Wednesday, June 1 Nine Circles of Hell!


The Nine Circles of Hell! – all the news that gives you fits in print – for Wednesday, June 1, 2011, International Children’s Day, are:

Florida’s Tea Party governor passes law to drug test the poor

If drug war hits Monterrey, it’s “a serious concern for the rest of Mexico”

After three day peace mission, NATO goes back to bombing Libya

Dozens die as Yemeni forces shoot it out with tribal fighters in capital

India struggles with poverty as it implements Right to Education Act

Past This is Hell! guest tortured, killed in Pakistan

While others hate, Australia gives Chomsky peace prize

Fukushima radiation reaches Chernobyl levels

How misleading statistics determine your medical decisions

Florida’s Tea Party governor passes law to drug test the poor
Miami Herald

Scott signs bill forcing drug tests on welfare recipients

Floridians will have to submit urine, blood or hair samples for drug testing before receiving cash benefits from the state, under a bill Gov. Rick Scott signed into law today.

“The goal of this is to make sure we don’t waste taxpayers’ money,” Scott said. “And hopefully more people will focus on not using illegal drugs.”

Taxpayers will reimburse welfare applicants for negative drug tests. Positive tests will carry an immediate ban on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families for six months. A second positive test will result in a three-year ban on state assistance.

Other details in the new law:

• The Department of Children and Families must inform applicants that they can avoid a drug test if they do not apply for benefits.

• The state must assure each applicant “a reasonable degree of dignity while producing and submitting a sample.”

• Parents who fail drug tests can get benefits for their children by naming a state-approved designee to collect the money. That designee must also pass a drug test.

ACLU Florida has suggested they might sue the state over the new law. A statement from the group’s state director today did not mention legal action, but said they would have an announcement tomorrow about Scott’s executive order forcing drug tests on state employees.

“Once again, this governor has demonstrated his dismissal of both the law and the right of Floridians to personal privacy by signing into law a bill that treats those who have lost their jobs like suspected criminals,” Howard Simon said in his statement. “This wasteful program created by this law subjects Floridians who are impacted by the economic downturn, as well as their families, to a humiliating search of their urine and body fluids without cause or even suspicion of drug use.”

If drug war hits Monterrey, it’s “a serious concern for the rest of Mexico”

Special report: If Monterrey falls, Mexico falls

In just four years, Monterrey, a manufacturing city of 4 million people 140 miles from the Texan border, has gone from being a model for developing economies to a symbol of Mexico’s drug war chaos, sucked down into a dark spiral of gangland killings, violent crime and growing lawlessness.

Since President Felipe Calderon launched an army-led war on the cartels in late 2006, grenade attacks, beheadings, firefights and drive-by killings have surged.

That has shattered this city’s international image as a boomtown where captains of industry built steel, cement and beer giants in the desert in less than a century — Mexico’s version of Dallas or Houston.

By engulfing Monterrey, home to some of Latin America’s biggest companies and where annual income per capita is double the Mexican average at $17,000, the violence shows just how serious the security crisis has become in Mexico, the world’s seventh-largest oil exporter and a major U.S. trade partner.

Almost 40,000 people have died across the country since late 2006, and in Monterrey, the violence has escalated to a level that questions the government’s ability to maintain order and ensure the viability of a region that is at the heart of Mexico’s ambitions to become a leading world economy.

Already drug killings have spread to Mexico’s second city Guadalajara and while Mexico City has so far escaped serious drug violence, the capital does have a large illegal narcotics market. If the cartels were to declare war on its streets, Monterrey’s experience shows that Mexico’s long-neglected police and judiciary are not equipped to handle it.

“If we can’t deal with the problem in Monterrey, with all the resources and the people we have here, then that is a serious concern for the rest of Mexico,” said Javier Astaburuaga, chief financial officer at top Latin American drinks maker FEMSA, which helped to spark the city’s industrialization in the early 1900s.

Lorenzo Zambrano, the chief executive of one of the world’s largest cement companies Cemex, is equally concerned. “The trend is worrying,” said Zambrano, whose grandfather helped found the Monterrey-based company that has become of a symbol of Mexico’s global ambitions.

“But we won’t let Monterrey fall.”

After three day peace mission, NATO goes back to bombing Libya
New York Times

NATO Resumes Airstrikes After Qaddafi Vows to Fight On

After a 72-hour bombing lull to allow President Jacob Zuma of South Africa to fly into Tripoli on an unsuccessful peace mission for the African Union, NATO resumed its airstrikes on the Libyan capital after dusk on Tuesday. There was no immediate word from NATO or the Libyan government on the targets of the strikes.

The new attacks underscored NATO’s declared intention to step up the pressures on Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi to abandon power and flee into exile. But all signs in the wake of the Zuma visit on Monday pointed to a hardening resolve on the part of the 68-year-old Libyan leader, who was quoted in a statement issued by Mr. Zuma’s office in South Africa as having told the South African leader that “he was not prepared to leave his country, despite the difficulties.”

The chief spokesman for the Qaddafi government, Moussa Ibrahim, offering the first official Libyan account of the Zuma talks 24 hours after they ended, also emphasized Colonel Qaddafi’s determination to fight on. Addressing NATO and others who have called for Colonel Qaddafi to quit, Mr. Ibrahim offered a blunt riposte. “We say: ‘Who are you to say the Libyan cannot choose Muammar Qaddafi?’ ” He added: “We will never give in.”

Saying the Libyan people’s “love for the leader” had imbued “thousands and thousands” of Libyans with a will to resist NATO and the rebels who had taken control of much of eastern Libya, he added, “When it comes down to it we will all take our guns and fight.”

Dozens die as Yemeni forces shoot it out with tribal fighters in capital
Associated Press

Street battles in Yemeni capital leave 41 dead

Government forces and tribal fighters exchanged gun and artillery fire in Yemen’s capital early Wednesday, sending the crackle of gunfire and resounding booms over the city in fresh fighting that killed at least 41 people. The fighting spread to new areas, with tribesmen from the powerful Hasid confederation seizing buildings in neighborhoods in the city’s south and northwest.

The urban battles over the last week have posed a new threat to President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 33-year rule. For nearly four months, thousands of Yemenis have filled the streets daily, calling for democratic reforms and Saleh’s ouster. The mostly peaceful protests gave way last week to violence between Saleh’s security forces and fighters loyal to Sheik Sadeq al-Ahmar, head of the country’s largest tribal coalition.

Saleh’s often violent attempts to quash the protests have led the U.S. to turn away from its one-time ally, once considered a necessary partner in fighting Yemen’s active al-Qaida branch …

Fighting in Sanaa raged until 5 a.m. then continued in bursts throughout the day. Witnesses said units of the elite Presidential Guard, commanded by one of Saleh’s sons, shelled the headquarters of an army brigade responsible for guarding sensitive government institutions. Army officers who have defected to the opposition said the government suspected the brigade commander was about to join forces with the movement to oust Saleh.

Opposition army officers, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with army rules, said the armored brigade commander, Brigadier-General Mohammed Khalil, was neutral and without political affiliation but had apparently angered Saleh.

India struggles with poverty as it implements Right to Education Act
Agence France Presse

Indian street kids work at dawn, then dream of school

Fourteen-year-old Deepchand should be learning but instead he lies sprawled fast asleep on the floor of an Indian school — exhausted by his early morning labours finding rubbish to sell.

Abandoned by his mother, his father dead, he works as a trash collector on the streets of New Delhi, starting two hours before dawn collecting plastic bottles, drink cans and metal — anything that will earn him a little cash.

Deepchand, who like many street kids has only one name, uses the plastic bag in which he collects garbage as his sleeping bag when he beds down on the pavement at night.

But there is hope for Deepchand, and countless others like him, through the Aviva Street to School Centre, a programme run by Save the Children that targets street kids to try to prepare them for entry into mainstream schools.

“It’s hard to teach them at times — they’re so exhausted,” said Save the Children programme worker Pradeep Kumar, gazing down at the sleeping Deepchand, whose hands are calloused from work.

Getting India’s millions of street children into schools is just one of the big challenges facing the government as it seeks to implement its landmark Right to Education Act which is just over a year old.

That’s where transition institutions like Aviva come in — helping children learn the most basic social skills such as sharing, and allowing them to catch up on lost school years so that they can one day attend full-time classes.

But many impoverished parents, who rely on income from the children to support the family, see no point in education.

“My father says, ‘Do rag picking’ but I want to go to school,” says nine-year-old Suleiman in the brightly decorated classroom that lies up a flight of narrow stairs in a bustling market.

“The parents are so fixated on getting enough money to survive, the value of an education falls,” says teacher Nivedita Chopra.

“But if they see their child doing well and feel it could eventually translate into a better life for them, it can change their minds,” Chopra says, as she busily puts stars on drawings thrust at her by pupils.

Past This is Hell! guest tortured, killed in Pakistan
Al Jazeera

Pakistani investigative journalist killed

A Pakistani journalist who investigated al-Qaeda’s alleged infiltration of the country’s navy has been found dead near the capital Islamabad.

(Past This is Hell! guest) Syed Saleem Shahzad had earlier told a rights activist he had been threatened by the country’s intelligence agencies. He was found dead on Tuesday, and police said his body showed signs of torture.

Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan representative for Human Rights Watch, said Shahzad had told him that he was under threat by Pakistan’s military intelligence agency.

“He told me he was being followed and that he is getting threatening telephone calls and that he is under intelligence surveillance,” he told Reuters news agency.

“We can’t say for sure who has killed Saleem Shahzad. But what we can say for sure is that Saleem Shahzad was under serious threat from the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) and Human Rights Watch has every reason to believe that that threat was credible.”

Shahzad, a correspondent for the Asia Times Online as well as Italian news agency Adnkronos International, went missing on Sunday from Islamabad while on his way to appear on a television show.

His death underscores the dangers of reporting in Pakistan, which in 2010 was called the deadliest country for journalists.

While others hate, Australia gives Chomsky peace prize
Sydney Morning Herald

Controversy dogs Chomsky as he accepts Sydney Peace Prize

In a move likely to spark another annual round of healthy controversy, the veteran American linguist, social scientist and human rights campaigner (past This is Hell! guest) Noam Chomsky was named 2011 winner of the Sydney Peace Prize last night.

Professor Chomsky said he was honoured by the award, whose previous recipients include the South African cleric Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Palestinian activist Hanan Ashwari and the Australian journalist (past This is Hell! guest) John Pilger.

In recent weeks the 82-year-old has been one of America’s most-hated men, subjected to ”obscenities, intellectual hysteria and death threats” over remarks following the shooting of Osama bin Laden.
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The al-Qaeda leader’s crimes, he wrote, were vastly exceeded by those of the former president George Bush. ”We might ask how we would be reacting if Iraqi commandos landed at his compound, assassinated him and dumped his body in the Atlantic.”

Professor Chomsky said the ill-considered American operation had pushed the world to the brink of war, possibly even nuclear war. ”The commandos who violated Pakistani sovereignty were given orders to fight their way out if necessary. They risked coming into confrontation with the Pakistani army.

”In a society barely hanging together, the military is very stable, very professional. They are dedicated to the defence of Pakistan, which is probably the fastest-growing nuclear power in the world. If confronted it will fight.”

Professor Chomsky restated his opposition to war in Afghanistan, where two Australian soldiers died this week.

”Americans and Britons, too, are dying … in fact, to make the world more [not less] dangerous for the United States and Britain. And I’d say for the rest of the world.”

Fukushima radiation reaches Chernobyl levels

Fukushima Debacle Risks Chernobyl ‘Dead Zone’ as Radiation in Soil Soars

Radioactive soil in pockets of areas near Japan’s crippled nuclear plant have reached the same level as Chernobyl, where a “dead zone” remains 25 years after the reactor in the former Soviet Union exploded.

Soil samples in areas outside the 20-kilometer (12 miles) exclusion zone around the Fukushima plant measured more than 1.48 million becquerels a square meter, the standard used for evacuating residents after the Chernobyl accident, Tomio Kawata, a fellow at the Nuclear Waste Management Organization of Japan, said in a research report published May 24 and given to the government.

Radiation from the plant has spread over 600 square kilometers (230 square miles), according to the report. The extent of contamination shows the government must move fast to avoid the same future for the area around Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant as Chernobyl, scientists said. Technology has improved since the 1980s, meaning soil can be decontaminated with chemicals or by planting crops to absorb radioactive materials, allowing residents to return.

“We need to finish this treatment as quickly as possible, within three years at most,” Tetsuo Iguchi, a specialist in isotope analysis and radiation detection at Nagoya University in central Japan, said in a telephone interview. “If we take longer, people will give up on returning to their homes.”

How misleading statistics determine your medical decisions
New York Times

Translation Matters in Choices on Data

If your doctor tells you that highly reliable studies have shown that taking a certain pill will cut your risk of getting a serious disease in half, would you take it?

Suppose he adds that the risk is 2 percent for people who do not take the pill, but your risk will be reduced to 1 percent if you do. Would you still take it? And what would you do if he told you that only one of every 100 patients who take the drug will actually benefit from it?

The doctor could have said any of these things, all truthfully, because they are just different ways of describing the same data.

In a review of studies published in The Cochrane Library, researchers found that both doctors and patients are largely unaware of these different and equally accurate ways of presenting the same information, and that the format in which data is presented can have a profound influence on health care decisions.

In the first example above, the doctor cited the relative risk reduction — an impressive-sounding 50 percent. In the second, he described the absolute risk reduction, only 1 percent. And in the last, in which he mentioned what appears to be the futility of taking the pill at all, he was reporting the number needed to treat: one case of the disease prevented for every 100 people treated.

The researchers, led by Dr. Elie A. Akl, an associate professor of medicine at the University at Buffalo, part of the State University of New York system, analyzed 35 studies that used hypothetical examples like the one above, and recorded the responses to statistics presented in different formats.

Some of the studies tested persuasiveness — the willingness of a patient to start a treatment, or that of a doctor to prescribe it. Others examined ability to understand — for example, by presenting data and seeing if the subject could accurately estimate the probability of getting the disease.

And some looked at perception, by offering statistics in various formats and having people rate how effective they believed the treatment to be.

The researchers tested health professionals, patients, students and the general public. Perhaps surprisingly, there were no significant differences among them in the accuracy with which they interpreted the various statistical presentations.

Both patients and doctors viewed a treatment as more effective when presented with its relative risk reduction rather than its absolute risk reduction.

Apparently, to health professionals and laymen alike, a 50 percent risk reduction sounds much bigger than a reduction from 2 percent to 1 percent, even though they are identical. When statistics were presented as number needed to treat — 100 people treated to prevent one case of the disease — they were least persuasive of all.

Dr. Akl believes that doctors need to be careful in reporting statistics to patients because how doctors describe the numbers affects decisions.