Category: Business

The Honduran meltdown – Made in America


Risk on!

In May 2005, US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick appeared at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington to rally support for CAFTA, a free trade agreement between the US, the Central American countries, and the Dominican Republic.

In his remarks, Zoellick played up the notion that, for Central America and the DR, the agreement would “strengthen democracy through economic growth and open societies based on the rule of law”, while also entailing various perks for the gringos; a T-shirt reading “Made in Honduras”, he enthused, would likely contain over 60 percent US content.

The deputy secretary and future president of the World Bank went as far as to assert that, “In many ways, CAFTA is the logical culmination of 20 years of democratic and social progress in Central America, nurtured and encouraged by the United States.”

Never mind that, 20-some years ago, the United States was nurturing things like Battalion 3-16, described by the Baltimore Sun as a “CIA-trained military unit that terrorised Honduras for much of the 1980s”…

To be sure, much of Honduras’ contemporary plight – while perhaps appearing on the surface, like Zoellick’s T-shirt, to be a domestic creation – is in fact Made in USA.

Encouraged by then-US ambassador to Honduras John Negroponte, the Battalion 3-16 death squad was responsible for the disappearance of almost 200 suspected Honduran leftists and the torture and kidnapping of many more.

The aim of right-wing terror, of course, was to prevent a Honduran crossover to the communist dark side a la neighbouring Nicaragua – against whose transgressions Honduras had the honour of acting as de facto US military base and staging ground for the Nicaraguan “contra” war.

Aside from the Honduran army and similarly reactionary forces, other Hondurans benefited from the arrangement, as well. Among them was Juan Ramon Matta Ballesteros, the country’s most famed drug lord and owner of the contra supply airline SETCO, dubbed the “CIA airline”.

It’s this sort of arrangement that makes a mockery of continuing US drug war rhetoric, which excuses the militarisation of the hemisphere and allows the US Drug Enforcement Administration to transcend borders at will, while US borders are increasingly fortified…

Maria Luisa Borjas, the former chief of internal affairs for the Honduran police force, herself confirmed to me during a conversation in 2009, that approximately 3,000 young people had been murdered by the state during the presidency of Ricardo Maduro (2002-06).

Inspired by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Maduro acted as the ringleader for Honduras’ very own zero tolerance regime, which was characterised, Borjas said, by a criminalisation of youth and a liberal application of the term “gang member” to validate extrajudicial killings…

This could have been predicted from the get-go by anyone who paid scant attention to NAFTA, the 1994 free trade accord that lowered wages in Mexico, raised unemployment, and forced two million Mexican farmers to abandon their land thanks to US export subsidies.

The post-coup era has seen soaring homicide rates, with much of the violence committed by state security forces enjoying near-total impunity…

The US, for its part, did its best to legitimise the 2009 coup while pretending not to. After hemming and hawing for months about whether or not a coup perpetrated by the military qualified as a military coup and thus necessitated punitive financial measures, the US recognised the outcome of illegitimate Honduran elections held in November 2009 by the coup-installed regime. And poof, Honduras was restored to the realm of democracy.

Democracy is a word Americans lap up like a hungry cat with a bowl of cream. The calories may not be healthy calories. Long range we may all die of coronary artery disease – or its political equivalent.

Meanwhile, the World Bank-types brag that “Made in Honduras” equals 60% of the profits coming to US Corporations. I’m not sure how that is supposed to benefit the people of Honduras.

500K Chinese visitors expected to visit Yellowstone, this year

There are a lot of places to get visitor information about Jackson Hole and the greater Yellowstone region — unless you’re looking for one printed in Mandarin Chinese.

Then the guide you’re looking for is Escape.

The glossy mag hit stands and the Internet about a week ago — with 15,000 in the communities around Yellowstone National Park, 15,000 in China and 420,000 digital copies for all Chinese citizens who have applied to renew travel visas.

The total nearly matches the number of Chinese nationals that Yellowstone expects to see this summer.

“That’s an increase from 300-odd-thousand last year,” said Brian Riley, publisher of Escape. “That’s a huge increase.”…

The former investment banker visited Japan as an exchange student at the age of 14 — “I know Japanese like the back of my hand,” he said — and he ran a division of a bank in Singapore for about 15 years. For the past 15 or 16 years he has continued to travel regularly to China and other Asian countries.

“When I retired from [banking] I moved to Jackson,” he said. “I’ve been constantly looking for something that uses my business and entrepreneurial background.”

When he began to see more and more Chinese tourists coming to Jackson Hole, and began to hear that the upward trend in visitation was predicted to continue, he found what he was looking for…

A well-circulated statistic has the typical Chinese tourist spending $6,000 on a visit to America.

“Assuming they spend a lot on airfare and other visits, even if it’s just one-third [of] that, that’s $1 billion spent in Yellowstone,” he said…

And while these tourists may look average in their rental cars and Western clothes, chances are that they are wealthy.

“They own their own factories,” Riley said. “They are not factory workers or store employees. They are big business owners,” and they want to leave some of their money behind as they travel.

Too many local American communities are hypocrites – like our government – when it comes to putting real business interests on the line. The Feds blather about the shortage of Chinese investment in American companies. Then, Congress, the State Department or the White House rolls out some jingoistic rant when actual offers are made to buy American companies or start up a branch of a Chinese business.

Local yokels whine about shortages of tourists, the small amount of foreign direct investment in their state or city economy. Followed up by fear and trembling press conferences, Tea Party rallies, lifetime fools whining about the dangers of foreign money entering the economy.

If this nation spent as much time entertaining real investment from China in the talent and experience we have to offer – as we spend whining in fear – we’d probably be a year or two closer to climbing back to cyclic normal from the Great Recession.

And only one person in Jackson Hole got around to producing a local guide in Mandarin.

Ketchup bottle QR code brings you to a porn site

A German man who tested out the QR code on a bottle of Heinz ketchup offering a defunct promotion says the code now leads to a porn site.

Daniel Korell wrote to the ketchup firm on Facebook, saying the Heinz Hot Ketchup “is probably not for minors” after he scanned the QR code on his bottle expecting to be taken to a label design contest website and was instead taken to a porn site.

Korell wrote he tried the code with “several phones” and tried manually entering the web address, but he received the same result each time.

Heinz apologized to Korell, saying the company’s ownership of the website expired after the 2012-2014 contest came to a close.

“Even if the bottle was a leftover, it’s still in lots of households,” Korell said in a comment. “It’s incomprehensible that you didn’t reserve the domain for one or two years…”

The chuckle from my side is how many “modern” corporations still haven’t a clue about life on the Web.

The Autoplay Arms Race


Click to enlarge

I find autoplay video or audio commercials so offensive my automatic response is to click away from the page. It is the advertising dross-du-jour. Not only Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are devouring their young with the tech, WordPress has leaped with both feet into this disaster.

I have complained to the powers-that-be, here at WordPress, and my eventual choice appears to be a request for no advertising at all on my personal blog.

Thanks to re/code

How we waste dollar$ on the Border Patrol drone program?


Click to enlargeMatt York/AP

A U.S. Customs and Border Patrol drone aircraft lifts off at Fort Huachuca in Sierra Vista, AZ

Over the past two fiscal years, Customs and Border Protection – CBP – drones helped nab less than 3 percent of the drugs seized by agents in the few sectors where they were used, according to CBP’s own figures.

By comparison, since this fiscal year began on Oct. 1, manned aircraft have accounted for more than 99 percent of weapons, cash and meth seizures, 95 percent of cocaine seizures, and 89 percent of marijuana seizures in which aerial assets were involved, according to CBP data.

To CBP, drug seizures “are not an appropriate performance measure,” spokesman Carlos Lazo said, noting that the drones “detect illegal cross-border activity … on a daily basis.”

[Actually] For budget reasons, the drones don’t fly every day.

In theory, CBP’s $600 million-and-counting drone program is intended to help close the gaps through which smugglers move people and drugs across the border.

“The problem,” Sutherland said, “is that we can’t usually say we apprehended or stopped a group. All we can say is we detected them.”

But the cost-effectiveness of the drones repeatedly has come under fire from by government auditors. Most recently, in January, a critique by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General said — not for the first time— that the drones cost too much and catch too little. Inspectors recommended that, rather than buy any more drones, CBP look for better alternatives…

The Predator B drone and its marine variant, the Guardian, are made by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., of Poway, Calif., an affiliate of General Atomics.

General Atomics and GAAS spent nearly $2.4 million lobbying in 2005, when they won their first CBP contract, according to disclosure forms filed with the government. Since then, the two affiliates have spent more than $23 million more on lobbying, while winning sole-source, non-competitive contracts in 2007 and 2012. Officials at GAAS declined to be interviewed.

RTFA for pages of really interesting info on cost-savings alternatives. Alternatives which suggest greater efficiencies, more useful tasks accomplished for less expense.

Then, reflect for a moment on whether this body of programmatic fact will count for more in the mind of your elected Congress-critters than the size of the campaign donations offered by lobbyists from firms heavily into selling us drones?

Another great piece of journalism from azcentral.com.

Fructose can power a vicious circle

‘Walk through any supermarket and take a look at the labels on food products, and you’ll see that many of them contain fructose, often in the form of sucrose (table sugar)’ — that’s how Wilhelm Krek, professor for cell biology at ETH Zurich’s Institute for Molecular Health Sciences, summarises the problem with today’s nutrition. Prepared foods and soft drinks in particular, but even purportedly healthy fruit juices contain fructose as an artificial additive — often in high quantities. In recent decades fructose spread throughout the food market, due to a reputation as being less harmful than glucose. In contrast to glucose, fructose barely increases blood glucose levels and insulin secretion. This avoids frequently recurring insulin spikes after any glucose consumption, which are judged harmful. In addition, fructose is sweeter to the taste.

But there’s a downside: the liver converts fructose very efficiently into fat. People who consume too much high-fructose food can in time become overweight and develop high blood pressure, dyslipidaemia with fatty liver and insulin resistance — symptoms that doctors group together under the name metabolic syndrome.

A new paper by Krek and his team member Peter Mirtschink describes a further, more troubling side effect of fructose. The researchers have discovered a previously unknown molecular mechanism that points to fructose as a key driver of uncontrolled growth of the heart muscle, a condition that can lead to fatal heart failure…

In the study, Krek’s research group demonstrates that a lack of oxygen in the heart cells cues the appearance of the HIF molecule. This is a universal molecular switch that flips whenever a pathological growth process is under way, such as cardiac enlargement or cancer. HIF causes the heart muscle cells to produce ketohexokinase-C (KHK-C), the central enzyme in fructose metabolism. KHK-C has a high affinity for fructose and can therefore process it very efficiently. The production of KHK-C also has a reinforcing effect on glycolysis. Since fructose metabolism doesn’t involve any negative feedback regulation, a vicious cycle starts that can lead to heart failure…In mice that were suffering from chronic high blood pressure, the researchers turned off the KHK enzyme, which indeed inhibited enlargement of the heart…

Large volumes of fructose are added to many foods, but especially to sweet beverages and soft drinks. This practice drove up per capita consumption of high fructose corn syrup in the USA between 1970 and 1997, from 230 grams per year to over 28 kilograms.

But Mirtschink provides reassurance that eating a normal amount of fruit daily is safe and healthy. ‘Besides fructose, fruit contains plenty of important trace elements, vitamins and fibre,’ he says. People should, however, avoid overly sweet soft drinks and fruit juices — these often have sugar added — as well as ready-made meals and other foods to which large amounts of fructose are added as a flavour carrier.

I couldn’t agree more.

Please RTFA. I didn’t wish to take away from ScienceDaily’s presentation of this fine little article. There are delightful bits and pieces in the press release about the collaboration and invention within this study.

Threat of the sixth mass extinction is real – and it is here, now!

That is the bad news at the center of a new study by a group of scientists including Paul Ehrlich, the Bing Professor of Population Studies in biology and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment. Ehrlich and his co-authors call for fast action to conserve threatened species, populations and habitat, but warn that the window of opportunity is rapidly closing…

Although most well known for his positions on human population, Ehrlich has done extensive work on extinctions going back to his 1981 book, Extinction: The Causes and Consequences of the Disappearance of Species. He has long tied his work on coevolution, on racial, gender and economic justice, and on nuclear winter with the issue of wildlife populations and species loss…

The new study, published in the journal Science Advances, shows that even with extremely conservative estimates, species are disappearing up to about 100 times faster than the normal rate between mass extinctions, known as the background rate.

“If it is allowed to continue, life would take many millions of years to recover, and our species itself would likely disappear early on,” said lead author Gerardo Ceballos of the Universidad Autónoma de México…

Focusing on vertebrates, the group for which the most reliable modern and fossil data exist, the researchers asked whether even the lowest estimates of the difference between background and contemporary extinction rates still justify the conclusion that people are precipitating “a global spasm of biodiversity loss.” The answer: a definitive yes.

“We emphasize that our calculations very likely underestimate the severity of the extinction crisis, because our aim was to place a realistic lower bound on humanity’s impact on biodiversity,” the researchers write.

To history’s steady drumbeat, a human population growing in numbers, per capita consumption and economic inequity has altered or destroyed natural habitats. The long list of impacts includes:

Land clearing for farming, logging and settlement

Introduction of invasive species

Carbon emissions that drive climate change and ocean acidification

Toxins that alter and poison ecosystems

Now, the specter of extinction hangs over about 41 percent of all amphibian species and 26 percent of all mammals, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which maintains an authoritative list of threatened and extinct species.

“There are examples of species all over the world that are essentially the walking dead,” Ehrlich said.

Look around you, folks. Most of us are urban if not urbane. We struggle each day back-and-forth through invisible vapors, still detectible with our olfactory sense. Friends in Midland, Texas, call the petrochemicals in the air “the smell of money”. I call it the smell of death because most birds are already gone, dead or dying, fleeing the chemistry of an Earth’s crust riddled by as many holes as the battlefield remains of a Mafia shootout.

Do you wonder why only the rich and super-rich afford themselves menus of fish and fowl comparatively as expensive as Ferraris. Taste guided not only by wealth; but, scarcity, assumes the death of species as an opportunity for increased profit. When vendors of toys and bling achieve greater wealth themselves – we know the prophets of doom have every right to stand and ring their little bell outsides the doors of our homes, before the grand entrances of government halls.

Finally – the FDA gets up on their hind legs and bans trans fats

The Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday gave the food industry three years to eliminate artery-clogging, artificial trans fats from the food supply, a long-awaited step that capped years of effort by consumer advocates and is expected to save thousands of lives a year.

Trans fats — a major contributor to heart disease in the United States — have already been substantially reduced in foods, but they still lurk in many popular products, including frostings, microwave popcorn, packaged pies, frozen pizzas, margarines, coffee creamers, graham crackers and granola bars…

…The time-frame decision announced…was final…

The agency has estimated that banning trans fats completely could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year.

“This is the final nail in the coffin of trans fats,” said Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer group that had pushed for the ban since the early 1990s. “In terms of lives saved, I think eliminating trans fats is the single most important change to our food supply.”

The agency has ruled that partially hydrogenated oils, the source of trans fats, no longer be “generally recognized as safe.” That means companies would have to prove that such oils are safe to eat, a high hurdle given that scientific literature overwhelmingly shows the contrary. The Institute of Medicine has concluded that there is no safe level for consumption of them, a conclusion that the F.D.A. has cited in its reasoning on the topic.

RTFA for a decent recitation of bureaucratic history, too-brief notes about the history of medical research.

New York City was the biggest early player in the fight against this as well as other unhealthy profit-makers in the food chain. One of the real achievements of Mike Bloomberg’s reign as mayor.

California has a similar statewide ban – and a glaring exemption for food preparation for the state’s schoolchildren.

Like any regulatory process affecting human health vs profits, papier-mache libertarians and birthright old farts will be up in arms.

Overdue.

The right food fight

To what extent should governments regulate or tax addictive behavior? This question has long framed public debate about alcohol, tobacco, gambling, and other goods and services in many countries worldwide. And now, in the United States – arguably the mother of global consumer culture – the debate has turned toward the fight against the epidemic of childhood obesity.

It is ironic that in a world where childhood malnutrition plagues many developing countries, childhood obesity has become one of the leading health scourges in advanced economies. The World Bank estimates that over a third of all children in Indonesia, for example, suffer from stunted growth, confronting them with the risk of lifetime effects on fitness and cognitive development. Yet, the plight of malnourished children in the developing world does not make obesity in the advanced countries any less of a problem.

Indeed, though perhaps not on a par with global warming and looming water shortages, obesity – and especially childhood obesity – nonetheless is on the short list of major public-health challenges facing advanced countries in the twenty-first century, and it is rapidly affecting many emerging-market economies as well. Yet solving it poses much more difficult challenges than the kind of successful public-health interventions of the last century, including near-universal vaccination, fluoridation of drinking water, and motor-vehicle safety rules.

The question is whether it is realistic to hope for success unless the government resorts to far more blunt instruments than it currently seems prepared to wield. Given the huge impact of obesity on health-care costs, life expectancy, and quality of life, it is a topic that merits urgent attention…

The causes of obesity are complex, and the science of understanding human behavior is embryonic; but it is not hyperbole to call the problem an epidemic. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 18% of children aged 6-11 in the US are not just overweight, but obese.

The risks posed by this epidemic are manifold, but the main one is that childhood obesity begets adult obesity, with significantly increased risks of diabetes and heart disease. Indeed, experts estimate that more than 18% of all adults in the advanced economies are obese. Even more stunning are estimates that roughly 9% of all Americans – and a similar percentage of adults worldwide – have diabetes.

RTFA to grasp the range of opposition to this task. It ain’t just the sugar profiteers. Our nation is sufficiently distracted by ignorance and myth to provide legions of foot-soldiers ready to fight to the death [literally] to protect Slushies and Trans-fats.

Women-run startups in Costa Rica using their Little Dish as a billboard

In the outskirts of costa rica, a large majority of local women can be found in their homes cooking, baking, making clothing and cutting hair, mostly without any kind of monetary return. although the inhabitants of these residences don’t often bring in large incomes, the housewives admit there’s one expense they absolutely can’t live without: TV. the rural, central american landscape is populated by dish antennas that sit atop nearly every home, bringing local and international television signals to millions of people.

Latin American telecommunications brand CLARO is one of the most ubiquitous service providers. together with creative agency ogilvy & mather costa rica, claro chose to give up its most valuable outdoor advertising space — on dish antennas with its logo — and give back to the inhabitants who live beneath them. a team took to the streets rural central american areas and hand-painted their dish antennas, turning them into billboards for businesses based on their favorite household activity. colorful and illustrative compositions delineate signs for a hair salon, an egg vendor, flower shop and piñata craftsman, just to name a few.

CLARO is a wholly-owned part of Carlos Slim’s AMERICAN MOVIL headquartered in Mexico. Nice to see CLARO doing what they are doing. Every little bit helps.

Thanks, Om