The human rights violations we’re powerless to prevent

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Fortress Europe and the migrants risking their lives to find refuge

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Monsanto’s herbicide linked to fatal kidney disease epidemic

Jeff Ritterman, M.D. writes: For years, scientists have been trying to unravel the mystery of a chronic kidney disease epidemic that has hit Central America, India and Sri Lanka. The disease occurs in poor peasant farmers who do hard physical work in hot climes. In each instance, the farmers have been exposed to herbicides and to heavy metals. The disease is known as CKDu, for Chronic Kidney Disease of unknown etiology. The “u” differentiates this illness from other chronic kidney diseases where the cause is known. Very few Western medical practitioners are even aware of CKDu, despite the terrible toll it has taken on poor farmers from El Salvador to South Asia.

Dr. Catharina Wesseling, the regional director for the Program on Work and Health (SALTRA) in Central America, which pioneered the initial studies of the region’s unsolved outbreak, put it this way, “Nephrologists and public health professionals from wealthy countries are mostly either unfamiliar with the problem or skeptical whether it even exists.”

Dr. Wesseling was being diplomatic. At a 2011 health summit in Mexico City, the United States beat back a proposal by Central American nations that would have listed CKDu as a top priority for the Americas.

David McQueen, a US delegate from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who has since retired from the agency, explained the US position.

“The idea was to keep the focus on the key big risk factors that we could control and the major causes of death: heart disease, cancer and diabetes. And we felt, the position we were taking, that CKD was included.”

The United States was wrong. The delegates from Central America were correct. CKDu is a new form of illness. This kidney ailment does not stem from diabetes, hypertension or other diet-related risk factors. Unlike the kidney disease found in diabetes or hypertension, the kidney tubules are a major site of injury in CKDu, suggesting a toxic etiology. [Continue reading…]

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The math that predicted the revolutions sweeping the globe right now

f13-iconBrian Merchant writes: It’s happening in Ukraine, Venezuela, Thailand, Bosnia, Syria, and beyond. Revolutions, unrest, and riots are sweeping the globe. The near-simultaneous eruption of violent protest can seem random and chaotic; inevitable symptoms of an unstable world. But there’s at least one common thread between the disparate nations, cultures, and people in conflict, one element that has demonstrably proven to make these uprisings more likely: high global food prices.

Just over a year ago, complex systems theorists at the New England Complex Systems Institute warned us that if food prices continued to climb, so too would the likelihood that there would be riots across the globe. Sure enough, we’re seeing them now. The paper’s author, Yaneer Bar-Yam, charted the rise in the FAO food price index — a measure the UN uses to map the cost of food over time — and found that whenever it rose above 210, riots broke out worldwide. It happened in 2008 after the economic collapse, and again in 2011, when a Tunisian street vendor who could no longer feed his family set himself on fire in protest.

Bar-Yam built a model with the data, which then predicted that something like the Arab Spring would ensue just weeks before it did. Four days before Mohammed Bouazizi’s self-immolation helped ignite the revolution that would spread across the region, NECSI submitted a government report that highlighted the risk that rising food prices posed to global stability. Now, the model has once again proven prescient — 2013 saw the third-highest food prices on record, and that’s when the seeds for the conflicts across the world were sown. [Continue reading…]

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Video: The rise of the global South

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How Hugo Chavez helped liberate South America from the United States’ toxic influence

In the Toronto Star, Tony Burman writes: When Chavez was elected in 1998, his government replaced decades of corrupt and greedy rule by political and business elites — openly supported by the United States — who squandered the nation’s wealth.

During his years as president, millions of Venezuelans received health care for the first time. Extreme poverty was reduced by 70 per cent and access to public education increased dramatically. Illiteracy has virtually been eradicated. Above all, the vast Venezuelan majority, marginalized and ignored by governments in past decades, assumed a dignity and pride of place that had been unheard of in the modern Latin American political culture.

Since September 2001, the United States has virtually ignored the region, and the Latin American response has been eye-opening. The populist approach by Chavez, which challenged conventional political and economic thinking, has been contagious.

This is the one region that did not respond to the 2008 global recession with across-the-board austerity. Instead, several governments expanded public services, reduced poverty and inequality, and nationalized key industries. The result has been strong economies and a string of popular governments that have actually been reelected.

Apart from Chavez, who won last October’s presidential election in Venezuela with an 11 per cent margin, the latest example of this is Rafael Correa, reelected last month as Ecuador’s president with 57 per cent of the vote. Last year, Latin America’s first indigenous president, Evo Morales, was elected in Bolivia and, in 2009, Dilma Rousseff was voted in as president of Brazil.

The distinction of Latin America in today’s global political context is that it is far more independent of the United States than other regions, such as Europe or — dare I say — Canada. And that is a staggering irony given its history in the past century of being a virtual vassal, or doormat, of the U.S. [Continue reading…]

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