Independent Brazil prosecutors hit Vale, BHP with $44 billion civil lawsuit for dam collapse

Click to enlargeRicardo Moraes/Reuters

Mining companies Vale SA and BHP Billiton were hit with a $43.5 billion civil lawsuit for the collapse of a dam at a mine last year that killed 19 people and caused damage that prosecutors said was comparable to BP’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The 359-page lawsuit brought by independent federal prosecutors was the result of a six-month investigation and is also against state and federal governments. Prosecutors accused the state of Minas Gerais, where the dam collapsed in November 2015, of negligence in its monitoring of the build up of waste and water sludge left over from the companies’ mining venture, Samarco…

The total damages, prosecutors said, were calculated on the basis of the cost of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the United States. BP’s total pre-tax charge for that accident, in 2010, reached $53.8 billion…

The new suit is over 7 times the tentative settlement reached between BHP and Brazilian federal and state governments.

Zika virus may infect up to 4 million people in the Americas

The Zika virus, blamed for thousands of deformities in babies in what is a growing crisis across Latin America, could see “explosive” growth and affect up to 4 million people globally, experts at the World Health Organization said Thursday.

Margaret Chan, director-general of the U.N.’s health agency, said the organization will hold an emergency meeting on Monday to decide if Zika should be declared an international emergency. She added that the spread of the mosquito-borne disease had gone from a mild threat to one of alarming proportions…

The virus “is now spreading explosively,” she added.

“As of today, cases have been reported in 23 countries and territories in the (Americas) region,” Chan told WHO executive board members at a meeting in Geneva.

Meanwhile, Dr. Anne Schuchat of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told reporters Thursday that there have been 31 cases of Zika infection among U.S. citizens who traveled to areas affected by the virus. So far, there have been no cases of transmission of the virus through mosquitoes in the United States…

Schuchat said that “any outbreaks in the continental U.S. would be limited” for reasons including the fact that urban areas in the U.S. are “not as densely populated” as in the countries where the virus has spread.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease, said one of the potential vaccines was based on work done on the West Nile virus. Fauci said that vaccine was never developed because a drug company partner could not be found, but he did not see this as an issue for Zika…

There is no vaccine or treatment for Zika, which is a close cousin of dengue and chikungunya and causes mild fever, rash and red eyes. An estimated 80 percent of people infected have no symptoms, making it difficult for pregnant women to know whether they have been infected.

Brazil’s Health Ministry said in November 2015 that Zika was linked to a fetal deformation known as microcephaly, in which infants are born with abnormally small heads.

Brazil has reported 3,893 suspected cases of microcephaly, the WHO said last week, more than 30 times more than in any year since 2010 and equivalent to 1-2 percent of all newborns in the state of Pernambuco, one of the worst-hit areas.

Chan said that while a direct causal relationship between Zika virus infection and birth malformations has not yet been established, it is “strongly suspected…The possible links, only recently suspected, have rapidly changed the risk profile of Zika from a mild threat to one of alarming proportions…”

Scary stuff. Following on the Web, it appears a broad range of medical bodies throughout the Americas are marshaling forces as quickly as possible. From DNA research to a range of potential vaccines, folks are trying to get ahead of this.

I saw an interview, this morning, where the doctor simply said – sexually active young women should be conscious of mosquito season anywhere they may travel. If they live in a country with a substantial mosquito season and lacking the budget for eradication programs, consider insect repellents – until vaccines are available.

Mining waste reaches Brazilian coastline 2 weeks after BHP dam collapsed

Click to enlargeRicardo Moraes/Reuters

A huge brown plume of mud and mining waste spread out along the coast of the Brazilian state of Espírito Santo on Monday, a little over two weeks after the collapse of a dam at an iron ore mine.

According to projections from Brazil’s environment ministry, the tide is expected to spread along 9-km stretch of the coastline, threatening the Comboios nature reserve, one of the only regular nesting sites for the endangered leatherback turtle…

Around 50-million cubic metres of mining residue has been working its way down the Rio Doce since the accident at the Fundão dam, controlled by the mining company Samarco, on 5 November.

Twelve people have been confirmed dead and another 11 are still missing, as the tide of sludge wiped out several communities in the state of Minas Gerais, before making its way into the Rio Doce.

The mud has extinguished vast amounts of plant and animal life along a 400-mile (650km) stretch of the river, with the heightened turbidity drastically reducing the levels of oxygen in the water.

Concern over toxins in the mining residue has led the national water agency, ANA, to ban the use of the river water for human consumption. Hundreds of thousands of residents in the area are still dependent on supplies of bottled water…

Diggers have also been working to widen the mouth of the river to ensure that the mud drifts out to sea as quickly as possible, in the hope that the salinity and the volume of water will aid its rapid dispersal.

The water in the estuary began turning brown on Saturday afternoon, as a crowd of angry locals gathered by the village dock to watch. The first dead fish began floating to the surface on Sunday.

Same as it ever was.

Although BHP says they’re setting aside over $5 billion for damage claims.

BRICS nations found bank to rival Western-dominated World Bank and IMF

The so-called BRICS countries agreed to form an international development bank with aspirations to challenge the dominance of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa said Tuesday that the New Development Bank will start with $50 billion in capital and $100 billion as a currency reserve fund for liquidity crises…

Still, the BRICS bank, which could add more member nations, represents a bid to expand the influence of the BRICS emerging markets and act as a counterbalance to institutions run by the U.S. and other developed nations…

As developing countries began playing a larger role in the world economy, their leaders repeatedly complained that they have not been given correspondingly larger voices in international financial institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF, both based in Washington. The U.S. typically appoints the World Bank president, and European countries appoint the IMF chief.

“International governance structures designed within a different power configuration show increasingly evident signs of losing legitimacy and effectiveness,” said the official statement signed by the BRICS leaders, who met in Fortaleza, Brazil, on Tuesday. “We believe the BRICS are an important force for incremental change and reform of current institutions toward more representative and equitable governance.”

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chinese President Xi Jinping and South African President Jacob Zuma hammered out some of the final details before signing the agreement Tuesday.

Among the terms are that the bank will be in Shanghai, its first president will be from India, and the first chair of the board of directors will be from Brazil…

Analysts expect that other countries – like Indonesia, Mexico or Turkey – will join the bank over time. Certainly, they and their neighbors have no shortage of conflicts with restrictions important to the fiscal bears directing the IMF or the World Bank.

I doubt anyone expects either of the banks under the thumb of the US [and to a lesser extent, the EU] to modernize, to actively support the developing nations in any goal beyond being a source of cheap labor, raw materials, for Western corporations.

Fundamentalists’ greatest fear – species discovered where the females have penises

Female insects with “penises” have been discovered in Brazil – the first example of an animal with sex-reversed genitalia, scientists say.

Neotrogla females insert the erectile organs into males’ vagina-like openings…The elaborate structure, dubbed a “gynosome”, is used to suck out sperm and nutritious seminal fluids…Copulation lasts an impressive 40-70 hours, the researchers report…

“Although sex-role reversal has been identified in several different animals, Neotrogla is the only example in which the intromittent organ is also reversed,” said lead author Kazunori Yoshizawa from Hokkaido University in Japan.

The female is always on top during copulation – which lasts up to 70 hours…The gender-bending insects were found in a cave in eastern Brazil and represent four distinct species in the Neotrogla genus.

Once inside a male, the membranous part of the female gynosome inflates. It has numerous spines which anchor the two insects together.

When the researchers attempted to pull a male and female apart, the male’s abdomen was ripped from the thorax without breaking the genital coupling…

Who would have expected the AntiChrist to appear as a flying insect?🙂

NSA/US spying screwed Boeing out of a multibillion-dollar contract

Click to enlarge – Saab Gripen

Brazil had been struggling for years to decide which company to choose for a $4 billion-plus fighter jet contract, one of the world’s most sought-after defense deals and one that would help define the country’s strategic alliances for decades to come.

But Rousseff, the leftist president known for being sometimes gruff and even standoffish with foreign leaders, was thrilled after a 90-minute meeting in Brasilia on May 31 with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.

After Biden’s reassurances that the United States would not block crucial transfers of technological know-how to Brazil if it bought the jets, she was closer than ever to selecting Chicago-based Boeing to supply its fighter, the F/A-18 Super Hornet.

“She’s ready to sign on the dotted line,” one of her senior aides told Reuters at the time. “This is going to happen soon.”

And then along came Edward Snowden.

Documents leaked by the former National Security Agency contractor, released in the weeks after Biden’s visit, ended up enraging Rousseff and completely changing her plans, several Brazilian officials told Reuters.

On Wednesday, she surprised the defense and diplomatic worlds by tapping Sweden’s Saab to supply the jets, a move aides said was made in part as a deliberate snub to the United States.

The decision was one of the biggest and most expensive consequences yet of the NSA revelations, which have strained Washington’s relations with countries around the world.

RTFA. Long with lots of detail. Including official reasons for the change in plans – and excuses from American politicians. All crap.

Boeing would have had the contract, thousands of jobs would have had added security, investors and workers alike would have profited. But, the legitimate anger against indiscriminate spying by the NSA creepshow working away like a horde of criminal elves in every presidential workshop since Reagan – brought a result that shouldn’t have been a surprise. Not since Edward Snowden blew the whistle on Spies, Incorporated under the NSA/United States banner.

Please, don’t kid yourself into thinking this is a one-off. Every US headquartered company that’s trying to export something will be asked by every prospective customer – do your products come with a built-in backdoor for the NSA?

All the paranoid accusations made by Congress since the earliest days of the first Cold War have come home to roost like magnetic chickens.

Indiscriminate nature of NSA’s spying is collapsing

Gringo ears

National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden wrote in a lengthy “open letter to the people of Brazil” that he’s been inspired by the global debate ignited by his release of thousands of National Security Agency documents, and that the NSA’s culture of indiscriminate global espionage “is collapsing…”

In the letter, released widely online, Snowden commended the Brazilian government for its strong stand against U.S. spying.

He said he’d be willing to help the South American nation investigate NSA spying on its soil, but could not fully participate in doing so without being granted political asylum, because the U.S. “government will continue to interfere with my ability to speak.”

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50,000 km of roads built in just three years in the Brazilian Amazon

Nearly 17,000 kilometres of road were built in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest every year between 2004 and 2007.

Although road-building is a major contributor to deforestation and habitat loss, the way in which road networks develop is still poorly understood.

A new study is among the first to measure the number of roads built in a rainforest ecosystem over an extended period of time. It was published this month in the journal Regional Environmental Change by researchers including two Life Scientists from Imperial College London.

They say studies like this will help combat future deforestation by allowing for more accurate predictions of where it might occur.

Even though roads often occupy less than 2 per cent of a country’s land surface, they may have an ecological impact on an area up to ten times as large. These indirect effects can include changes in air and soil temperature and moisture, as well as restrictions on the movement of animals…

“A number of models currently exist which rely on this knowledge, but there are no good studies of how quickly roads get built and where they go when they are built.

An understanding of road networks is the big missing gap in our ability to predict the future of this region.”

Members of the research team used pre-existing road maps and satellite imagery to track the evolution of the Brazilian Amazon road network over a period of three years, in collaboration with IMAZON, the Amazon Institute of People and the Environment.

They found that road networks spread most quickly in regions with high economic growth, as well as in areas where new settlements were being built. Once a region had an extensive network of roads in place, however, the rate of building slowed down.

Logical? Yes. Why the study, then? You need hard data to ever get those violating environmental standards ever to own up for what they’ve done. As it is, peer-reviewed studies are meaningful to the whole body of science, most courts of law – and damned few profiteering roadbuilders.