June 11, 2008

News You Might Have Missed * Vol. 7, No. 24


Important but overlooked news from around the world.

QUOTED:

“This agreement in no way limits our ability to prosecute anyone or any violation of the voter fraud statute.”

— Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, on the settlement of a lawsuit over his alleged targeting of minorities in voter fraud investigations (see “Elections,” below).

CONTENTS:

*Top Stories*
Food crisis renews biotech farming debate
A Russian bear is bullish on big oil
U.K. faces diabetes “explosion”

*Elections*
When is “voter fraud” a fraud?

*Par Avion*
German zeppelins target London, San Francisco


TOP STORIES

* Food Crisis Renews Biotech Farming Debate

As global food prices climb, the debate over genetically modified agriculture is once again heating up.

The Christian Science Monitor reports that modified crops wouldn’t provide an immediate solution to the food crisis, but notes that opposition to such crops is nevertheless declining, as farmers contemplate increased profits, and governments feel the economic pressure.

After the cost of non-genetically modified corn more than doubled, for example, Japan and Korea “quietly” began allowing modified corn in snacks and drinks.

In France, following a contentious debate, a bill to allow gene-altered crops passed in parliament by one vote — but can’t be enacted until the European Union lifts its ban.

The Monitor reports that Europe’s farmers and agribusiness — such as Germany’s BASF corporation, which is pushing a genetically modified potato to market — are turning up the heat on the E.U., including possible legal action to open up continental markets to their biotech food products.

Opponents point out that there has been little research into the long-term health effects of modified crops on humans.

However, their biggest concern is the unknown biological impacts on non-modified plants that will inadvertently crossbreed with modified crops due to pollination by wind, insects and birds.

In contrast, the Monitor reports that opposition to modified crops in Africa is mostly driven by governmental fears of diminished agricultural exports to nations that have banned biotech foodstuffs.

Source:

“Food crisis softens resistance to genetically modified (GM) food”
Christian Science Monitor, June 6, 2008

* A Russian Bear is Bullish for Big Oil

Climbing energy prices are a natural reaction to limited oil supplies, and are in fact necessary to “choke off demand,” the Financial Times of London reports.

Gazprom, the Russian energy giant, predicts that this will drive the price of oil over $250 per gallon.

Even as costs increase, Gazprom is opening up new speculative fronts, particularly in the natural gas market.

The company is gearing up to develop the huge Shtokman natural gas field in northern Russia, in cooperation with France’s Total corporation and StatoilHydro of Norway.

Production is expected to start in 2014, and Gazprom might try to take over a U.S.-based energy company to give it an entry into the North American market.

Operations in Alaska and Texas are all under consideration, as well as in Quebec.

The Times reports that a Gazprom buy out of a U.S. company would be less controversial than the attempted takeover of Unocal by a Chinese energy corporation in 2005, because the target seems to be smaller than “a large upstream oil producer.”

Sources:

“Gazprom predicts oil will reach $250”
Financial Times (U.K.), June 9, 2008

“Gazprom seeks acquisitions for toehold in U.S.”
Financial Times (U.K.), June 9, 2008

* U.K. Faces Diabetes “Explosion”

A new report predicts a 46 percent increase in diabetes in the United Kingdom by 2025, driven primarily by eating habits and booming obesity rates.

As many as 4.2 million people in England, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are expected to have contracted type 2 diabetes by then, a result of junk-food diets and low rates of exercise.

With this, experts foresee a parallel boom in related ailments — such as heart disease, kidney problems, amputations and blindness — as well as increased medical costs.

In Scotland alone, the National Health Service is currently spending 10 percent of its budget on diabetes-related issues.

Campaigners called for greater efforts by the government to encourage healthy dietary habits and lifestyles.

Sources:

“4million ‘will have diabetes by 2025′”
Metro.co.uk, June 8, 2008

“Unhealthy Trend: Soaring Obesity Rates to Spark ‘Diabetes Explosion'”
The Herald (Scotland), June 10, 2008


ELECTIONS

* When is ‘Voter Fraud’ a Fraud?

Willie Ray, a Texas grandmother and Democrat, says had been helping elderly shut-ins to vote for years when she was singled out by the state Republican attorney general and charged with voter fraud.

“All I did was mail ballots for folks who couldn’t get to a mailbox themselves,” she told her state’s Democratic Convention last week, according to the Dallas Morning News.

“The attorney general admitted there was no fraud, that no ballot was altered,” she said. “But Attorney General Greg Abbott charged me with a crime.”

Ray’s case was part of what Abbott had called “an epidemic” of voter fraud in Texas.

His office prosecuted two dozen such cases, and although few of the investigations uncovered any ineligible voters or deliberate fraud, defendants (including both Ray and her granddaughter) were charged with technical infractions such as improperly signing the envelope in which they mailed ballots.

All the cases were against Democrats, almost all of them black or Hispanic, according to the Morning News.

Two years ago, Democrats filed a suit in federal court, alleging that the attorney general was unfairly targeting minorities in voter fraud cases.

Late last month, Abbott settled the suit.

As part of the settlement, Abbott’s office agreed to only pursue cases involving actual fraud.

Ray told the convention she felt “vindicated.”

Abbott denied any wrongdoing and told the Associated press: “This agreement in no way limits our ability to prosecute anyone or any violation of the voter fraud statute.”

At the Texas Democratic Convention, party officials said the prosecution of people like Ray was part of a larger Republican strategy to use government power to disenfranchise minority voters, who tend to vote for Democrats.

“If they can’t get our votes,” the Morning News quoted Ray as saying, “they’ll do anything to keep us from voting.”

–Will Crain/Newsdesk.org

Sources:

“Democratic activist ‘vindicated’ by outcome of attorney general’s voter fraud probe”
Dallas Morning News, June 7, 2008

“Texas Dems’ suit over voting-fraud cases settled”
Associated Press, May 30, 2008


PAR AVION

* German Zeppelins Target London, San Francisco

More than 70 years after the fiery crash of the Hindenburg, that once-mighty invention — the airship — has been reduced to little more than a floating billboard.

But London’s Guardian newspaper is reporting that a German company will soon send a new airship to London, where it will take sightseers high over the city.

The Zeppelin NT, funded by German aviator Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, is now undergoing test flights and has already begun taking tourist reservations, the London Times reported.

The airship’s operators, the Guardian reported, plan to eventually fly the 12-seat craft all the way to San Francisco for more sight-seeing trips.

According to the Guardian, the NT is just one sign of resurgent interest in airship technology.

There’s even talk of a luxury zeppelin with an onboard swimming pool and dance floor.

The paper quoted Andreas Gruenewald, a blogger who covers the industry, as saying: “Over the last year or so we’ve seen a real renaissance in the airship ventures, both in manned tourism-based airships and in surveillance.”

Part of this interest comes from environmental concerns: Although they are significantly slower, airships are quieter and more fuel efficient than airplanes, and need no runway.

They are, however, significantly slower.

According to the Guardian, even the fastest airships would take almost two days to cross the Atlantic.

–Will Crain/Newsdesk.org

Sources:

“Could Zeppelin’s airships soon be gracing our skies again?”
The Guardian, June 5, 2008

“Zeppelin airships to fly over London again”
Times Online, June 6, 2008


Editors: Josh Wilson, Will Crain

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