Divisions and Failure Over Syria:
The United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said the "slaughter" in Syria is a "shameful symbol of the international community’s divisions and failure" amid signs that the international organization has lost its sense of purpose.
As twelve million Syrians have been forced to leave their homes – adding to the millions forced to move out of other conflict areas across the Middle East and Africa – Mr Ban said: "Syria is the world’s largest humanitarian crisis."

He admitted that there was "a massive cross-border exodus, [as] Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq are hosting an ever growing number of refugees, and increasing numbers of Syrians making desperate flights across the Mediterranean in so-called 'death boats'."
Mr Ban told the UN Security Council (UNSC) that he was "profoundly disappointed" that previous resolutions aimed at preventing further violence in Syria had not been implemented. [...]
Meanwhile Karin Laub at Associated Press is reporting:
The World Food Program announced new cuts Friday in food aid for Syrian refugees in Jordan, highlighting a growing funding crisis of international agencies helping millions displaced by Syria's conflict.
A last-minute U.S. donation of $65 million had kept food aid going, but funding in Jordan is not secured beyond August, even at the reduced level, the WFP said.
"This timely contribution has helped us avoid major cuts, but unless other donors step up to the plate, it will be only a matter of months before we face the same situation again," said WFP's regional director Muhannad Hadi.
[...]
The agency said it immediately needs $168 million to support refugees through October in the five main countries of the region that are hosting Syrian refugees.
 ********

American business as usual in MENA: Let's spend more billions screwing up

From Foreign Policy's Morning Brief, July 31:

Pentagon Training of Syrian Rebels Endures Major Setbacks

Top News: The al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front captured a top leader of a contingent of U.S.-trained Syrian rebels on Thursday, casting doubt on the Pentagon’s embattled effort to aid forces fighting against the Islamic State (IS).

Pentagon efforts to train moderate Syrian rebels in the fight against IS have faced stiff challenges since they began last year. The major obstacles are finding recruits and vetting them for their loyalties. 

So far, the United States has trained only 54 fighters. 

Their leader, a Syrian defector named Nadeem Hassan, was captured near the Turkish border on Thursday by the Nusra Front. He had originally managed to recruit some 1,200 fighters for the U.S. training program, but of them soon abandoned the effort. The remaining fighters are also reportedly poorly equipped and underfunded.

So far, similar U.S. training courses in Turkey and Jordan have produced about 60 fighters. 

This program also runs parallel to a CIA program for fighters taking on the forces of Syrian President Bashar al Assad. Because they are working with Americans, both groups -- those fighting IS and Syria alike -- become targets.

Meanwhile, despite spending billions of dollars and killing over 10,000 IS fighters, U.S. intelligence agencies say it remains as strong as ever.

US government still fiddling with statistics about America's economic recovery

From July 30 Consumer Metrics Institute report

Summary and Commentary 

Our observations this month are focused on the BEA's [Bureau of Economic Analysis - US Dept. of Commerce] revisions to the historic data: 

-- The revisions follow a recent annual pattern of the BEA revising historic quarterly growth rates lower. This revision removed -0.22% on average from previously reported growth rates, while the 2014 revisions removed -0.19% on average from the then previously published growth rates (and another -0.09% was removed on average in 2013). 

The cumulative impact of the successive haircuts has reduced historic growth rates by an average approaching one half percent relative to "final" headline numbers -- representing an optimistic bias of about a half percent in the BEA's "final" estimates. 

It is worth noting that this optimistic bias has been getting progressively worse. 

-- Especially hard hit in the revisions were the real per-capita disposable income numbers. The cumulative compound annualized growth rate for real disposable income has been only +0.45% since the second quarter of 2008. And these figures represent mean incomes that are skewed by disproportionate growth at the upper end. According to Sentier Research, median incomes during the same time span have contracted by roughly 4%. 

-- And household savings rates have been weaker than previously suspected, confirming the lower incomes. 

A conclusion from the above? The BEA has been persistently optimistic about the "Great Recovery" while the median household has been hammered. Sadly, nothing in this report suggests that things are getting better. 

********

Thursday, July 30

The virtue of patience

Not that I'm promoting gambling but it's the larger point --

Patience pays off for $70 million Powerball winners
Jul 29th 2015
Associated Press via AOL
 ST. LOUIS (AP) – For two decades, Tom Rea of St. Louis played the same Powerball numbers.
It finally paid off — in a big way.
The Missouri Lottery on Wednesday introduced the 62-year-old Rea and his wife, Cathy, as winners of a $70 million Powerball jackpot from the July 4 drawing. The couple claimed the prize at the Missouri Lottery headquarters in Jefferson City on Friday.
The winning numbers, a combination of family birthdays, matched all five white balls and the Powerball. Rea purchased the winning ticket at a Gas Mart store on Hampton Avenue in south St. Louis.
Rea says he had been playing the same number combination every Wednesday and Saturday for 23 years.
For most of us I think patience would pay by socking away for 23 years the money we would otherwise spend on the lottery.   

****** 

Wow



The full moon rises over the illuminated Kazan Kremlin with the Qol Sharif mosque illuminated in Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, located in Russia's Volga River area about 700 km (450 miles) east of Moscow, early Wednesday, July, 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Denis Tyrin)

Until I saw the caption I thought it was a painting of an imaginary place.  On one level everything is perfect.


Sheesh, what does a guy have to do to get deported these days?

So is Homeland saying that if he gets out of prison, he can stay in the USA free as a bird while they launch a deportation process?

From Los Angeles Times July 29,  Immigrant in U.S. illegally was released before Ohio crime spree in which he's charged:

Since the Obama administration relaxed deportation policies for certain immigrants in November, Robinson said, “you’re really going to have a hard time getting deported” without committing a serious crime, an assertion disputed by the administration and immigrant rights advocates.

Officials say Razo-Ramirez’s crime spree began with the attempted rape of his 14-year-old niece in Concord, Ohio.

Then, officials said, he shot a 40-year-old woman on a bike path, wounding her in the arm, and fatally shot 60-year-old Margaret Kostelnik in her nearby home.

Another resident called police to say Razo-Ramirez was pointing a shotgun at the caller’s son in his backyard. When police responded, the suspect apparently fired at officers, who returned fire, officials said. Razo-Ramirez was unhurt, but surrendered, officials said.

[...]

Razo-Ramirez, who has no criminal record, had been stopped on July 7 by Lake County sheriff’s officials. They released him after speaking with federal immigration officials.

“As far as I can tell, and from what I heard him admit, he says he’s undocumented — he’s not legally in the United States,” Lake County Prosecuting Atty. Charles Coulson said in an interview Wednesday.

Painesville Municipal Judge Mike Cicconetti appeared furious at Tuesday’s arraignment. “He’s here illegally? And they didn’t take him? ... I can’t set a bond high enough.” 

He set bond at $10 million.

Razo-Ramirez pleaded not guilty to attempted murder. More charges are expected to be filed.

The Department of Homeland Security said it would pursue deportation after the trial, and after Razo-Ramirez serves any sentence that may be imposed.

[...]

********

Taliban amnesia: Our calendar always so full we get confused

Associated Press, July 30 via Fox News: Afghan Taliban issue statement saying they're 'not aware' of new round of peace talks

KABUL, Afghanistan – The Afghan Taliban have issued a statement saying that they are "not aware" of a new round of peace talks that had been expected to take place in Pakistan on Friday.

The statement appears to indicate the Taliban will not participate in the second round of the official face-to-face talks with the Afghan government.

It was not immediately clear if they were completely pulling out of the talks, which began earlier in July.

The statement was emailed to The Associated Press on Thursday, a day after the Kabul government announced the reclusive Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, has been dead for more than two years.

President Ashraf Ghani's office said the announcement would strengthen conditions for peace talks.

The Taliban have been fighting to overthrow the Kabul government since 2001.

[END REPORT]

TRANSLATION:  RAWALPINDI HOPPING BARKING MAD. INDIAN GOV. SAID TERRORISTS WHO ATTACKED PUNJAB INFILTRATED FROM PAKISTAN

********



Channel Tunnel: Who's orchestrating the assault on UK via Calais?

From CNN,  July 29:  3,500 migrants try to enter Channel Tunnel to go from France to UK
On Tuesday night, 1,500 migrants tried to enter the Channel Tunnel, operator Eurotunnel said.  ... And overnight Monday, 2,000 migrants tried to enter the Channel Tunnel through the French terminal near Calais, Eurotunnel said.
[...]
Calais police Officer Gilles Debove told French state radio that "2,000 migrants didn't arrive just like that."
"We can't possibly imagine it's a wave of 2,000 migrants," Debove said. "Let us be clear: Those are 2,000 intrusions on the site. To compare, about three weeks ago, it was around 500."
Debove said about 1,000 migrants had been waiting around the Eurotunnel site and had repeatedly cut fences.
NATO needs to find out very quickly who's organized and directed this sophisticated operation because its implications are alarming.  I don't want to hear, and the French and UK authorities shouldn't want to hear, that it's just a few well-meaning European and British humanitarian organizations trying to help the downtrodden get into the UK. 

But right now the French and British need to call in the military and treat the operation as an assault. The most troubling aspect of the op is that it's clearly designed to probe for weaknesses in European/UK border security.   

See also BBC July 29, Channel Tunnel lorry drivers 'threatened with [steel] bars and knives.' 
Thousands of truckers recounting they're being threatened by 'migrants.'  The situation is escalating.  

********


Wednesday, July 29

Death in Pakistan of a suddenly inconvenient terrorist: "No other witnesses to the shooting could be immediately located."

[laughing]  All right, Pundita, settle down.  [laughing]  I'm sorry I can't do this. Here. Here's the AP report.  More headline-making news today: Still unconfirmed reports that Mullah Omar is reportedly dead of health problems in Pakistan and has been dead of health problems since 2013.  ("The Taliban is expected to issue an announcement soon.")  Those Pakistanis sure do believe in showing up for negotiations well prepared.  [laughing]  What next?  Ayman al-Zawahiri shot by Pakistani police while resisting arrest?   [wiping tears of laughter]  

********

  

Tuesday, July 28

Poverty in Mexico deepening

Thanks for letting us know, Bloomberg!  It's a very helpful report, too.  Mexico is one of America's two neighbors, but U.S. reporting on Mexico is generally such that the country might as well be located in the South Pacific.  As a matter of fact the only reason poverty in Mexico is getting attention from Bloomberg is because of Wal-Mart's poor sales in the country.

As to U.S. reporting on America's other neighbor -- the country might as well be situated on Mars. I take that back; actually there's been more reporting about Mars during the past couple years than on Canada during the past 20 not counting wildfires this year but that's only because smoke from the fires was giving people in Iowa respiratory problems.  Just ask an American to name Canada's national leader. Go ahead; see the blank look you get in reply.  All right, Pundita, that's enough.  

Wal-Mart Rebound Imperiled by Mexico’s Worst Poverty in 14 Years
by Nacha Cattan
July 27 10:05 PM EDT updated July 28 4:22 PM EDT
Bloomberg Business

Just as Mexico’s consumer sector begins to emerge from the doldrums of the 2009 recession, a new government report suggests the recovery’s foundation is on shaky ground.
An additional 2 million Mexicans have become poor since 2012, pushing one poverty gauge to a 14-year high, Mexico’s social policy evaluation council said. The data show the challenges faced by President Enrique Pena Nieto to meet campaign promises to lift millions out of poverty and expand the middle class.
The report is also spurring questions about whether first-half consumer spending gains had more to do with government outlays for mid-term elections and a favorable comparison to 2014, when new sales taxes hit shoppers, and less to do with a sustainable recovery. Rallies at companies like Wal-Mart de Mexico SAB and Kimberly Clark de Mexico SAB may not have much fuel left in them.
Rising poverty “poses a risk for all retailers,” said Giselle Mojica, an analyst at Monex Casa de Bolsa. “There could be an impact on formats that target low-income shoppers. With people’s purchasing power falling, they wouldn’t be able to shop there and they’d focus more on informal and roving markets. It’s cheaper there and they can bargain.”
Wal-Mex’s shares plunged the most since August 2012 on July 22 after second-quarter earnings missed analysts’ estimates. JPMorgan Chase & Co. said profit margins will probably narrow as the company lowered prices to reignite store traffic. Wal-Mex rose 1.1 percent to 38.76 pesos at the close in Mexico City Tuesday.
Coneval, the social policy evaluation council, conducts the poverty study every two years. Based on income alone, poverty climbed to 53 percent from 43 percent in 2006, the highest since 2000.

Wrong Direction

On a broader metric, taking into account access to basic services such as education, the numbers were lower but still pointing in the wrong direction. In 2014, 46.2 percent of Mexicans, or 55.3 million people, fell below that version of the poverty line, up 44.3 percent from 2008.
Average household income in Mexico dropped 3.5 percent in real terms in 2014 from 2012, according to Coneval. That’s just one sign of stagnant salaries in Mexico, pressuring policy makers in September to announce a committee to study the minimum wage. The group has yet to decide on raising it from 70.10 pesos per day in Mexico City. The rate has plunged 70 percent in the past four decades in inflation-adjusted terms, according to Bank of America.
“My salary is frozen, but prices keep rising,” said Andrea Martinez, who cleans houses for 4,000 pesos ($246) a month and switched last year from shopping at Wal-Mex discount stores to street markets. “It’s more affordable.”

Crowded Market

Negative net migration to the U.S. from Mexico is “crowding” the labor market and slow economic growth is hurting chances of accommodating those workers to help curb poverty, said Pia Orrenius, an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.
The number of undocumented Mexicans in the U.S. fell to 5.9 million in 2012 from 6.9 million in 2007, according to the Pew Research Center. That also means fewer workers in the U.S. sending money home to their relatives in Mexico, Orrenius said.
She said growth in anti-poverty efforts are likely to slow by limited government spending because of falling prices for oil, which accounts for about a third of the federal budget.

Campaign Spending

Consumers’ early gains this year may not be sustainable, said Francisco Guzman, an analyst at Interacciones Casa de Bolsa SA. The increases may have been overstated by political-campaign spending and easy comparisons with 2014, when new taxes took effect, he said.
Mexico defines as poor families whose monthly income is below 2,595 pesos per mouth to feed in cities and 1,659 pesos in villages, and that lack a basic need like education, health or living space.

No Fruit

Alicia Garcia Gonzalez falls in that category. Her husband earns about 2,000 pesos a month working corn fields in a village 138 kilometers (88 miles) northwest of Mexico City for her and her four children, she says. They share one room in her mother-in-law’s adobe home, a space considered insufficient by government standards.
“I no longer buy fruit,” said the 40-year-old Garcia, who wore a rhinestone-studded belt and scarf to swaddle her 2-year-old daughter as she shopped at Mexico City’s Lagunilla market. “We eat meat once a month.”
There are several positive signs for Mexico’s consumer industry, according to Grupo Financiero Santander Mexico SAB, thanks to slowing inflation, lower unemployment and a shrinking informal economy.
Retail sales were growing more than 4 percent each month on an annual basis through May, a sign that the industry is improving this year, according to Orrenius of the Dallas Fed. A depreciating peso will also help poor families that receive remittances in dollars, said Interacciones’ Guzman.
That may not be enough to persuade Andrea Martinez to return to the aisles of Wal-Mex’s Bodega Aurrera discount chain near her house. On Saturday, she purchased 200-peso knockoff Adidas high tops for her grandson at a Mexico City street market.
“Ten years ago 200 pesos a day was a real salary,” said Andrea, who also supports her husband. “Not anymore.”
[END REPORT]


 

Sandra Bland was "marijuana impaired" when she hung herself in a Texas jail

The toxicology report on Bland, whose seemingly inexplicable suicide led to obsessive media coverage, was released to the public yesterday.  She had so much THC in her system that a toxicology professor observed it was possible she'd used marijuana in the jail. From the Associated Press report today, via M Live (Woman who died in Texas jail may have used pot there):
HEMPSTEAD, Texas — An initial toxicology report for Sandra Bland, who died in a Texas jail cell three days after her arrest during a traffic stop, raises the possibility that she may have used marijuana while in custody, two experts said.
The amount of THC, one of the active components of marijuana, in Bland's system was 18 micrograms per liter, according to the report released Monday. That's more than three times the legal limit for drivers in Colorado and Washington, states that permit the recreational use of marijuana.
"I don't think it's possible to rule out the possibility of use while in jail," said University of Florida toxicology professor Bruce Goldberger, who reviewed the report for The Associated Press. Bland was impaired by marijuana at the time of her death, Goldberger said.
Bland, a black 28-year-old from suburban Chicago, was found dead in the Waller County jail on July 13. Authorities have said Bland hanged herself with a garbage bag, a finding that her family disputes. She was in custody after a traffic stop for failing to use a turn signal escalated into a physical confrontation with a white state trooper.
Robert Johnson, chief toxicologist at the Tarrant County medical examiner's office in Fort Worth, Texas, told the AP that a THC level as high as Bland's suggests she "either had access to the drug in jail or she was a consistent user of the drug and her body had accumulated THC to the point that it was slowly releasing it over time."
But, Johnson added, "I have never seen a report in the literature or from any other source of residual THC that high three days after someone stops using the drug."
Goldberger, who is also the president of the American Board of Forensic Toxicology, said Bland had a "remarkably high concentration" of THC for someone who had been in jail for three days.
He noted that while chronic users who stop using the drug will have higher concentrations than non-chronic users, "the concentrations do not persist at this level, at least in my opinion."
He defined chronic as someone who uses cannabis daily, sometimes repeatedly.
Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis declined to comment Monday on the toxicology report, saying final findings were still being prepared.
However, one of his prosecutors, Warren Diepraam, said last week that he wouldn't rule out the drug being smuggled into the jail.
"It may be relevant as to her state of mind to determine what happened on the street," Diepraam said. "It may be relevant to her state of mind to determine how or why she committed suicide."
[...]
A brief quote at Live M from another Associated Press report mentions that Bland's family does not accept the official cause of her death because they believe she wouldn't commit suicide, that she had everything to live for and was getting ready to start a new job at the time of her arrest.

If Bland was a chronic heavy marijuana user, it could be that her family didn't know her as well as they thought.  On the other hand, if she used marijuana for the first time in jail and wasn't familiar with the way it could work, she was unwittingly playing Russian Roulette. 

It would be the same if ordinarily, prior to her arrest, she had been a casual marijuana user who smoked the drug, but then ingested it in a food item that someone gave her in jail. Under that circumstance Bland might have had no idea how much THC she was taking into her body.

And, as the case of Levy Thamba illustrates, marijuana in edible form can be be deceptively slow in the onset of its effects, depending on the person's physiology. This can cause the person to eat an inordinate amount of the drug-laced food before feeling 'high.'  

But by the time the drug's effects have caught up, so much THC is in the person's system the high can be closer to psychosis.           

********

Yeah, we sure gave those Russians their Vietnam in Afghanistan



Taliban seize control of 80 villages in Kunduz

Kunduz Province is in the north of Afghanistan, next to the border with Tajikistan.

From Afghanistan's TOLO News, Tuesday, 28 July 2015 08:27 - Last Updated 16:57:

Taliban insurgents reportedly seized control of as many as 80 villages on Monday night in northern Kunduz province, local officials said on Tuesday.

The incident took place after Taliban insurgents attacked Khan Abad district of the province two days ago and started clashes with residents in the district. The residents are fighting the insurgents, head of provincial council of Kunduz, Mohammad Yousuf Ayoubi said.

"The Taliban last night took control of as many as 80 villages and about 14 residents who are fighting the insurgents have been killed or injured so far," he said.

The attack has resulted in hundreds of families fleeing their homes, he added.

However, security officials have not yet commented over the incident.

A number of key districts fell into Taliban hands over the past few months, but have been retaken by security forces.‎

[END REPORT]

Death by Marijuana Cookie: CDC report on Levy Thamba's death is damning

Marijuana legalization advocates have been skating by on the public's ignorance about the potency of modern strains of marijuana. Taken together, the coroners and police reports on the death of Levy Thamba in 2014 have exposed the seriousness of the drug's effects and the CDC has taken up the cudgel:

DC Cites Teen’s Death as Evidence of Dangers of Edible Pot
By Lisa Rein
The Washington Post via Valley News
Tuesday, July 28, 2015  

Washington — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is providing chilling new details about a 19-year-old college student who leaped four stories to his death at a Holiday Inn in Denver after eating a pot cookie.

The case is Exhibit A in a stern warning about the dangers of edible pot that calls for clearer labels, better education and dosage guidelines that advocate limited portion sizes.

“Although the decedent in this case was advised against eating multiple servings at one time,” researchers wrote of Levy Thamba, an exchange student from the Republic of Congo on spring break with his friends in Denver in March 2014, “he reportedly consumed all five of the remaining servings of the THC-infused cookie within 30-60 minutes after the first serving.” 

Thamba was “marijuana-naive, with no known history of alcohol abuse, illicit drug use, or mental illness,” the CDC said.

The warnings could further fuel the debate about legal marijuana use in the four states and the District of Columbia that now allow anyone over 21 to legally purchase the drug, including in sweet products, such as cookies, brownies and candy. Colorado, along with Washington, were the first states to legalize marijuana use.

Denver coroners listed “marijuana intoxication” from cannabis-infused [cookie] as a significant condition contributing to Thamba’s death, which was classified as an accident.

The CDC gives us more detail: A police report indicated that at first he ate only a single piece of his cookie, as directed by the sales clerk. But “approximately 30-60 minutes later, not feeling any effects, he consumed the remainder of the cookie. During the next 2 hours, he reportedly exhibited erratic speech and hostile behaviors. 

Approximately 3.5 hours after initial ingestion, and 2.5 hours after consuming the remainder of the cookie, he jumped off a fourth floor balcony and died from trauma,” the police report said.

[...]


Taliban launch another massive offensive in North Afghanistan

Xinhua is not my favorite news source but it's the only English-language one reporting on the offensive so far -- and Xinhua was able to get a statement on the attack directly from an Afghan police official. I note this attack came only four days before the next scheduled round of peace talks between the Taliban and Ghani's government.

Taliban attacks district in N. Afghanistan
July 28, 2015 - 14:33

SARI PUL, Afghanistan, July 28 (Xinhua) -- Taliban militants have overrun Kohistanat district in Sari Pul province since Monday night, police said Tuesday.

"Hundreds of Taliban militants launched massive offensive on Kohistanat district Monday morning and fierce fighting lasted till 11:00 p.m.Security forces retreated enabling militants to enter the district," provincial police chief Mohammad Asif Jabar Khil told Xinhua.

The official said 17 police personnel have gone missing.

He said, however, security personnel are consolidating their positions in neighboring Sozma Qala and Sayyad districts.

Head of provincial council of Sari Pul province confirmed the fall of Kohistanat district to the Taliban outfit, saying disharmony among security organs has paved the way for the collapse of Kohistanat district.

[END REPORT]

********



Now which two countries would be conspiring to balkanize Afghanistan?

Somehow I don't think it's Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.  The obvious prime suspects are Pakistan and Iran; from the following news reports filed yesterday I'll assume Amrullah Salah has those two countries in mind.  But there would be another suspect. Way back in September 2012, The Independent reported on a very elaborate plan put foward by a Tory MP to divide up Afghanistan, with each division to be overseen by a different foreign country. 
... Afghanistan could be carved into eight regional zones – with some of them potentially ruled by the Taliban – according to a controversial plan under discussion in London and Washington. Code-named "Plan C", the radical blueprint for the future of Afghanistan sets out reforms that would relegate President Hamid Karzai to a figurehead role.
Devised by the Conservative MP and Foreign Office aide Tobias Ellwood in 2011 (when he was Permanent Private Secretary to the then Defence Secretary, Liam Fox), it warns that the country faces a "bleak" future when it is left to fend for itself. ...
A footnote is that Liam Fox, who had to step down to avoid a scandal, is rabidly anti-Russian. Also, I have it on authority that the real Liam Fox was kidnapped just before he became Defense Secretary. He was replaced by a body double who is a shape-shifting alien from another planet.  This became an open secret in the British government after Fox was overheard at a defense meeting saying to the 'advisor' who always stuck to him like glue, "Tell me again the name of this hick galaxy and why we're here."

I think it had something to do with cricket but don't quote me on that.  

More recently the British hand was suspected in the strange agreement between Pakistan's ISI and Afghanistan's NDS intelligence services, which set off an uproar in Afghanistan. 

The Independent report has more on Plan C, if you're interested.

Certain countries planning to break Afghanistan in two parts: Saleh
By KHAAMA PRESS (Afghanistan)
Monday, July 27 2015

The former Afghan NDS (National Directorate of Security) chief Amrullah Saleh said Monday that certain countries are planning to break up Afghanistan in two parts by sparking divisions among Afghans in North and South.

The head of the Green Trend Movement was speaking during the signing of an agreement with Sulaiman Cultural Society and Noor Social Trend from southeastern Paktika and Paktiya provinces.

The agreement between the three movements is aimed at launched joint campaigns to thwart the conspiracies to split Afghanistan.

Saleh promised to stand against all conspiracies to split the nation and insisted that any other flag apart from the national flag of Afghanistan would mean to create divisions among Afghans in a bid to break up the country.

Without naming any specific country Saleh said “all those internal and external groups dreaming to create divisions among Afghans and once again spark civil war, are invalid, since we were one nation and will remain as one nation.”

He said the foreign countries are following their specific interests in breaking up Afghanistan, although he did not elaborate further regarding the targets of the countries looking to break up Afghanistan.

Saleh also insisted that the new generation of Afghanistan will never agree to break up the country, with Sulaiman Cultural Society chief Asifullah Ikhlas saying the main purpose of the agreement is to unite the young generation fo the country and eliminate discrimination.
[END REPORT]

Another report on the same announcement:

Saleh's Green Trend Announces New Political Alliance, Affirms Support for Afghan Forces Monday, July 2015

Amrullah Saleh, the former head of the National Directorate of Security (NDS) and the founder of the Rawand-e Sabz-e Afghanistan (Afghanistan Green Trend) political party, held a press conference on Monday to announce the signing of an agreement with two other groups declaring their support for the Afghan security forces and any others dedicated to defending the people of Afghanistan.

Accompanying Saleh's Green Trend party, leaders of the Sulaiman Ghar cultural society and Noor social movement were also at the press conference to announce their new memorandum of understanding.

In his remarks, Saleh warned the public that the nation's true enemies are those trying to divide it into factions. And he said that any group looking to combat terrorists in Afghanistan should be leant support.

"The fact is that the enemies are the foreigners who strive to divide the people of Afghanistan by name, language and so on to score points for themselves and to provoke people's sentiments against each other," Saleh said on Monday. "They want to use a weak Afghanistan for their own benefits," he added.

Saleh maintained that Afghanistan's enemies believe the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) lack backing from the international community and can be easily defeated.

The stated principles and objectives of the memorandum of understanding are to defend the independence and territorial integrity of the country, protect the Afghan flag, defend the principles and values of the Constitution and fight against all kinds of discrimination.

"Defending the nation's sovereignty, national unification, national flag, territorial integrity, political activities and civil freedoms are our job," Green Trend member Sayed Abdul Hadi Hedayat told TOLOnews. 
"The raising of other flags alongside the national flag means the division of Afghanistan."

[END REPORT]

********

Almost every week brings a surprise about water management; this one, though, takes the cake

The following report is a mind bender, like the explanation that certain water conservation methods are counterproductive-- such as the drip tape irrigation method; they reduce ground water flows into aquifers, making them harder to recharge.

Now comes this counterintuitive stunner (emphasis mine):

NATIVE AMERICAN TRIBE USES OLD METHOD TO FIGHT DROUGHT
by Christine Park
July 27, 2105
ABC 7 News (California: San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose)

Meadow restoration in the mountains is creating more water for the Valley.

(MADERA COUNTY, Calif.) In the Madera County foothills, above Oakhurst, Native American tribes and the Forest Service are working together on a solution to California's drought. It doesn't involve building dams, or digging wells. Instead, they're chopping down trees. It's an ancient practice producing more water.

On a July morning at the Progeny Meadow in the Sierra National Forest, the scent of burning sage filled the air. About a dozen people gathered in a circle to listen to a voice raised in prayer, asking for ancestors' blessing before the day's work began. That voice belongs to Ron Goode, tribal chairman of the North Fork Mono Indians.

He pointed out a section overgrown with trees: "These are water suckers. They take a lot of water."

He knows a thing or two about the forest ecosystem. His people have been here for thousands of years.

"The more water they're pulling out of the meadow, that's also less amount of water going down to the Valley," he explained.

While chopping down trees might not seem like restoration, Goode says it's vital. When the meadows become overgrown, any rain or snowfall gets sucked up by the trees, instead of soaking into the aquifers and feeding the streams.

Thanks to their efforts the water is flowing, even in late July. This is the same water that eventually ends up in the Valley's rivers and reservoirs. A University of California study found forest thinning could add up to 16 percent more water flow yearly out of the Sierra Nevada and into California's water supply.

Goode sees this work as a long-term solution to California's drought: "As Native Americans we know for a fact that there's another drought coming in the next 10 years. But if you're not preparing for the future, you're gonna have the same problem the next time a drought comes."

Because only when there's water, can there be life. Since the meadow restoration work began, dozens of species have returned to live here in the meadow, from birds, to butterflies, to beetles. Some species are not so welcome, like the invasive thistle plants. Those are removed.

Forest service crews work side by side with the Native American tribes in a partnership that is now looking to expand to the public. Dirk Charley is also Native American and serves as the liaison between the Forest Service and local tribes: "Oh, there's still a lot to do. Therefore by doing this, you're educating the people, you're able to invite them to come and join. And make a difference."

A difference that is already paying off. Meadows are also natural fire breaks. And fewer trees and debris on the ground mean less fuel for wildfires, like the recent Sky Fire, which burned dangerously close to several of the meadows.

So their efforts in the meadows continue because with every falling tree in our mountains, comes more water for a thirsty state. 

For more information on the meadow restoration efforts and how you can help, visit the tribe's Facebook page: North Fork Mono Tribe.

[END REPORT]

Of course tree cover is vital and its importance to rainfall and micro-climates is only recently becoming better understand. But from the article, it seems it depends on where the trees are. 

The takeaway for me is that we're still in our infancy when it comes to learning how to manage our resources. Yet many ancient practices, long ago fallen into disuse, reflect a wisdom about water management that took a long time to develop.  

Then again, the ancient civilizations were done in many times by droughts -- and they didn't have the huge numbers of livestock and humans that we contend with today.  

It's going to take a combination of the best of the old practices and cutting-edge science and technologies to get humanity through its present water management crisis.  Yet the most innovative technologies won't amount to much unless large numbers of people, and governments, are motivated to use them.  Truly, we need to develop water consciousness.      

********




Monday, July 27

How Islamic State is grabbing territory in the Middle East

IS version of M4 Sherman tank


That one was taken out by a U.S. airstrike but the contraption IS rigged out of a simple pickup truck has the same advantage that the Sherman tank did in World War II.  Here's what the M4 looks like:



From the Armed Forces Museum website article about the top ten tanks used in World War II:
M4 Sherman – This World War II medium tank was used primarily by the U.S. with thousands more being used by the Allies. The main gun mounted on the M4 Sherman – a 75 mm M3 L/40 - allowed the crew to fire with a fair amount of accuracy even if the tank was moving. The advantages of this tank led to its high demand. As a result, more than 50,000 M4 Sherman tanks were produced during WWII.
The top photo accompanies the BBC July 26 report, Iraqi forces attack Islamic State base in Ramadi. It's unclear whether the Iraqi army was able to rout IS from the university it was using as a base although the Beeb notes "Some reports suggested Iraqi forces had retaken control of the complex." 

The complex in Ramadi was virtually destroyed in the assaults, which needs to be read in the context of an IS assault last week that completely blew up a sports stadium, funded by Turkey, near Ramadi that was used as a base for the Iraqi military and allied Shiite militias.  

ISIS has completely blown up the Olympic Stadium in Ramadi. Photo: iraqi news

ISIS blows up sports stadium near Ramadi

July 21, 2015
By Associated Press via Rudaw

BAGHDAD— Militants from the Islamic State group blew up a sports stadium in the western Anbar province that in recent months had been used as a military base, officials said Monday.

There may have been fighters with the country's Popular Mobilization Unit, the Shiite militias known as Hashd al-Shaabi, inside the 30,000-capacity stadium when it was destroyed Sunday, military and security officials in Anbar said, but they were unable to provide a specific estimate and officials with the Shiite were not aware of casualties.

The Turkey-funded stadium, near the militant-held city of Ramadi, had never been used for sports. In recent months, it was used as a military base for Iraqi security forces and allied militia groups.

The officials spoke anonymously as they are not authorized to brief journalists.

The Iraqi Defense Ministry said last week that security forces were able to "cleanse" the stadium from militants taking refuge inside. It did not elaborate.

The militants seized control of Ramadi in May in what was a major blow to Iraqi security forces on the heels of a victory in Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit.

A US-led coalition has been conducting intense airstrikes in Anbar in an effort to help the Iraqi government regain control of the long-volatile province. Iraqi security forces last week announced the launch of a large-scale operation to retake Anbar province from the militants. However, little progress has been reported so far.

The Islamic State group controls about a third of Iraq and Syria, ruling a self-styled "caliphate" where it enforces its radical interpretation of Sunni Islam. It regularly carries out attacks on Iraqi security forces in an effort to destabilize the Shiite-led government in Baghdad.

Also in Anbar, officials say the Islamic State group ambushed a military unit near the city of Fallujah, killing the group's commander, Ali Ahmed, and four of his men.

[END REPORT]
********

In Iraq, U.S. can't tell the good guys from the bad guys

"The chain of command in Iraq has frayed since the Islamic State's battlefield victories last year ..."

Real U.S. allies in Iraq difficult to identify, experts say
By Andrew Tilghman, Staff writer
3:46 p.m. EDT July 27, 2015
Military Times

The steady growth of Shiite militias in Iraq is making it increasingly difficult for American forces deployed there to determine exactly which Iraqi forces they are supporting, experts say.

The official line from Defense Department is that the U.S. will support operations involving both the Iraqi army and some militia forces that are operating "under command and control of the Iraqi government."

But the Pentagon wants to avoid providing direct support for anti-Islamic State militia forces loyal to Iran, a longtime enemy, a reflection of the deeply opaque and tumultuous politics of the Middle East.

"I love this line, 'We only want to support the militias under the command and control of the Iraqi government.' You can't really look at it that way. There is a lot of fuzzy gray area in that zone," said Phillip Smyth, an adjunct fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

"It's not some binary situation like people keep trying to make it out to be," Smyth said.

The chain of command in Iraq has frayed since the Islamic State's battlefield victories last year inspired the creation of the so-called Popular Mobilization Forces, or PMF, a loose-knit patchwork of mostly Shiite militias with scattered loyalties to leaders in both Iraq and Iran. 
 
The PMF are not part of Iraq's Ministry of Defense, which has close ties to the U.S. military after years of receiving money and training from Americans. Instead, the PMF militias operate — technically — under Iraq's Ministry of Interior, which has direct links to Iran.

[...]

Plenty more in the report that's important.

******** 




Google News comes to its senses, at least temporarily

I've just returned to the internet so I don't know when it happened this afternoon but the Google News website is no longer featuring links to reports, ruminations, etc. about the death of Bobbi Brown at the top of its Top Stories, as it had been earlier in the day and ever since news of her death broke. 

For the moment, Google News looks like a real "breaking news" aggregator site. At the left side of the web page it does list the name "Bobbi Kristina Brown" in the #1 position under its "Top Stories" header but the main page has a good mix of breaking news reports.

I don't know how Google decides which stories qualify as important breaking news but my concern is that Google has confused Twitter chatter with news.  

If American Twitter users want to chirp at each other about the death of Bobbi Brown until their attention flits elsewhere, it's their prerogative.  But if you want to be a responsible news aggregator website, you must stop pandering to people who suffer from the internet version of rubbernecking. 

For many months, Google News hasn't been acting responsibly. It turned itself into the website version of CNN, with 'saturation coverage' of just one news event related to a racially charged incident or mass killing in the United States.  

Now I do not want Google News to inform me that it's top news what color nail polish Bobbi Brown's corpse is wearing for the funeral.    

Fire the person who's making the calls about Google News and get someone who has journalistic integrity.  And I don't want to hear, 'Oh we're not actually part of the journalism profession; we're just an internet business.'

Then make your business something else besides the news of the day.   

********

 

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?