FEATURED PHOTOS AND STORIES

Thursday:  July 31, 2014

When Will Chile's Post Office's Re-open? 

(PHOTO: Workers set up camp at Santiago's Rio Mapocho/Mason Bryan, The Santiago Times)Chile nears 1 month without mail service as postal worker protests continue. This week local branches of the 5 unions representing Correos de Chile voted on whether to continue their strike into a 2nd month, rejecting the union's offer. For a week the workers have set up camp on the banks of Santiago's Río Mapocho displaying banners outlining their demands; framing the issue as a division of the rich & the poor. The strike’s main slogan? “Si tocan a uno, nos tocan a todos,” it reads - if it affects 1 of us, it affects all of us. (Read more at The Santiago Times)

WHO convenes emergency talks on MERS virus

 

(PHOTO: Saudi men walk to the King Fahad hospital in the city of Hofuf, east of the capital Riyadh on June 16, 2013/Fayez Nureldine)The World Health Organization announced Friday it had convened emergency talks on the enigmatic, deadly MERS virus, which is striking hardest in Saudi Arabia. The move comes amid concern about the potential impact of October's Islamic hajj pilgrimage, when millions of people from around the globe will head to & from Saudi Arabia.  WHO health security chief Keiji Fukuda said the MERS meeting would take place Tuesday as a telephone conference & he  told reporters it was a "proactive move".  The meeting could decide whether to label MERS an international health emergency, he added.  The first recorded MERS death was in June 2012 in Saudi Arabia & the number of infections has ticked up, with almost 20 per month in April, May & June taking it to 79.  (Read more at Xinhua)

LINKS TO OTHER STORIES

                                

Dreams and nightmares - Chinese leaders have come to realize the country should become a great paladin of the free market & democracy & embrace them strongly, just as the West is rejecting them because it's realizing they're backfiring. This is the "Chinese Dream" - working better than the American dream.  Or is it just too fanciful?  By Francesco Sisci

Baby step towards democracy in Myanmar  - While the sweeping wins Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has projected in Sunday's by-elections haven't been confirmed, it is certain that the surging grassroots support on display has put Myanmar's military-backed ruling party on notice. By Brian McCartan

The South: Busy at the polls - South Korea's parliamentary polls will indicate how potent a national backlash is against President Lee Myung-bak's conservatism, perceived cronyism & pro-conglomerate policies, while offering insight into December's presidential vote. Desire for change in the macho milieu of politics in Seoul can be seen in a proliferation of female candidates.  By Aidan Foster-Carter  

Pakistan climbs 'wind' league - Pakistan is turning to wind power to help ease its desperate shortage of energy,& the country could soon be among the world's top 20 producers. Workers & farmers, their land taken for the turbine towers, may be the last to benefit.  By Zofeen Ebrahim

Turkey cuts Iran oil imports - Turkey is to slash its Iranian oil imports as it seeks exemptions from United States penalties linked to sanctions against Tehran. Less noticed, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the Iranian capital last week, signed deals aimed at doubling trade between the two countries.  By Robert M. Cutler

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Entries in USA (8)

Friday
Mar302012

BRICS 4th Meeting: `Non-West, Not Anti-West' (REPORT)  

(Video via IBTIMES)

Top emerging economies, coming under the banner of BRICS, on Thursday criticized the West for financial mismanagement, called for a "merit-based" selection of the next World Bank chief, rued the slow pace of reforms in the International Monetary Fund, declared that dialogue was the only way to a peaceful resolution in Syria and Iran, but failed to go beyond motherhood statements and give the bloc a meaningful push.

The BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) countries took baby steps towards facilitating intra-BRICS trade and investment in local currency, but failed to reach any agreement on a BRICS development bank. They signed an agreement to extend credits in local currencies under the BRICS Interbank Cooperation Mechanism.

However, the suggestion for a BRICS Development Bank was pushed to a later date, since there were major differences among the members.

Spreading themselves beyond economics, the BRICS members articulated an alternative political vision with regard to current international issues.

(PHOTO: BRICS summit handout of leader photo op; l to r, Brazil's Dilma Rousseff, Russia's Dmitry Medvedev, India's Manmohan Singh, China's Hu Jintao, South Africa's Jacob Zuma) "The views were more non-West, than anti-West", explained an official. While these were mainly broad-brush positions on current events, their importance lay in the fact that five emerging global leaders actually sat across the table to agree on these points.

In a statement at the end of the plenary session, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said, "The world is passing through uncertain times. The rapid recovery of the BRICS economies from the financial crisis highlighted their role as growth drivers of the global economy. Our cooperation is intended to explore meaningful partnerships for common development, address global challenges together and contribute to furthering world peace, stability and security."

In its Delhi Declaration, BRICS members opposed violence as a way of resolving political crises in other countries. "Global interests would best be served by dealing with the crisis through peaceful means that encourage broad national dialogues..." On Syria, BRICS supported the Arab League and special envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan.

On Iran, they observed, "We recognize Iran's right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy consistent with its international obligations, and support resolution of the issues involved through political and diplomatic means and dialogue between the parties concerned, including between the IAEA and Iran and in accordance with the provisions of the relevant UN Security Council Resolutions."

The BRICS nations put their might behind Afghanistan, saying it needed "time, development assistance and cooperation, preferential access to world markets, foreign investment and a clear end-state strategy."  Israel was rapped on the knuckles for its settlement policy, but BRICS advocated direct negotiations with the Palestinians. The underlying theme was a repudiation of the western developed countries' approach, without actually getting into the details.

In an action plan, BRICS leaders agreed to meet before United Nations General Assembly meeting every September, much like the Non-Aligned Movement and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation meetings; regular gatherings of finance ministers, central bank governors, trade ministers, national security advisers, etc.

(PHOTO: BRICS handout of finance ministers shaking hands in cooperation)But underneath the camaraderie and the determination to strike a different path, serious differences exist. On the economic front, it would be a tussle between India and China, while Russia is pushing the political agenda, particularly on Iran and Syria, where BRICS supported the Russian viewpoint. India and Brazil pushed through their joint pitch for reform of the UN Security Council, which China has not been enthusiastic about, although Russia supports it.

While the BRICS joint statement blamed the Eurozone crisis for the state of the global economy, Indian officials saw this as a way of deflecting criticism of China manipulating its own currency, which also leads to a lot of distortions.

The BRICS development bank too has been kicked down the road, because India still has many reservations. The PM, in fact, preferred to focus on improving the World Bank rather than creating a new institution, as China does.

"We must address the important issue of expanding the capital base of the World Bank and other multinational development banks to enable these institutions to perform their appropriate role in financing infrastructure development," the declaration read.

Indian finance officials see the BRICS Bank idea primarily as a way of legitimizing the use of Chinese currency overseas. Second, they feel that any BRICS bank would essentially be a Chinese bank, because none of the other countries have the financial depth to fuel such an institution. India wants the global financial architecture to change, but at a much slower pace. South Africa supports the Bank, but Brazil cannot, because it already funds the Latin American development bank.

On the election of the next chief of the World Bank, the five countries did not even attempt to find a consensus candidate that could have been an alternative to the Korean-American chosen by the US.

The G20 received a unanimous thumbs-up as a forum for global financial governance and agreed to coordinate positions at the body. Russian president Medvedev said, "We confirmed all agreements on our cooperation in updating the international currency and financial system. One of the goals here is to renovate the IMF. We analyzed the situation in the world economics and came to an agreement on a further coordination of actions within our organization, including preparation for the next G20 summit."

South African president Jacob Zuma made a spirited call for including the development concerns of sub-Saharan Africa in the BRICS development plans. "We feel that Africa is being treated with respect. There is no feeling that people are looking down on our continent."

--- This article first appeared in the Times of India

Related:          BRICS nations stepping up innovation to improve healthcare: Study

Related:          BRICS: Not bound by ‘unilateral’ sanctions on Iran

Related:          BRICS countries call for World Bank Presidency voting review

Related:          Protests outside Hu Jintao's hotel

Monday
Dec052011

Greened for Takeoff (REPORT) 

By John Terrett in America 

I'm standing on the concourse watching an Alaska Airlines 737 jet landing in poor weather at Washington DC's Reagan National Airport.

Flight four from Seattle is "greener" than others that touch down here.

It's engines are powered, in part, by a sustainable biofuel. Twenty per cent is used cooking oil, 80 per cent traditional aviation fuel.

Alaska's CEO Bill Ayer, says: "The engine operates exactly the same. All of the parameters, everything that we measure technically about engine performance is identical."

Alaska Airlines says if all its aircraft were powered this way for one year it'd be like taking 64,000 cars off the road.

Other carriers are testing green fuels too.

Earlier this month United Airlines flew the first US commercial flight from Houston to Chicago on a biofuel made from algae.

In June the giant US plane maker Boeing flew a commercial jet plane across the Atlantic using a plant-based biofuel.

So, airlines are giving green fuel a go but it can be expensive: The biofuel made from used cooking oil costs Alaska Airlines six times more than normal jet fuel. After three weeks flight four will go back to using regular aviation fuel and a company spokesperson says there are no immediate plans to try again.

Meanwhile, the European Union is forcing Europe's airlines to go green.

There's no such mandate in the US - though obviously airlines wishing to fly to Europe will have to fall in line.

In the US, the military has taken a lead in pushing for greener aviation, but high costs and insufficient supplies are a drag.

Joanne Ivancic advocates for biofuel technology through her website Advanced Biofuels USA.

"First we need to bring down the cost of the technology and the feed stock so that these airlines can afford to buy this fuel. The second thing is we need the policy to say this is really important."

Aviation analysts like Washington DC-based Peter Goelz say a perception among many Americans that global warming isn't real also holds back green aviation development.

"The global warming deniers, of which there are a significant portion particularly in the Republican party, are going to have to accept the fact that the rest of the world already accepts that global warming is occurring and that we can do something about it."

Were that to change, he says, significant investment in green aviation from the US government would most likely follow - even in these dark economic times.

Until then initiatives like Alaska's are likely to generate good publicity, but make only a fraction of a difference to the environment.

Originally published by AlJazeera under Creative Commons Licensing 

Thursday
Dec012011

A New Low in Pakistan-US Relations (BLOG/REPORT) 

By Kamal Hyder in Asia 

Pakistanis have staged anti-NATO protests across the country in recent days.The attack took place in the dead of the night, and for more than two hours, American helicopterspounded a well-known and marked Pakistani post.

The Pakistani army frantically tried to convey to NATO, ISAF and the US high command in Afghanistan to stop the attack, but their pleas fell on deaf ears. By the time it was over, more than 24 soldiers lay dead, including officers, and over a dozen wounded.

The Pakistani post, known as Volcano, was where the two sides held their flag meetings. As such it was no secret, and under rules of engagement along this tricky frontier, the Pakistani side had ensured that all its posts were carefully marked in order to avoid being hit by mistake.

I myself spent several nights in the lonely posts where for the last 10 years Pakistani soldiers have manned a difficult border.

As far as I could see, small fires kept the troops warm, and also gave out their positions dotting the boundary line that separated Pakistani troops from US-led multinational forces operating on the Afghan side of the border.

Ironically it was the Americans who asked Pakistan to deploy troops on this border when they launched their invasion of Afghanistan almost ten years ago.

Hundreds rounded up

The main purpose of the deployment was to deny al-Qaeda fighters a chance to escape the bombardment in Tora Bora.

Pakistan rounded up hundreds of those fighters as they crossed the border into its territory. But while many were arrested, many others managed to filter into Pakistan. It was physically impossible for anyone to seal this border.

As the battles raged in Afghanistan and the Taliban made a dramatic comeback, the Americans were confronted with the prospect of a defeat or a protracted conflict, one they could ill afford given the poor state of their declining economy.

Whatever the arguments for or against the Afghan war, some debated that the end game was already in sight; but others warned that  the end itself could prove to be more elusive.

Unable to find a quick solution to the Afghan quagmire, the US started looking for scapegoats. The "blame game" was now targeted against Pakistan.

After the operation to kill Osama bin Laden caught everyone by surprise, tensions started to mount on other fronts.

The Americans now wanted Pakistan to go after the Haqqani network and launch an assault in North Waziristan.

The Pakistani military was already battling the Pakistani Taliban in several areas, and was in mood to be sucked into yet another conflict.

Legitimate concerns

The military had legitimate concerns about the country’s eastern border, where the bulk of the Pakistani army was deployed after the Mumbai attacks, when India deployed her troops on its border with Pakistan.

No one was sure how long the uneasy relationship between the US and Pakistan would last, until things came to a head in the first week of May. The attack against bin Laden embarrassed the army, and despite quick congratulatory messages from the Pakistani prime minister, it rattled a paranoid government in Islamabad.

That government sent a letter to the US, a memo which became known as the "Memogate" scandal. It whipped up a storm in Pakistan and threatened the Pakistan People's Party-led government. The opposition shouted treason, and wanted a proper enquiry.

But while relations with Washington dipped, the Pakistani government chose a pro-American Pakistani journalist turned politician, Sherry Rehman, as the new ambassador to Washington.

The Americans were pleased, it seemed, in spite of the turbulence of the recent past, including wild accusations by senior US military commanders who blamed the Pakistani military for colluding with the enemy and playing a "double game."

But if the Americans thought the Pakistani civilian leadership, said to be the most corrupt in the country’s history and without any moral authority, was going to rein in the military establishment, then they were wrong.

The attack on the post in Mohmand agency proved beyond doubt that the people of Pakistan stood behind their proud army and were willing to go to battle with anyone who dared to strike across her borders.

Constant insult

The constant insult of the CIA-led drone strikes had already encouraged the anti-US sentiment, and a chain of events reinforced the opinion that the US was not to be trusted and that the country should reconsider the controversial alliance in the so called war on terror which brought death and destruction on Pakistan.

Even though the people wanted a swift retaliation after the strike, the country’s establishment was of the opinion that diplomatic means were the best option.

To begin with they closed the logistical route through Pakistan and asked for the closure of the Shamsi airbase in Balochistan, from where the US drones carried out strikes inside Pakistan.

The base was provided to the UAE, and the UAE then passed it on to the US under what was a verbal agreement sanctioned by the military government of Pervez Musharraf.

That led many to question the competence of a so-called democratic government which, according to senior US sources, even sanctioned [also by verbal agreement] the continued strikes inside FATA.

How on earth was it possible that a second country could give away to a third country a leased base, without consent from the first country?

Pakistan was alarmed by the ferocity of the strike on Volcano, but the country’s president sent out his own message fearing for democracy and asking his supporters to beware of the threat to democracy.

The people of Pakistan and its its military forces, however, wanted to protect their country and their sovereignty first.

Originally published by AlJazeera under Creative Commons Licensing 

Saturday
Jul022011

Immigrants and 11 Latin America Nations Fight New US Immigration Laws (REPORT) 

Protestors hold signs and chant while marching to Georgia's state capitol Saturday. (CREDIT: J DiBenedetto, HUMNEWS 2011) (Atlanta, Georgia, USA-HN, 7/2/11) – Today, thousands marched on the US state of Georgia’s Capitol in protest of House Bill 87 – an anti immigration bill which passed and was signed earlier this year - chanting cries of “Humans are not for sale” and “Justice for all”.  Protestors called upon US President Barack Obama to step in and do something to halt the stringent requirements.

In March of this year, after a moderate amount of debate in the state House of Georgia, the legislature passed a strict immigration bill that has sparked ire among 11 Latin American countries and various civil and human rights groups.

Following a similarly controversial step in the US states of Arizona, Utah and South Carolina, Georgia passed the law, known as House Bill 87, targeting illegal immigrants and those who harbor them in the state. It carried by a largely Republican party-line vote of 113-56 in the House; with a 37-19 vote in the Georgia State Senate. HB 87 is also called the `Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011'.

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal went on to sign the bill, one of the nation’s toughest immigration enforcement measures in May, and both the Georgia law and the South Carolina law took effect July 1.  All of these laws have challenged the thorny debate over illegal immigration in the United States and triggered immediate court appeals.

Under Georgia’s sweeping HB 87, police will be empowered to investigate the immigration status of certain suspects and Georgia employers will be required to check the status of potential workers by using the US Federal `E-Verify’ system before hiring. The measure also sets new regulations and penalizes people who transport or harbor illegal immigrants in the state. 

State lawmakers have cited passage of these bills as being necessary because they say “efforts to get comprehensive immigration legislation through the US Congress have failed”, complaining the federal government has not secured the nation's borders.

Immigration protestors want Justice for All on Saturday in Georgia (CREDIT: J DiBenedetto, HUMNEWS 2011) But federal judges in both Utah and Arizona have halted both of those states' laws amid complaints that they are unconstitutional. In Georgia last week, two of the more controversial provisions of the state’s new immigration enforcement law were blocked by US federal judge Thomas Thrash; but other provisions that were not overturned go into effect July 1. It is now a criminal offense to apply for a job with a false I.D. in Georgia, punishable by up to $250,000 in fines and 15 years in jail.

Aside from the 11 Latin American countries, the US Anti-Defamation League, the Southern Poverty Law Center and several other civil and immigrant rights groups are party to the legal cases hoping to stop Georgia HB 87 from going forward.

The governments of Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Peru filed court papers stating that HB 87 is unconstitutional because there is already a federal immigration law on the books.

“HB 87 substantially and inappropriately burdens the consistent country to country relations between Mexico and the United States of America,” Mexico says in its brief in support of halting the law. It also claims the bill is “interfering with the strategic diplomatic interests of the two countries and encouraging an imminent threat of state-sanctioned bias or discrimination.”

In its defense, the state of Georgia has also filed court papers against the challenge to dismiss the lawsuits.

Even before the law in Georgia took effect yesterday, there were reports of immigrants, Hispanics and others who may be affected by the new law leaving the state to avoid detection or prosecution.

In a state – and indeed region where agriculture is one of the biggest industries for the South – the consequences include serious labor shortages with crops rotting in fields, and forcing farmers to raise prices to pay for new workers.

"When this all started in May there was big concern whether we would have enough labor to harvest the crops," Executive Director of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, Charles Hall, said.

Immigrant workers have been leaving the state since Georgia's bill passed. (CREDIT: J DiBenedetto HUMNEWS 2011) Judge Thrash’s ruling last week has stemmed the flow of people leaving for the time being. But many remain worried, and in recent days have taken to Georgia’s streets and called for a `Human Rights Summer’ in the state to stop the bill from fully coming into practice. Organizers plan to visit Latino communities throughout the state to educate people and organize mobilizations.

The two provisions halted by the judge would have resulted in police checking the immigrant status of anyone detained for traffic violations or some other crime and would have criminalized the harboring and transporting of undocumented immigrants.

Still in play and set to go into effect on January 1, 2012 are parts of the bill which will require employers with 500 or more employees to use the federal E-Verify system to determine job applicants’ legal status before hiring them. Federal law says that E-Verify can only be used for new employees; so many undocumented workers will be unaffected unless they lose their jobs.  That requirement will be phased in for all businesses with more than 10 employees by July 2013.  Also starting January 1, applicants for public benefits must provide at least one state or federally issued “secure and verifiable” document.

In South Carolina, a new illegal immigration enforcement unit has been established by that state’s law and the unit will coordinate between local law enforcement and federal immigration officials.

Critics of the bill cite both the need for migrant workers for food harvesting but also other economic issues as being impacted with the state’s decision.  Metro Atlanta school officials plan to closely monitor their enrollment figures over the summer.  The reason: many illegal immigrants could leave the state and pull their children out of public schools if opponents are unable to block the law in federal court. In Arizona, which passed a similar immigration law last year, hundreds of children left some of its schools after the bill passed. The state’s tourism business is also taking a hit too.

On Saturday immigrants and US citizens alike took to the streets of Atlanta (CREDIT J DiBenedetto HUMNEWS 2011) On Friday in Georgia, the day HB 87 took effect, a Latino community group called The Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights organized a “day without immigrants” to protest the measure. It called for a day of non-compliance, asking businesses to close and community members to stay home and not work or shop. Accounts suggest that at least 125 Atlanta-area businesses closed to show their support Friday.

“We will mark our presence with our absence so that the state of Georgia takes note of the important role and contributions of Latinos in the state,” the group’s president, Teodoro Maus, said.

At Plaza Fiesta, a mall in Atlanta that caters to the growing immigrant population, many stores were closed, with signs in the windows expressing opposition to the law and saying they would be closed Friday in solidarity with the immigrant community. Many restaurants in the food court, however, were open.

The group is also trying to create shopping zones that are friendly to the immigrant community. After a business owner signs a “pledge of non-compliance” with the new law, they get a sign to put in their window that says “Immigrants Welcome Here, Georgia Buy Spot.”

Georgia’s Hispanic population has nearly doubled since 2000, to 865,689, or nearly 10 percent of the state’s population, according to 2010 US Census figures.

But the legal fight nationally is far from over. It could drag on for months and reach the chambers of the US Supreme Court before long.

----HUMNEWS staff

Monday
Jan242011

2011 is Year of the Bat - Crucial Pollinators (Perspective)

By Dr. Merlin D. Tuttle

(HN, January 24, 2011) - Were you aware that bats are key pollinators in many parts of the world? Pollination is a vital ecosystem service without which many of our key industries such as agriculture and pharmaceuticals would collapse or incur heavy costs for artificial substitution. TEEB has found that in some estimates, over 75% of the worlds crop plants, as well as many plants that are source species for pharmaceuticals, rely on pollination by animal vectors.Bats provide a wide range of ecosystem services which benefit mankind from insect deterrent to bat guano fertilizer. CREDIT: Merlin Tuttle

Furthermore, for 87 out of 115 leading global crops (representing up to 35% of the global food supply), fruit or seed numbers or quality were increased through animal pollination. Bats also provide a wide range of ecosystem services which benefit mankind from insect deterrent to bat guano fertilizer.

Bat Pollinators: Tequila and the Tree of Life

More than 1,200 species of bats comprise nearly a quarter of all mammals, and their ecological services are essential to human economies and the health of whole ecosystems worldwide. Without bats, costly crop pests would increase, forcing greater reliance on dangerous pesticides. We could also lose some of our favorite foods and beverages and suffer the consequences of greatly diminished biodiversity.

Many of our most important foods come from bat-dependent plants. These include bananas, plantain, breadfruit, peaches, mangos, dates, figs, cashews and many more. In fact, in an average tropical food market, approximately 70 percent of the fruit sold comes from trees or shrubs that rely heavily on bats in the wild. Some such as the famous durian, still rely on bat pollinators even in commercial orchards. This king of Asian fruits sells for a billion dollars annually, but could be lost without healthy populations of its bat pollinators.

In East Africa nectar feeding bats are essential to fruit production of the Baobab tree, sometimes referred to as the African Tree of Life due to the exceptional variety of wildlife that depend on it for food and shelter. Recently, it has additionally become known as the Vitamin Tree. Baobab fruits contain six times as much vitamin C as oranges, twice as much calcium as milk, are rich in other vitamins and antioxidants and may soon become a billion dollar a year crop.

In deserts, from the southwestern United States to southern Peru, more than 100 species of cactus and agave plants rely on bats for pollination. Giant, columnar cactus plants, such as the famous saguaro and organ pipe, are heavily relied on for food and shelter by a wide variety of birds and mammals, and agaves are extremely useful in erosion control, as ornamentals and as the source of all tequila liquor. The world's thirsty Margarita drinkers can definitely raise a glass in praise of bats.

Bats: Nature's natural pesticide

Bats also provide an essential ecosystem service known as "biological control." Natural pests and diseases are usually regulated by a wide range of predators and parasites. TEEB has found that agricultural pests cause significant economic losses worldwide. Globally, more than 40% of food production is being lost to insect pests, plant pathogens, and weeds, despite the application of more than 3 billion kilograms of pesticides to crops, plus other means of control. Natural control of pests is to date one of the most effective means of dealing with these threats. Bats are essential predators which keep many damaging insects from destroying crops.

The colony of 20 million free-tailed bats that lives in Bracken Cave near San Antonio, Texas, for example, consumes 200 tons of insects nightly, predominantly crop pests such as corn earworm and armyworm moths. Just one of these bats can catch enough moths in one night's feeding to prevent 50,000 or more eggs from being laid, resulting in local cotton growers saving close to a million dollars annually in reduced need for pesticides.

A single mouse-eared bat (widespread in Europe and North America) can capture 1,000 or more mosquito-sized insects in just one hour. A colony of 150 big brown bats, a number that could live in a backyard bat house, can capture enough cucumber beetles in a summer to prevent them from laying 33 million eggs that would otherwise hatch into corn rootworms, a billion-dollar-a -year pest in the United States.

In many locations, bats can be easily attracted to bat houses to help protect gardens and organic farms. Outstanding success has been reported from Oregon to Georgia in the United States, probably because many of our worst insect pests listen for bat echolocation signals and flee areas where bats are heard. A pecan grower in Georgia reports having become entirely organic since he attracted thousands of bats to extra large bat houses in his orchard. So the next time you think organic, think "bats."

Bat Fertilizer

Bats are also the primary energy producers for many cave ecosystems. Guano deposits beneath their roosts provide energy that sustains thousands of unique life forms, from bacteria and fungi to arthropods and small vertebrates. These organisms are often endemic to a single cave or cave system, but provide a potential treasure trove of biodiversity needed for solving human problems, from production of new antibiotics and gasohol to improved detergents and waste detoxification.

Additionally, extraction of bat guano for fertilizer provides an invaluable renewable resource for whole communities in developing countries from Asia and Africa to Latin America. For example, due to this eco-service of bats, Thailand's Khao Chong Pran Cave has become a major source of income for the local community, as well as a unique tourist attraction. Careful protection and harvest management have allowed annual guano sales to increase from $10,000 to $135,000. Bat guano is big business.

From Terror to Tourist Attraction

As people learn to appreciate bats, these fascinating animals are paving the way for popular tourist attractions. When 1.5 million free-tailed bats began moving into crevices beneath the Congress Avenue Bridge in downtown Austin, Texas, health officials warned that they were rabid and dangerous, and local people wanted the bats eradicated. However, through the educational efforts of Bat Conservation International, fears were calmed, and in more than 30 years, not a single person has been harmed. The bats consume roughly 15 tons of insects nightly and attract 12 million tourist dollars each summer, clearly demonstrating the value of bats to our environment and economies.

Year of the Bat 2011-2012

Unfortunately, many people in other locations around the world still misunderstand, fear and persecute bats at great harm to themselves. Too many have heard only of vampires and disease, both of which have been greatly exaggerated by sensational media stories.

Needlessly fearful humans, in Latin America, have mistakenly destroyed thousands, even millions of highly beneficial bats at a time by sealing, burning or poisoning roosts, especially in caves, and many more bats have been lost through simple neglect of their conservation needs.

Ironically, even the common vampire bat of Latin America has proven useful. A new drug, Desmoteplase developed from research on vampire saliva, appears to greatly improve treatment of stroke victims, a potentially enormous contribution to human wellbeing. Who would have thought that a bat - and a vampire, at that - could help save countless lives?

Year of the Bat (2011-2012) celebrations will highlight bat values and needs, providing unique introductions to these incredibly fascinating animals that unfortunately rank among our planet's least understood and most rapidly declining and endangered animals. But as more people learn about and account for the ecosystem services provided by bats, greater conservation efforts will be made to ensure the survival of these fascinating and essential creatures.

For more information:

Year of the Bat 2011 - 2012 is a global campaign to promote conservation, research and education about the world's only flying mammals. Year of the Bat is supported by the United Nations Environment Programme, the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species and EUROBATS, as well as numerous partner organizations around the world.

The writer is Honorary Ambassador for the Year of the Bat campaign.

Tuesday
Oct192010

Starved for Attention - US: The U.S. Standard and a Double Standard 

In the documentary above, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and VII photographers Antonin Kratochvil and Jessica Dimmock take a closer look at the US Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) that provides vouchers to low-income young mothers for the purchase of nutritious staple foods such as milk, fruit, eggs, cereal and rice.  The documentary also takes a look at the sub-standard foods the US, as the world's largest food aid donor, sends to other countries.

Tuesday
Aug312010

Hurricane Earl - August 31, 2010 (Update) 

As of 5am EDT Tuesday Hurricane Earl was located about 150 miles to the north-northwest of San Juan Puerto Rico with top winds near 135 mph. Earl is still a category 4 on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale. Some additional strengthening is possible over the next 24 hours. Earl is moving toward the west-northwest at 13 mph, but should turn to the northwest by this evening. A northwestward motion should continue during the day Wednesday. Hurricane Earl is moving away from Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Conditions should gradually improve with diminishing wind and flooding today. Tropical storm warnings are still in effect there, but could be discontinued later today. Tropical storm warnings are in effect for the Turks and Caicos. Conditions there should gradually worsen during the day today with increasing wind and rain. The worst conditions are expected on those islands this evening and overnight with gradually improving conditions Wednesday. The southeastern Bahamas are under a tropical storm watch. Earl should pass well east of the Bahamas tonight through Wednesday night. Some squally showers and stronger winds are possible later today through early Thursday morning as Earl passes by. Earl turns northward later Wednesday and could move toward the Carolina coastline Thursday. Tropical storm watches could be issued as early as this afternoon or evening. Hurricane Earl could threaten the Northeast and New England coasts Friday and Friday night. (SOURCE: The Weather Channel)

 

 

 

Tuesday
Jul062010

Could USA’s Loss on the World Cup Soccer Field Mirror What’s Happening in the Global Markets? (Commentary)

By Nick Popow, HUMNEWS student reporter-at-large

(HN, July 6, 2010) "History is written by the winners."

Winston Churchill hit the nail on the head with that thought, which has long-since been embraced as an American ideal. It has gotten to the point where Americans have become obsessed with dominating whatever field they choose to play - whether it’s in business, academia, the media, military or athletics in general.

Curiously, soccer is an odd standout. While Americans have their homegrown sports such as football, baseball, and basketball, the rest of the world has soccer. South African wine exports have surged in recent years, putting the country almost on par with France. (HN. 2010)  

The question is why?

As the world watches the first World Cup ever to be held on African soil in South Africa, unprecedented numbers of Americans have flocked to TV screens to watch what is known in most other countries as football.

Who were they cheering for mostly?

Ironically, not for the star-studded Team USA – even with a lineup of players hailing from many top European clubs.

Instead the applause heard in American pubs, airports and community centers was reserved for the South American, European or Asian teams that define their individual ethnic origins.  Not only does this phenomena reflect the ethnic melting pot that is America but also because most European and South American teams are simply viewed as “better” or “better qualified” than the American team. It is no exaggeration to say that Americans hate being second best.

Bill Clinton was spot on when he said in Cape Town last week at the Fortune Global Summit that if the US were to host the next World Cup every visiting team would have a local home audience – given the sheer number of Diaspora communities here.

One could concede that, at least for a split second, as Landon Donovan of the U.S. team scored a dramatic last gasp winning goal against Algeria, the chance of the US to become a winner was within reach. That goal seemed to finally ignite widespread passion for the game State-side.  

But that hope was short-lived as in the very next game the U.S. was eliminated from further competition in a 2-1 loss to Ghana – the last remaining hope for the host continent, Africa - in overtime. Imagine, the U.S., a super power, being eliminated by a tiny developing country like Ghana.

But alas, soccer does not accord status to superpowers, not even the United States.

Could the ongoing realignment of power on the World Cup soccer pitch reflect what is going on in the global business marketplace? A marketplace where emerging economies like Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya are vying for attention with the likes of Singapore, Mexico and India. The World Cup is described as a huge shot in the arm for South Africa. (HN, 2010) 

Natalie Billon, a Wall Street veteran, put it this way: “The rise in the strength and popularity of soccer teams outside the U.S. mirrors a shift in the balance of economic power toward the emerging market economies. Investors are increasingly looking outside the US for growth.”

Recent GDP growth data backs this assertion. From 2000 to 2008, while G7 countries have contributed 19.8% of GDP growth, the BRIC countries have contributed an incredible 46.3%. To reflect this, investors are voting with their portfolios. Ten years ago, the allocation recommendation for exposure to emerging markets was less than 8%. Today the recommendation is 25%  to 30% plus.

Sadly, and to the detriment of US business, the mainstream American media is just beginning to take notice of this historic shift. If there was one clear message from the Cape Town summit that Clinton headlined it is that the enticing opportunities exist NOW in Africa and that US captains of industry could be missing the boat. As Clinton presciently said, the problem of the rich countries is rigidity.

Perhaps what we are witnessing – the decline of America’s pre-eminent position in everything - is something akin to the fall or decay of the British Empire more than 100 years ago. Heady stuff to ponder to be sure. This is a view shared by the quintessential international investor and market historian Jim Rogers, who some years ago identified the decline of the US and the developed markets and the rise of the emerging markets, led by China and the commodities boom. “I dont see anyway that America is going to become the great country in the 21st century again,” says Rogers.

---With research by HUMNEWS.