Important but overlooked news from around the world.
“This is the first time we have caught a human trafficking syndicate in a case where the baby was still in the womb.”
— A Vietnamese police officer on recent arrests in a adults baby-smuggling ring (see “Adoption,” below).
A ‘complicated truth’ about Obama donations
London shifts gears to favor bicycles
Beijing Olympics: It’s the water
*Environment & Health*
Radiation on the reservation
Infants and international incidents
* A “Complicated Truth” About Obama Donations
Although Barack Obama has publicly disavowed campaign donations from lobbyists, the candidate, along with his rival Hillary Clinton, has received millions of dollars in donations from special-interest groups linked to the legal, pharmaceutical and health-care industries.
The Columbia Journalism Review notes that the Obama campaign did indeed take far less money from registered lobbyists — just $86,000 — through the end of December 2007 than either Clinton ($800,000) or Republican candidate John McCain ($400,000).
However, money from industry-linked special interests can follow other routes into campaign coffers besides registered lobbyists.
Citing data from the Center for Responsive Politics and Opensecrets.org, the Review notes that Obama has raised “grouped” donations in the amount of $9.5 million from lawyers and law firms (compared to Clinton’s $11.8 million).
Obama and Clinton have also raised similar amounts from the healthcare products and pharmaceutical industries — $338,000 and $349,000, respectively — as well as $1.7 million and $2.3 million each from “health professionals,” including doctors, nurses and dentists.
The Review observes that McCain has received only $98,000 from pharmaceutical and health-products donors, “an indication that the sector sees the real action on the Democratic side of the ballot.”
“Obama’s Lobbyist Line / A ‘more complicated truth’ on campaign contributions”
Columbia Journalism Review, February 15, 2008
* London Shifts Gears to Favor Bicycles
Armed with a proposal to develop 12 major “superhighways” for bicyclists throughout the city, along with a daily “congestion charge” of almost $50 for polluting vehicles, England’s capital city is gearing up to become the world’s newest bicycle utopia.
London’s mayor hopes the programs will result in a 400 percent increase in the number of cyclists in the city by 2025.
The plan, which will cost approximately $780 million over ten years, will also develop cycling networks in outlying suburban areas, and link London neighborhoods with business and commercial districts.
London will also take a cue from Paris, which recently began providing free bicycle rentals for short trips, by developing its own free rental service in the city center.
“City’s Two-Wheeled Transformation”
The Guardian (U.K.), February 9, 2008
* Beijing Olympics: It’s the Water
A senior Chinese official has sharply criticized a multi- billion-dollar government plan to divert water from the Hubei and Shaanxi provinces north to Beijing, the BBC reports.
An Qiyuan, a former Community Party leader from Shaanxi province, said that the plan would endanger the livelihood of millions of residents, and that compensation is necessary to prevent what the BBC described as “social upheaval and environmental harm.”
The plan — which will cost at least $60 billion, more than the Three Gorges Dam — will build a network of canals and dams to deliver water from southern rivers to the thirsty north, where the Beijing Olympics alone are expected to increase water needs by 30 percent.
Drought is already affecting more than 12,000 square miles in Hubei Province, and a quarter-million people are “facing problems with drinking water,” according to the BBC.
“Olympics ‘threat to water supply'”
BBC News, February 27, 2008
ENVIRONMENT & HEALTH
* Radiation on the Reservation
As the market booms for uranium mining in the American West, a Seattle newspaper took a new look at what can happen when industry ignores the potential risks of the practice.
The Seattle Times reported on the toxic mess left behind by uranium mines on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Washington: toxic pools, radioactive homes and very high rates of cancer.
Former workers say the mines had very lax safety controls when they were in operation, and left behind little help with cleanup.
Residents tell of driveways paved with radioactive rock from the mines and of children playing with rubber balls used in processing the radioactive ore.
Many tell of relatives dying of cancer, and National Book Award-winning author Sherman Alexie, who grew up on the reservation, told the Times “I have very little doubt that I’m going to get cancer.”
The U.S. government, which bought all the uranium mined before 1972, took the rare step of apologizing to uranium miners, and has a program designed to pay former mine workers who have become sick with uranium-related illnesses.
But the Times found that none of these payments have gone to residents of the reservation.
The mines operated for 27 years before closing in the 1980s, when the market for uranium ore collapsed.
In 2000, uranium sold for only about $7.10 a pound, but today, with global demand for nuclear energy in resurgence, uranium is selling for around $90 a pound, and plans are afoot to open new mines in Colorado, Nebraska and other Western states.
Colorado residents protested one mine planned by a Canadian company about 70 miles north of Denver, according to Associated Press.
“Radioactive Remains: The forgotten story of the Northwest’s only uranium mines”
Seattle Times, February 24, 2008
“Colorado Residents Fight Uranium Mine”
Associated Press, February 23, 2008
* Infants and International Incidents
Faced with tightening regulations in China, Vietnam is shaping up to be the new location of choice for Western couples seeking overseas adoptions.
But the trend is creating new complications, including illegal baby smuggling and diplomatic struggles between governments.
Vietnamese police said last week they had busted a baby-smuggling gang who were taking two infants — a one-month-old and a one-week-old — to sell in China.
Also detained was a woman in her eighth month of pregnancy who told police she had agreed to sell her unborn child to the group for the equivalent of about $500.
“This is the first time we have caught a human trafficking syndicate in a case where the baby was still in the womb,” a police officer told Agence France-Presse.
Police said the babies were to be sold for about $2,000 each to Chinese couples desiring male children.
In Sweden, police arrested as many as 40 people in a major baby-smuggling ring earlier this month, according the Swedish news Web site The Local.
Authorities say they know of at least 25 children the group attempted to smuggle out of Vietnam and into Sweden.
Legal adoptions have run into different difficulties.
The Ventura County Star reported the story of Southern California couple Steve and Julie Carroll, who say their adoption of two Vietnamese girls has been caught in the middle of a power play between the Vietnamese and U.S. governments.
The Carrolls flew to Vietnam last fall and adopted two girls, Madelyn Grace and Lillian Rose.
But when it came time to return home, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services issued a visa for only Lillian Rose.
Madelyn Grace has been in foster care in Vietnam while the family tries to find a way to bring her home.
The Carrolls say the U.S. State Department is holding up the visa — and those of many other adopted babies — as a bargaining chip as it seeks to renegotiate the overseas agreement between the United States and Vietnam.
“Everything we know says the State Department is frankly using these babies as a tool in a battle that has nothing to do with these families or the children themselves,” Senator Barbara Boxer told the Star, after meeting with the Carrolls last week.
China has long been a favorite destination of Western couples seeking to adopt, but two years ago the Chinese government imposed new restrictions on foreign adoptions, forbidding them to unmarried people, couples over 50 and the obese.
The move infuriated many Western companies that arrange for foreign adoptions.
Also changing the landscape is the Chinese economy itself, which seems to be driving interest in Vietnam.
In a 2006 article, a Chinese official told the BBC that “the number of people applying for adoptions is soaring, but following the development of China’s economy and society the number of abandoned and orphaned children is less and less.”
Previously on Newsdesk.org:
“Families Asunder over International Adoption Woes”
Newsdesk.org, November 14, 2007
“Vietnam ‘baby-smugglers’ arrested”
BBC News, February 21, 2008
“Vietnam police bust baby trafficking gang”
Agence France-Presse, February 20, 2008
“Police in Vietnam arrest three for smuggling babies”
The Earth Times, February 18, 2008
“Couple seek senators’ aid in Vietnam adoption fight”
Ventura County Star, February 6, 2008
“Dozens indicted over Vietnam child smuggling”
The Local (Sweden), February 8, 2008
“China rules on foreign adoptions”
BBC News, December 20, 2006
Editors: Josh Wilson, Will Crain
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