News in Brief: Week of 2/27/15


Truck drivers have blocked a number of main roadways in Brazil to protest high fuel and toll costs, according to the BBC. The protest has slowed traffic of agricultural goods, particularly soybeans, to major ports such as Paranagua and Santos. Soybeans are one of Brazil’s major exports, and currently a large portion of the crop has already been harvested but waits in silos for transport. The protest has also affected local development and caused fuel prices to rise.


A recent report by the Australian Human Rights Commission has identified 44 cases of sexual assault against detainees seeking asylum in Australia, according to the BBC. The government is investigating these assaults, some of which involved children. The Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, has criticized the report as being politically motivated, as there were more children detained under the prior government. “It’s too political to have an inquiry into children in detention when there are 1,400 of them but it’s not too political to do it when the number is under 200,” said Mr. Abbott.


What could be more harmless than a gerbil? In the Middle Ages, the answer may have been: almost anything. Researchers at the University of Oslo have suggested that these fluffy rodents, and not rats as was previously thought, carried the Bubonic plague from Asia to Europe, according to the BBC. The researchers looked at climate data from Asia. The weather patterns matched an increase in gerbil populations, not rats, before major plague events. They are now examining genetic evidence to see if the plague was carried by gerbils in waves, rather than stemming from one rat population in Europe.

United States

President Obama has used his veto power for the first time in five years to stop a bill that tries to force him to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, according to CNN. The oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf has been controversial since first proposed six years ago. Proponents claim it will create jobs, while opponents say it will be a drastic enhancer of climate change. The State Department is conducting a review, after which the president will make a final decision on whether or not to approve the project.