March News Round Up

Read the latest from Discussion Divas to get up to speed on the news about going green, North Korea and Mexican border violence.
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All Eyes on Mexico

Violence in Mexico and its spillover into the United States is taking up a lot of real estate in the news lately, and the urgency to do something about it is intensifying, with resources, top officials and journalists headed for the border.

Beyond the obvious—that a major war between the powerful drug cartels there and the government is paralyzing parts of the country—here’s a roundup of U.S. efforts to address and help the situation, and why this is a story that won’t go away any time soon.

1. As the violence spills over into Arizona, the United States is deploying money, people and technology to strengthen border security and intelligence, fight the cartels and stop the violence.

2. Speaking in Mexico this week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the U.S. shares a co-responsibility for the violence since large demand for drugs comes from the United States.

3. Stemming the flow of guns from the U.S. into Mexico is also part of the increased border efforts. A recent Economist article says sales at gun shops on the border are “higher than the average” and “thousands of automatic rifles are sold for export to Mexico, which is illegal.”

4. About $700 million has already been approved by Congress, part of a larger $1.4 billion initiative passed under the Bush Administration (called the Merda Initiative) to help Mexico fight the cartels by providing equipment and assistance to local authorities. One controversial plan already underway is to spray herbicide on plants along the border to get rid of hiding places for smugglers.

For the rest of this article and the big picture, click here.

North Korea Tests International Relations

Two journalists are detained by North Korea for reportedly filming a story on North Korean refugees in China, and it offers a good opportunity to touch on a region that remains a political hot button.

Even before the journalists were detained, North Korea was already making headlines this week, saying it plans to launch a missile between April 4 and April 8. It also asked U.S. aid groups to leave the country and turned away food donations.

Detained journalists and refugees

Reports say two female journalists with Current TV were in China to report on people who have fled over the border from North Korea. Reuters reports the women were filming on the frozen Tumen River that borders the two countries, and that tensions were high because South Korea and the United States have been conducting military exercises that the North sees as aggressive.

Since the early 1990s, tens—perhaps hundreds—of thousands of North Koreans have fled the country, where resources are tight and control is strict. Some two million people are estimated to have died from famine during the 90s, and the World Food Programme estimates nine million North Koreans will need food assistance this year. A Congressional report says about 75% of the refugees are women who are subject to prostitution and human trafficking.

One of the journalists detained is the sister of the reporter Lisa Ling who reported a few years ago on North Korea by posing as a doctor’s assistant. Oprah interviewed her about her experience in 2006.

North Korea and the missiles

Almost three years after testing seven missiles—one that could have reached Alaska—and setting off fresh alarms about its nuclear plans, North Korea will launch a rocket that is expected to travel over Japan. In 1998 it surprised the international community with a similar launch. Pyongyang (the capital) says they’re putting a communications satellite in space, but Japan says the launch violates United Nations resolutions and is considering new sanctions. Japan is also preparing to intercept falling debris, and the United States is ready to intercept the rocket entirely if need be.

For the rest of this article including what Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton had to say, click here.

It's Not Easy Being Green

It was a green week, from a major announcement by a major company to convert its transportation fleet to run on alternative fuels, to the naming of a green "handyman"—Van Jones—in Washington. And while being green is en vogue, it’s not easy, as Kermit the Frog sang so well. And the recession is driving it home: Green isn’t easy because it isn’t cheap.

Of course billions of dollars of the stimulus package are aimed at green-related efforts—tax credits for using wind and solar, building a smarter grid, and Jones is expected to help shepherd in new green jobs. On Wednesday AT&T showed how costly it can be to be a green leader, committing $575 million over 10 years to convert its maintenance fleet to green-friendly vehicles. Their pledge is a boon to Ford, from which AT&T will order 8,000 trucks that run on natural gas.

Natural gas?

Apparently the United States has plenty of natural gas reserves, meaning it doesn't have to be imported. It's less expensive and burns cleaner than oil. Natural gas is largely methane, and is found in gas and oil wells predominantly in a slice of the United States that stretches from Wyoming down to Texas, and also in Alaska. (See map of reserves.) About a quarter of U.S. power is generated by natural gas already but only a fraction is used to fuel cars. Honda's natural gas car is called GX and sells for about $25,000.

Some cities are already using natural gas to power buses (i.e., San Francisco and Oakland, California). Problem is, it's expensive to convert vehicles to run on natural gas and you need a place to fill up. We have over 100 here in California and there might be 1,000 across the country. (See locator map of natural gas filling stations in the United States.) 

For the rest of this article including the big picture, click here.

These articles are brought to you by the WeeklyDIVA. Stay informed EACH WEEK with the WeeklyDIVA, which boils down hot topics in the news into just enough to help you survive any dinner party conversation.

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