Former Mexican governor in US court for drugs, money laundering

The former governor of the Mexican state of Quintana Roo has appeared in court in New York charged with plotting to import cocaine and money laundering.

On Sunday, Mario Ernesto Villanueva Madrid became the most senior Mexican politician to be extradited to the US on drugs charges. He allegedly helped the Juarez cartel smuggle hundreds of tons of cocaine from Colombia through Mexico to the US.

Mr Villanueva was governor of the Caribbean state from 1993 to 1999.

US prosecutor Preet Bharara has accused him of turning Quintana Roo “into a virtual narco-state, selling its infrastructure and even its police to one of the world’s most dangerous mafia enterprises”.

Mr Villanueva was sentenced to six years in prison in Mexico for money laundering in 2001. He was released in 2007, but re-arrested immediately when the US requested his extradition.

Send some of his corrupt fellow politicians along to keep him company.

Miss an appointment with your shrink? Phone it in!

Treating clinical depression on the telephone is nearly as effective as face-to-face consultations, a new Brigham Young University study finds.

The trial run included 30 people newly diagnosed with major depression. Instead of eight scheduled visits to the clinic, the participants covered the same material during a series of phone calls with the therapist. Calls varied in length, ranging from 21 to 52 minutes. The patients did not receive antidepressant medication.

At a six month follow-up, 42 percent of participants had recovered from depression. For comparison, similar therapy conducted in person has a 50 percent recovery rate.

Offering a phone or webcam option for psychotherapy does appear warranted from an efficacy point of view,” said Diane Spangler, a BYU psychology professor and a coauthor on the study. “It’s more user- friendly — no commutes, more flexibility of place and time — and has no side effects…”

Though a sample of 30 people is not large, the BYU researchers cite a previous antidepressant drug trial that happened to include a telephone counseling component. In that trial, the added benefit from phone counseling matched the results attained by the new BYU study.

Shows you how important that face-to-face couchside manner just may be. Or not.

Gordon Brown will resign as Labour leader to enable coalition

Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown says he would step down this year, sacrificing himself to give his Labor Party a chance of forming a government with the smaller Liberal Democrats.

The Lib Dems are already being courted by the Conservatives, who did best in an election last week. But Brown said in a statement in front of his official residence at 10 Downing Street that the Lib Dems now wanted to talk to Labor too.

The center-right Conservatives, led by David Cameron, won most seats in parliament but fell short of a majority.

Labor, in power since 1997, came second and the Liberal Democrats, led by Nick Clegg, a distant third. It is the first time since 1974 that a British election has put no party in overall control.

Brown’s announcement could make it easier for Labor to lure the Lib Dems away from the Conservatives, since Clegg had signaled strongly during the election campaign that he did not wish to keep the unpopular Brown, 59, in office.

“Mr Clegg has just informed me that while he intends to continue his dialogue that he has begun with the Conservatives, he now wishes also to take forward formal discussions with the Labor Party,” Brown said, adding that he would facilitate that.

I have no desire to stay in my position longer than is needed,” Brown said.

If he truly meant that – he would have resigned a year ago.

Cautionary tale of credit card scam at just one restaurant

The number of victims in a credit card scam involving El Chico Café customers – in Melbourne, Florida – has more than quadrupled during the course of the month long or so investigation, police said.

Authorities said the number of victims uncovered by their investigation into fraudulent purchases made on the credit and debit cards of customers at the Melbourne eatery has climbed from 70 in late March to at least 300 last week. No arrests have been made.

Authorities said they first began receiving complaints in late March from the Evans Road restaurant and customers who noticed the bogus purchases on their credit card statements or whose banks notified them of suspicious activity.

According to about a dozen people who contacted FLORIDA TODAY, the scam involves patrons who ate at the restaurant as far back as mid-February and includes credit and debit transactions from retail stores and other businesses across the United States and in other countries, including Canada, Japan, Mexico and Spain.

Detectives last month said they had uncovered fraudulent transactions totaling “well over” $100,000.

A great reason to pay with cash or use a debit card. And using that debit card, check your purchases online on a daily basis.

I only had a crooked waiter pull this on me once and being genetically frugal, I checked the credit card statement – and caught a double-billing from month to month. Run through the system the evening I ate at the restaurant in question. And again the following month – when I wasn’t even in the same state.

Fed Intervenes in EuroTARP

Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

After months of quietly watching from the sidelines, the United States finally intervened in the European debt crisis on Sunday night.

The Federal Reserve announced that it would open currency swap lines with the European Central Bank — in essence, printing dollars and exchanging them for euros to provide some liquidity for European money markets and banks.

The step came after a hectic week in which Washington began to fear that the sovereign debt crisis threatened to infect the American economy and hamper its recovery, according to several United States officials…

The intervention, which also involves the central banks of England, Switzerland, Canada and Japan, is part of a colossal package intended to quell the restive credit markets with a show of force and resolve that American policymakers had quietly believed was lacking. The package has two other elements: about $950 billion in loan guarantees from the European Union, and a decision by the European Central Bank to intervene in the bond markets through a series of refinancing operations…

“It became increasingly clear that, if they were willing to take very strong measures, that it would be in the interests of the United States to encourage and support that,” one American official said…

In a statement, the Fed said the currency swaps were intended to make it easier for European companies, institutions and governments to borrow dollars when they need them, “and to prevent the spread of strains to other markets and financial centers…”

The Fed actually made money from the previous dollar swap program. The foreign central banks paid the Fed interest equivalent to what they made from lending the dollars. The Fed, however, did not pay any interest on the foreign currencies it took in exchange, having agreed to hold them instead of lending them out or investing them in the private markets. The new program is designed the same way.

None of which will punch through the minimal comprehension level of teabaggers and Republican ideologues.

Our native demagogues will continue jingoist rants as if the whole world is out to steal the 401K belonging to every NRA member. I expect the anti-semitic wing of the teabaggers will somehow connect this to secret manipulation by Goldman, Sachs. Rush Limbaugh will polish up his copy of the Protocols of Zion.

Banks and the Federal Reserve will quietly continue doing what it is they are supposed to do. Lend and borrow money. The dollar ends up stronger.

Allies march alongside Russians on Victory Day, once again

U.S. infantry march through Red Square

President Dmitry Medvedev struck a conciliatory note at Russia’s Victory Day military parade on Sunday, urging world powers to unite for peace and defending his decision to invite NATO troops to march on Red Square.

For the first time since Stalin began commemorating the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany, serving U.S., British Polish and French troops joined over 11,000 Russian soldiers to parade past the Kremlin’s red walls in bright sunshine.

The opposition Communists and some Soviet war veterans condemned the move but Medvedev said in a speech that the lesson from World War Two was “to urge us to unite in solidarity” to counter present-day threats and ensure global security.

“Today, at the military parade, soldiers of Russia, of countries of the (former Soviet Union), and of the Allied powers will march together, in one column which is evidence of our common readiness to defend peace,” he said.

Symbolic – for those of us with personal memories of the war – of the united battle to the death against murder, corporate control of national and global economies, genocide and greed.

Welsh Guards from the British military marched in their trademark black bearskin hats ahead of 70 troops from the U.S. 170th Infantry Brigade in a section reserved for the Soviet Union’s war allies.

Underlining the message of reconciliation, a 1,200-strong military band closed the parade with a moving rendition of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Chinese President Hu Jintao and other world leaders looked on…

President Barack Obama, unable to come to Moscow because of a scheduling clash, praised the historic invitation to NATO troops, saying Medvedev had shown “remarkable leadership in honoring the sacrifices of those who came before us…”

Victory Day is one of Russia’s most important public holidays and Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said this year’s commemorations would be among the biggest, with over 102,000 troops marching in cities across this vast country.

Americans and Brits raised on movies about “how we won the war” will know little of the Soviet Forces that had pushed the Nazis back 1,000 miles by D-Day. Though our neighbors across the pond do celebrate V-E Day as I remember it. A crucial triumph against fascism. War’s end in Europe.

The last of my kin who joined up with Soviet forces at the Elbe River is gone, now. A few of us still remember – proudly.

Transfer of genetic material between blood-sucking insect – and Us

Researchers at The University of Texas at Arlington have found the first solid evidence of horizontal DNA transfer, the movement of genetic material among non-mating species, between parasitic invertebrates and some of their vertebrate hosts. The findings are published in the April 28 issue of the journal Nature, one of the world’s foremost scientific journals.

Genome biologist Cédric Feschotte and postdoctoral researchers Clément Gilbert and Sarah Schaack found evidence of horizontal transfer of transposon from a South American blood-sucking bug and a pond snail to their hosts. A transposon is a segment of DNA that can replicate itself and move around to different positions within the genome. Transposons can cause mutations, change the amount of DNA in the cell and dramatically influence the structure and function of the genomes where they reside.

Since these bugs frequently feed on humans, it is conceivable that bugs and humans may have exchanged DNA through the mechanism we uncovered. Detecting recent transfers to humans would require examining people that have been exposed to the bugs for thousands of years, such as native South American populations,” Feschotte said.

Data on the insect and the snail provide strong evidence for the previously hypothesized role of host-parasite interactions in facilitating horizontal transfer of genetic material. Additionally, the large amount of DNA generated by the horizontally transferred transposons supports the idea that the exchange of genetic material between hosts and parasites influences their genomic evolution.

“It’s not a smoking gun, but it is as close to it as you can get,” Feschotte said…

The researchers also identified members of what Feschotte calls space invader transposons in the genome of Lymnaea stagnalis, a pond snail that acts as an intermediate host for trematode worms, a parasite to a wide range of mammals…

When the human genome was sequenced a decade ago, researchers found that nearly half of the human genome is derived from transposons, so this new knowledge has important ramifications for understanding the genetics of humans and other mammals.