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Items filtered by date: Thursday, 12 May 2016

According to National Geographic, environmental warriors from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS) recently took aim at poachers preying upon the totoaba population in the Gulf of California by using night-vision drones equipped with cameras to catch the poachers in the act.
"Using our night vision drone, Sea Shepherd was able to capture never before seen footage of totoaba poachers operating under the cover of darkness," Roy Sasano, said drone pilot and SSCS executive officer in a statement released this month.
"Now the poachers know they cannot act with impunity," added Sasano.

The poachers had been using huge custom made gillnets to take endangered totoabas — according to National Geographic. In the process, they were also capturing small porpoises named vaquitas, sharks, whales and other aquatic species as "incidental catches." Totoabas are only found in the Gulf of California and, according to National Public Radio can grow to "the size of a football player." They sought for their swim bladders and used by Chinese marketers for soup-making and medicinal purposes. According to the April statement issued by SSCS, its vessel — M/Y Farley Mowat — "hid in the darkness looking for illegal activity" and dispatched Predator drones as soon as it spotted the poachers. They immediately dropped their gillnets and fled the area but not before the SSCS was had transmitted their coordinates to the Mexican Navy.
Mexico's government gave the SSCS "permission to police gillnets in the Gulf of California" in January 2016, the statement said. It has since removed 40 of the devices, "saving untold numbers of vaquita, totoaba, whales, sharks, dolphins, and other marine wildlife."

The Sun Bay Paper is committed to helping the SSCS and once conducted a live interview by satellite phone uplink while Captain Paul Watson and others SSCS volunteers were under fire by Japanese whalers in the Antarctic. Sun Bay Publisher Carl Conley conducted the interview and has continued to keep abreast of SSCS activities. To learn more, visit its website: www.seashepherdglobal.org

Published in Environment

Almost 100 million in drug money converted to gold by fake Florida company.
Laundering scheme used forged metal invoices, court files show
As banks beef up compliance, criminals hide money in trade

Mexican drug cartels operating in the U.S. have a problem: getting the profits home. Sometimes they try sending cash through banks, but that’s grown difficult as the government forces financial institutions to beef up anti-money-laundering efforts. So at least one international organization moved its money on a river of molten gold.
The Sinaloa cartel, once led by serial prison escapee Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, used some of its proceeds from selling drugs in the U.S. to buy gold in pawn shops, according to ¬allegations in court records. It shipped more than $98 million in gold to a Florida company that had it melted down and sold for cash. Then the cartel used fake invoices to justify sending the proceeds to a company in Mexico.
Court documents, plus interviews with people familiar with the alleged scheme, paint an unusually detailed picture of how gold can be used to hide an illicit money transfer.
“If I had a lot of money to launder, I would choose gold,” says John Cassara, a former U.S. Treasury special agent and author of books on money laundering. “There really isn’t anything else like it out there.” Once it’s melted down, the commodity’s origins are difficult to trace. It can quickly be converted to cash. Many of the companies that deal in gold aren’t held to the same compliance standards as banks.
Part of the suspected money laundering operation is laid out in documents from a federal court case in Chicago. People including alleged Sinaloa member Carlos Parra-Pedroza, who’s among those facing charges, are accused of arranging for couriers to collect drug proceeds and then buy up gold bars and scrap pieces from jewelry stores and businesses in the Chicago area.
Parra-Pedroza has pleaded not guilty, and his attorney didn’t respond to requests for comment. According to the Chicago documents, members of the group shipped the gold via FedEx to an unnamed company in Florida to be melted down for cash.

Boxes of Gold

Between 2011 and 2014, the Chicago complaint says, the company allegedly took in hundreds of boxes sent from the cartel, which used aliases such as Chicago Gold or Shopping Silver. The Florida company collected a commission of 1 percent, then forwarded the remaining money to a company in Mexico owned by Parra-Pedroza and called De Mexico British Metal, court documents allege. The records also say that falsified paperwork made it look as though De Mexico British Metal sold the gold to the unnamed Florida company, helping to make the transactions appear legitimate.
That unnamed company, say two people familiar with the matter, was Natalie Jewelry, which was the subject of a separate case in federal court in Florida. The trail that led U.S. authorities to the company began with a modest question, says one of the people who knows the case.
Lou Bock, a retired agent for the Department of Homeland Security, says U.S. Customs records posed a conundrum: “There’s just way too much gold going through Miami,” he says. He prodded his former agency to look into the uptick, which was suspicious, he believed, because virtually no jewelry is made in Miami.
In January 2014, based on Customs reports showing discrepancies between the volume and value of gold processed by the company, federal agents converged on Natalie Jewelry’s office in an industrial park just north of Miami. They seized cash and ¬hundreds of kilograms of gold and silver. The agents had uncovered a tax-¬evasion scheme, according to two of the sources. Natalie Jewelry’s records revealed money-¬laundering links to drug rings including the Sinaloa cartel, the people say.

Guilty Pleas

Natalie Jewelry owners Jed and Natalie Ladin had set up an office for their company in Mexico City, court documents in the Florida case show. Natalie Jewelry would actually sell the gold it received to other companies, known as refineries. Refiners collect their own commission when they melt down scrap gold, then send proceeds back to the gold trader.
The Ladins pleaded guilty to conspiring to launder money on behalf of a separate Mexican drug dealer. They haven’t been charged with laundering funds for the Sinaloa cartel. Jed, who was sentenced to three years in prison, declined to be interviewed. Natalie was sentenced to time served and supervised release; she also declined an interview request, through her lawyer.
There was a bizarre incident during the Miami bust. With cars flashing blue lights and a SWAT team in front of the warehouse, a black sedan pulled up. A man got out, popped the trunk, pulled out a briefcase, and walked toward Natalie Jewelry’s door, a person who was at the scene says.
“I just need to drop off this gold and get a receipt,” the man was heard to say. “I need a receipt.” The man walked into the Natalie Jewelry office and dropped off the briefcase, which was full of gold. If he was a cartel courier, his insistence on documentation may be understandable: On surreptitious recordings, Parra-Pedroza described one courier who admitted losing money, after claiming it was seized by authorities. “I think they even cut his fingers off,” he said.
The man in Florida left with his receipt.

Published in Politics

Members of the political party seen by most Germans as nationalist known as the Alternative for Germany (AfD) are supporting a platform for the next election cycle that emphasizes Islam is incompatible with the Nations’ constitution.
Party Delegates also called for a ban on mosque minarets and the controversial burqa at the party's conference last Sunday

The AfD was born three years ago and has found wide traction among German voters appalled by Europe's refugee crisis where more than a million people, mostly Muslim, were allowed into the country over the past year.
Citing an increase in crime committed by so-called asylum seekers, a greater terrorism threat due to infiltration of refugee groups by ISIS and other militant Islamists and a failure to integrate into European society, the AfD has seen a marked increase in support from everyday Germans.
Despite this increase in popularity, to date the Party has no MPs in the federal parliament in Berlin but has seen members elected to half of Germany's 16 regional state assemblies.
Opinion polls have given the AfD a support level of 14 percent, presenting a serious challenge to Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and other established parties leading up to federal elections in 2017. There have been accusations that mainstream media in Europe and the U.S. has minimized the popularity of AfD marginalizing its appeal by constant references to the Party as “far-right,” or “fascist,” in an attempt to play on guilt over Germany’s Nazi past.
Calling the AfD a ‘fringe movement” has also prompted most mainstream parties to rule out any coalition or cooperation with the AfD.
“The government, under Angela Merkel, has promoted this huge influx of Muslims who have no intention of assimilating into German culture; they are here to take our social benefits and for the most part they maintain separate enclaves in our cities and towns and have very little respect for our customs and mores,” said Hans Weibbe a political observer in Dresden who has chronicled the rise in nationalism since the refugee crisis began.
“Muslims also use symbols of their religion to foster this separation,” he added.
This has not escaped Party attention. At a clamorous debate on the second day of a party congress, many of the 2,000 members cheered calls from the podium for stricter measures against "Islamic symbols of power" and jeered at a plea for dialogue with Germany's Muslims.
"Islam is foreign to us and for that reason it cannot invoke the principle of religious freedom to the same degree as Christianity," said Hans-Thomas Tillschneider, an AfD politician from Saxony-Anhalt, to thunderous applause.

For her part, Chancellor Merkel refutes the call to reject Muslims, saying that freedom of religion is a right guaranteed by Germany's constitution. She has also claimed on numerous occasions that Islam belongs to Germany a claim highly contested by an increasing number of her constituents many of whom say they can no longer support her – that she is selling out the country.
Just last year, the head of the German Police Union said that Merkel was “wrong and that her policies of admitting so many un-vetted refugees was causing a rise in street crime and was greatly increasing security risks and the likelihood of terrorist attacks.”.
The share break between the far left, who supports Muslim immigration and the nationalists saw roughly 2,000 left-wing demonstrators clash with police last Saturday as they tried to break up the first full AfD conference before it main speakers appeared on Sunday.
The clash became violent as police detained 500 people and 10 law enforcement officers received light injuries, a police spokesman said.
The AfD has adopted a manifesto and one of its chapters is entitled "Islam is not a part of Germany".
According to the newspaper Das Spiegel, “The manifesto calls for a ban on minarets, the towers on Islamic mosques symbolic for the where the call to Muslim prayers are made. It also wants to ban the burqa, the total body cover up worn by many conservative Muslim women.
Germany is currently home to nearly four million Muslims, about five percent of the total population. While Muslims have long been a part of German society most in the past came from Turkey and were seen as more assimilating compared to the recent influx coming from more religiously militant areas of the Middle East.
In addition, most of the longer established Muslim Turkish community in Germany came to find work, but those who have arrived over the past year have mostly been fleeing conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. There have been well-documented cases showing some of those arriving as “refugees” used fraudulent passports and some had links to terrorist organizations.
Just last month the head of Germany's Central Council of Muslims (GCCM) compared the AfD's attitude towards his community with that of Adolf Hitler's Nazis towards the Jews.
“The Muslim community continues to try and exploit Germanys’ national angst over its Nazi past to lessen resistance to more immigration, but the people are waking up to the fact that one has nothing to do with the other. German has been so prosperous and culturally rich precisely for the attributes the Muslim community rejects and if Germans don’t recognize this we risk losing our country,” said Tillschneider

Published in Politics

The use of airplanes to spray anti-mosquito pesticides may increase the risk of autism spectrum disorder and developmental delays among children, finds new research presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies 2016 Meeting in Baltimore.
Pediatric researchers with Pennsylvania State University’s Milton S. Hershey Medical Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania, and the State University of New York’s Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, New York presented their findings to their colleagues in a poster session at the Baltimore Convention Center on April 30.
For this study, the scientists identified a swampy region in central New York State where health officials use airplanes to spray pyrethroid pesticides each summer.

The pesticides target mosquitos that carry the eastern equine encephalitis virus, which can cause swelling of the brain and spinal cord.
Each summer, to combat mosquito-borne encephalitis in the Cicero Swamp region, the New York Department of Health uses airplanes to apply pyrethroid pesticides.
In contrast, surrounding areas are exposed to standard methods of pesticide application, such as controlled droplet application by commercial applicators.
The pesticide that was used for the aerial spraying is Duet. This pesticide is registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the New York State Division of Environmental Conservation for this use.
Publicly available mandated reporting data from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation were used to quantify pesticide exposure among zip codes.
The 2013 American Community Survey was used to quantify demographic data. Data from the eight zip codes exposed to yearly aerial pyrethroid pesticides were compared with 16 control zip codes.
The researchers found that children living in ZIP codes in which aerial pesticide spraying has taken place each summer since 2003 were 25 percent more likely to have an autism diagnosis or documented developmental delay compared to those in ZIP codes with other methods of pesticide distribution, such as manually spreading granules or using hoses or controlled droplet applicators.
“Other studies have already shown that pesticide exposure might increase a child’s risk for autism spectrum disorder or developmental delay,” said lead investigator Steven Hicks, MD, PhD. “Our findings show that the way pesticides are distributed may change that risk.”
“Preventing mosquito-borne encephalitis is an important task for public health departments,” said Hicks. “Communities that have pesticide programs to help control the mosquito population might consider ways to reduce child pesticide exposure, including alternative application methods.”

Autistic Children










Group of autistic young people (Photo by heplingting)

Children with autism spectrum disorder often have these characteristics, according to the National Institutes of Health:
• Ongoing social problems that include difficulty communicating and interacting with others
• Repetitive behaviors and limited interests or activities
• Symptoms that hurt the individual’s ability to function socially
Symptoms are typically recognized in the first two years of life.
In the United States, autism spectrum disorder is estimated to occur at one in 68 births, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a federal agency.
Autism is the fastest-growing developmental disability. Prevalence of autism in U.S. children increased by 119.4 percent from 2000 (1 in 150) to 2010 (1 in 68). Prevalence has increased by six to 15 percent each year from 2002 to 2010.
Today, more than 3.5 million Americans live with an autism spectrum disorder, and autism services cost U.S. citizens $236-262 billion every year.

Published in Environment

It has long been the contention of those who want to stop illegal immigration and secure the nation’s southern border against unlawful entry that illegals sponge off the system diminishing prosperity for citizens. This viewpoint is amplified in Florida where, according to anAmerican Community Survey: “Nearly 3.7 million Florida residents in 2013—almost one in five people in the state—were born abroad. Immigration was a major factor in the state’s rapid population growth in the 1980s, placing Florida among the top 10 states with the fastest-growing immigrant populations. Even today, Florida continues to attract immigrants: from 2000 to 2013, Florida’s immigrant population grew by just under 39 percent. By contrast, in California and New York, the growth rate was just 15 and 12 percent, respectively.” Controlling welfare costs is important to taxpayers in the Sunshine State and there is now conclusive evidence that they have
been right to be concerned. Households of illegal immigrants have been shown to average approximately $1,000 more annually in federal welfare benefits than households of non-immigrant recipients. According to the immigration control advocacy group, Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), which analyzed federal cost data from 2012, welfare payouts to illegal immigrant households averaged $5,692 yearly, contrasted with an average $4,431 welfare payout to non-immigrant households that received benefits. The CIS concluded that
while illegal immigrants are barred from directly receiving welfare, they still wind up obtaining it through their U.S.-born children. When all immigrant-headed households both legal and illegalwere considered, it was found they receivedan average of $6,241 in welfare. That was 41 percent more than the $4,431 received by a nonimmigrant household on welfare, according to the findings. The total cost of welfare benefits to households headed by immigrants was over $103 billion and over 51 percent, receives some type of welfare compared with only 30 percent of households
headed by U.S. citizens, the analysis showed. Further supporting the need to secure the southern U.S. border was the fact that immigrants who received the most in welfare benefits come from Mexico and Central America. In 2012, those households collected an average of $8,251 yearly which was a whopping 86 percent higher than the benefits used by non-immigrant households, the study showed. When broken down into categories, it was also learned that the average immigrant household collects 33 percent more cash benefits from welfare, 57 percent more food assistance, and 44 percent more in Medicaid dollars than the average non-immigrant household collecting those benefits. Housing costs were found to be about equal for both groups “While it is important for Americans to understand the rate of welfare use among immigrants, expressing that use in dollar terms offers a more tangible metric that is tied to current debates over fiscal policy. With the nation facing a long-term budgetary deficit, this study helps illuminate immigration's impact on the problem,” said Jason Richwine who authored the report.

Published in General/Features

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