Parts of Brazil crawl out of the mud

Sometimes, it takes a while for the full extent of a tragedy to become known.

That's the case with the Samarco Mineração mine disaster in Brazil. In November, a dam holding back waste from a mine broke, sending a 60-foot wall of toxic mud roaring downstream, wiping out the small village of Bento Rodrigues and the town of Paracatu.

Towns farther downstream on the Doce River have also been deeply affected, news.com.au reports, because the river — now filled with toxic mud — is the lifeblood of the region.

The disaster is still in the news because of two factors. One, reports of its cause continue to emerge, including news that the mining company, Samarco Minerals SA, knew the dam was in danger of collapse months beforehand and not only did nothing to stabilize the structure, but also did not warn those in the path of destruction should it fail, ABC News reported.

Even after the dam did fail, the company did not warn people in the mud's path despite the 10 hours it took for the flow to reach Bento Rodrigues, the first town destroyed, said the United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights, which investigated the catastrophe.

The other reason the calamity is still in the news is because the effects of the collapse, which killed at least 19 people, are still being discovered. The U.N. working group said this may be the worst environmental disaster ever to hit Brazil.

The toxic mud traveled nearly 400 miles downstream to the Atlantic Ocean, "killing fish, fauna and flora, and causing a major social and environmental crisis, affecting the livelihood and access to drinking water of a large number people, including thousands of fishermen who directly depend of the river for their livelihood," the U.N. working group said. Officials say recovery could take decades.

And lest you think this is an isolated instance, the working group found there are 753 tailings dams in the region, 40 of which are considered unsafe.

Agreement, but at what cost?

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) continues to move forward despite warnings that it puts corporations ahead of people, justice and the environment.

David Cay Johnston at Al Jazeera America warns that the massive trade agreement threatens Americans' liberties while doing almost nothing to help the economy.

How dangerous could TPP be? Johnson says it gives corporations more power than elected governments:

The agreement would allow foreign corporations and governments to challenge federal, state and local laws in every other partnership country. The arbitration panels will likely to be composed of trade lawyers agreed to by each side . . . [creating] a system of arbitration run by insiders, who could be advocates one day, arbiters the next, an arrangement almost guaranteed to produce corrupt backscratching for the benefit of corporations and at the expense of we the people.

Worse, no matter how economically damaging, unfair or just plain wrong the decisions of TPP arbitration panels, the rulings will not be subject to review by any court. This is justice of, by and for corporations, which means it cannot be justice.

Social Service Sr. Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby, says: "This agreement, negotiated in secret and crafted largely with and for the benefit of large multinational corporations and their lobbyists, reveals the worst part of politics: powerful economic rights once again trump the rights of workers, small farmers, patients seeking health care, and the environment."

Campbell says the agreement should be dumped:

The rules of the global economy must be rules that work for the benefit of all, rather than rules that work for a privileged few. This agreement provides protections for investor rights while failing to provide the same rights to workers and communities.

It is now up to Congress to stop this agreement. Congress must answer Pope Francis' call to say no to 'an economy of exclusion' by rejecting the TPP.

Now would be the time to let your representatives know how you feel about the agreement.

Super Bowl sting

How pervasive is human trafficking? Seven teens were rescued from sex trafficking during Super Bowl week in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Los Angeles Times reports, some of them as young as 14. The newspaper said 129 adults were picked up or cited for prostitution, and 85 clients were arrested.

Last year, a nationwide pre-Super Bowl sting led to the arrests of nearly 600 people and freed 68 victims of sex trafficking, the Times said.

Remember, links, tips and accounts of the response to any crisis anywhere in the world are always welcome at dstockman@ncronline.org.

[Dan Stockman is national correspondent for Global Sisters Report. Follow him on Twitter @DanStockman or on Facebook.]

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