43 students disappeared without trace in Mexico in 2014. The case made headlines internationally and nationally. The students had demonstrated against the discriminatory hiring practices of the government and administration, and in the process hijacked buses, all unarmed. The police opened fire and six students were shot, 25 of them seriously injured. One student is still in a coma today. After this incident, students, among them Jorge Antonio Legideño, were arrested, 43 disappeared without a trace. What happened is still unknown today. The official version: 43 of the arrested students were handed over by the police to the criminal drug syndicate “Guerreros Unidos” and murdered by their hitman, their bodies burned and disposed of at a garbage dump. The newspaper Milenio reported on 24 January 2015, citing interrogation transcripts, that the contract killer known as “El Cepillo” from the criminal cartel “Guerreros Unidos” had confessed to the murder of at least 15 students. Whether this is true or not, the 43 who have disappeared have become a symbol for about 40,000 missing people in the Mexican drug war, whose fate remains unknown to this day.
Whether chocolate, candy or drinks and sweeteners – products with Stevia are part of our everyday life. Coca-Cola Life and Lipton Ice Tea Green also use molecularly replicated stevia additives. The Belgian chocolate manufacturer Cavalier and the Swiss candy manufacturer Ricola have also launched products sweetened with Stevia. Sugar-free or calorie-free are the additives on the labels, which many of us are fascinated by. It is the promise of a brave new world – eating sweet food without calories, without getting dental caries or having a heart attack. Scientific progress and the big agribusiness and food companies make it possible. The medical studies are almost all positive: the plant-based stevia prevents diabetes and can be taken by diabetic patients. It’s also good in cases of tooth decay or cardiovascular disease. And the list of positive effects is much longer. So is it possible to snack without a bad conscience?
Scientists might know it from their everyday lives: The number of e-mails in which they are invited to submit an article to journals, to act as an editor or to give a keynote in Barbados has increased significantly. Most of them come from predatory publishers, journals and conferences that have systematically infiltrated the field of science in recent years. Those who fall for it can lose of a lot of money with dubious benefits. It’s a kind of con game targeting scientists. Now, the first court rulings are available: In 2019, a court in the US state of Nevada sentenced one of the industry giants, the Indian OMICS group, to a fine of a good 50 million US dollars and largely prohibited it from operating in the USA. The number of “scientific” predatory journals has risen sharply in recent years, a parasitic side effect of Open Access Publishing. According to research by an investigative network of German and European Media, more than 5,000 German scientists have published in such pseudo-scientific predatory journals in recent years. In addition, in the USA, Eastern Europe, Asia, Latin America, and Africa constantly rising publication numbers in predatory journals are proven. In Brazil, Perlin et al. (2018) viewed over 2 million publications by experienced authors (more than 5 publications), with the result that the number of articles in pseudoscientific journals tripled between 2010 and 2015. The penetration rate in this large Brazilian publication market is still low at two to three percent, but authors are registering exponential growth.
Cliché or system? Whoever wants to do business in the Russian Federation has to expect to be asked eventually to provide irregular payments. Corruption remains endemic in Russia and large parts of the post-Soviet region. For decades, Transparency International has shown Russia in deep red in the lowest quarter of the world ranking of the Corruption Perception Index, currently ranked 138th out of 180. Despite extensive anti-corruption efforts, there is no improvement in sight. And yet: foreign corporations are not afraid to further do business in the Russian market.
Learning from socialism means learning to win. Learning Xi Jingping means winning as well. That is why many people in China now have to serve hours of detention. At first only the party members, the civil servants and the press. However, in the near future this will probably affect almost everyone. They do not have to go to school or to party offices to do this, but, as long as they are connected to the internet, anywhere and anytime. Those who regard the smartphone as both a blessing and a curse because they simply cannot put it down, now have a legitimate ground: they are no longer allowed by the state to keep their hands off it. At least not for a long time. Chinese socialism in particular does not leave its citizens alone. Ongoing re-education and total social control of the citizens also characterize other socialist dictatorships, but Chinese socialism takes it to the extreme. The “playful” app is indeed a modern form of putting someone to “The Question”, a means of everyday torture.
Only recently, the German party AfD has been asked to pay a fine totaling 402,900 euros for accepting illegal party donations, which is three times the amount inadmissibly received. This was decided by the Bundestag administration, as announced in April 2019. The party announced that it would bring an action before the Administrative Court against the decisions but had already decided to save one million euros for imminent fines. Nicolas Sarkozy is also likely to have to go to court for illegal election campaign donations in 2012. It is about 20 million euros more than the upper limit allowed, disguised with the help of a communications agency. The French Constitutional Council decided in May 2019 that the trial against the 64-year-old is justified because he may have violated the integrity expected of a candidate or an elected official. However, the sums in many European countries are peanuts measured by the dimensions of illegal campaign funding in various non-European states.
by Maria Eugenia Trombini, Mario Jorge Junior and Markus Pohlmann
It is not a new story. Yet it is still shocking. Dam breaks in the mining business happen from time to time, burying many people alive in a mudslide. In November 2015, a dam burst in the city of Mariana in the State of Minas Gerais, Brazil and the following mudslide caused the deaths of 19 people and massive environmental damage to the region. Three years later, in January 25th, 2019, around 130km from the first disaster, in the city of Brumadinho, tailings dam No. 1 at the Córrego do Feijão mine burst and a second disaster took place. Vale S.A, the world’s largest iron ore producer, owned both mines. But neither the billion-dollar penalty nor the safety regulation that became stricter deterred misconduct or guaranteed non-repetition. In 2019, the consequences were even deadlier. 246 people died with still 24 reported missing. However, this time, four months before the accident, the certification company TÜV Süd’s audit report mentioned a factor of safety of 1.09 and its engineers signed a stability declaration to Brazil’s National Mining Agency. Although best practices require a safety factor of at least 1.3 and, preferably, above 1.5, Vale was by that allowed to keep on mining. Their report already noted several draining deficiencies in the dam and according to the Prosecutor’s claims, both Vale and TÜV had long been aware of the risks and did not prevent the collapse from happening.
Probably none of us can avoid swallowing one or two pills in our lives and we rely on the prescription and recommendation of our treating physicians. However, that these physicians are courted and influenced by large pharmaceutical companies to prescribe certain medication that falls out of the official permission for the ailment and for which there is neither authorization nor empirical evidence of efficacy, is largely unknown to the public in this country. Such prescribing practices, under certain circumstances, may end fatally.
The general election has just started in India on April 11 and are scheduled to run until May 19. In terms of the sheer volume of the election – 900 million voters, spread across the continental expanse of the country – India is the world’s largest electoral democracy. It is also perhaps the most expensive insofar as the cost of electoral competition to political parties is concerned. Except for the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Communist Parties, political parties in India do not have strong organizations like European political parties. Come election: parties scramble for workers and organizers to run the campaign and gifts to motivate voters. With a huge number of parties – with thirty-one national and regional parties, 2044 registered unrecognized parties and a total of 8,251 candidates who contested for the 543 Lok Sabha (lower house) seats, the 2014 parliamentary elections involved a huge number of people. That gives an idea of why the total funds that elections cost are so enormous. It has been estimated that the funds that the parties and candidates spent in the 2009 general election were around $2 billion and the sums involved in 2014 were to the tune of $5 billion. The current parliamentary elections are likely to be the most expensive general elections in Indian history, and perhaps one of the most expensive ever held in any democratic state.
Much has been reported about the abuse in the Catholic Church and there are now numerous excellent studies on it. The Catholic Church is finally responding. Though hesitant, as became discernable at the end of the four-day crisis-summit in the Vatican, the Pope after all officially warned that the cover-up of the acts of abuse in the Catholic Church must be put to an end. Still, it remains a riddle why the Church did not simply reassign the suspected priests to administration or a convent, but often into new churches – where they again had access to children, to potentially new victims. Sometimes there were even exchanges between the dioceses, according to the motto: I take your problem case, if you help me with another problem or with my problem case. That’s the scandal behind the scandal.