9 Circles! Tuesday: Exxon Mobil Goes To War, Privatized DC and Crazy America Nine Circles of Hell!

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Your bitter blind broke gap-toothed radio show host Chuck Mertz blogs ‘The Nine Circles of Hell!‘ every week day, Monday through Friday, at Noon (US central). It’s all the news that give you fits in print, nine reminders that ‘This is Hell!’

Click on any of the Nine Circles! in bold to go directly to the original article.

Exxon Mobil could cause the next Iraq war.
The Washington Post reveals, “With their opposing armies massed on either side of the contested border dividing southern and northern Iraq, leaders in Baghdad and the semiautonomous Kurdistan region are warning they are close to civil war — one that could be triggered by Exxon Mobil.
“Although leaders on both sides are negotiating a walk back from the brink, they also say their armies could easily be provoked into battle. One of the most sensitive tripwires is Exxon, which is preparing to drill for oil in the disputed territories at the heart of the military standoff. Iraq’s two most explosive political conflicts — over land and oil — are primed to combust.”
The Post quotes Sami Alaskary, a member of parliament and close confidant of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, saying, “The prime minister has been clear: If Exxon lays a finger on this territory, they will face the Iraqi army. We don’t want war, but we will go to war, for oil and for Iraqi sovereignty.”
The Post explains, “Iraq’s major ethnic groups have laid competing claims to land stretching across the northern part of the country, between the Kurdistan region and southern Iraq. An unofficial and ever-shifting ‘line of control’ bisects the disputed areas, demarcating the southern border or Kurdistan-governed territory.
“The crisis began after a Nov. 16 battle in the town of Tuz Khurmatu, whose diverse population and ethnic tensions are typical of the disputed areas. The fighting erupted when federal forces tried to arrest a Kurdish fuel seller, who asked Kurdish soldiers, known as pesh merga, to protect him. A shootout between the opposing forces ensued.
“Maliki and Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani quickly ordered thousands of reinforcements to move toward the line of control, to protect against a potential incursion.”
The Post also reminds us, “Iraqi Kurds are scarred by memories of Saddam Hussein’s murderous campaigns of ethnic cleansing. After the fall of his regime, they staked out substantial autonomy in northern Iraq, and now the Kurdistan region has many features of an independent state: the regional government provides all public services, controls its own police and security forces and flies its own flag.”
Literally ‘Blood for Oil.’
LITERALLY!

Afghanistan was rocked today by a deadly suicide bomber and an even more deadly Soviet bomb.
I’m not sure why The New York Times reports these events in this order, as the former is far less heinous than the latter, but here it goes: “A suicide bomber driving a car packed with explosives targeted the compound of a private military contractor on the eastern outskirts of Kabul on Monday, killing at least one person and injuring at least 15 others, including foreigners, the police said.
“In a separate episode, 10 girls were killed in a rural district of eastern Afghanistan on Monday when a roadside bomb exploded while they were collecting firewood, the Afghan police said. The office of the governor of Nangarhar Province said the girls were all between 9 and 11 years old. The Ministry of Education said some were as young as 6.”
The girls may have been victims of the Soviet-Afghan war.
“In the blast in eastern Afghanistan, Hazarat Hussain Masharaqiwal, a spokesman for the police chief of Nangarhar Province, said that the children discovered the unexploded bomb near their village, and that it went off when they hit it with an ax. The explosion also wounded a boy who was with them.
“The local police said the bomb probably dated from the civil war or even the Soviet occupation of the country.
“The United States-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan said the explosion was caused by the accidental triggering of an old land mine, quoting the governor of Chaparhar District in Nangarhar Province.
“In a statement, Gen. John R. Allen, the commander of American and international forces in Afghanistan, said he was saddened by the girls’ deaths.”
Allen is quoted saying, “Over three decades of conflict, Afghanistan became one of the most heavily mined countries on earth.”
The legacy of war keeps on exploding.
It was only a couple years ago when a Belgian woman became a casualty of a World War One-era bomb that had been laying unexploded for generations.

Health workers fighting polio have been killed in Pakistan.
The New York Times reports, “Five Pakistani women and a man were killed on Tuesday in separate attacks on health workers participating in a national drive to eradicate polio from Pakistan.
“The attacks forced health officials to temporarily suspend a large polio vaccination drive in Karachi, the country’s most populous city, where the disease has been making a worrisome comeback in recent years.
“Saghir Ahmed, the health minister for southern Sindh Province, said he had ordered the 24,000 aid workers taking part in the campaign in Karachi to immediately stop work. It was not clear when they would resume.
“The shooting represented a brutal setback to polio immunization efforts in Pakistan, one of just three countries in the world where the disease remains endemic. Pakistan accounted for 198 new cases last year — the highest rate in the world, followed by Afghanistan and Nigeria.
“There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but Taliban insurgents have repeatedly vowed to target anti-polio workers, accusing them of being spies.
“In the tribal areas along the Afghan border, Taliban leaders have issued religious edicts declaring that the United States runs a spy network under the guise of vaccination programs.
“That perception was strengthened after the American commando raid that killed Osama bin Laden in June 2011, when it emerged that the Central Intelligence Agency had paid a Pakistani doctor to run a vaccination program in Abbottabad, where Bin Laden was hiding, in a bid to obtain DNA evidence from his family …
“Despite the negative perceptions, the government has pressed ahead with a large polio vaccination campaign, usually conducted in three-day spurts involving tens of thousands of health workers who administer medicine to children under 5.”
Great move by the CIA to use a humanitarian effort as a front spy on people.
That definitely builds trust.
I mean, what can go wrong?
Other than a whole bunch of kids dying from polio that could have easily been avoided.

Syria’s now facing a food shortage.
According to Australia Associated Press, “The UN’s World Food Program (WFP) has warned that the spiralling violence in Syria is making it increasingly difficult to distribute food in the war-torn country.”
WFP spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs, whose organisation distributes most of its aid in Syria through the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, said, “Food needs are growing in Syria.”
“Citing SARC figures, Byrs told reporters in Geneva that nearly 2.5 million people currently need emergency food assistance, up from the 1.5 million estimated two months ago.
“Yet WFP is only able to reach 1.3 million people each month, she said, lamenting the ‘escalating violence,’ especially in the north of the country.”
I mentioned the UN report of “escalating violence” in yesterday’s Nine Circles.
It’s worth repeating that it’s getting worse and worse in Syria.

Israel is back to announcing more settlement expansion.
Agence France Presse says, “Israel gave the green light Monday for a plan denounced by Washington to build 1,500 settler homes in annexed east Jerusalem, prompting the Palestinians to warn they would seek a UN Security Council meeting on the issue.
“Interior ministry spokeswoman Efrat Orbach said the ministry’s planning committee had given developers the go ahead but told applicants to trim their request to build 1,600 new housing units at Ramat Shlomo to 1,500 and resubmit it ‘for final approval.’
“The Palestinian leadership responded by saying it would seek a Security Council meeting on the Israeli plans to build the new settler homes.”
President Mahmud Abbas’s spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina said, the PA was on the verge of “important and necessary measures against Israel’s settlement building, including recourse to the UN Security Council, to prevent implementation of these decisions.”
AFP also says that “top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat urged the US administration to ‘vote for Palestinian resolutions that will be submitted to the Security Council against Israeli settlements.’”
AFP reminds us, “Peace talks have been on hold since September 2010, with the Palestinians insisting on a settlement freeze before returning to the negotiating table and the Israelis insisting on no preconditions.”
Israeli settlement expansion: just in time for the Holidays!

There’s been yet another public protest against Egypt’s president.
Reuters informs us, “Egypt’s public prosecutor resigned under pressure from his opponents in the judiciary, dealing a blow to President Mohamed Mursi and drawing an angry response on Tuesday from the Islamist leader’s supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood.
“Seeking to keep pressure on Mursi, the main opposition coalition staged protests against an Islamist-backed draft constitution that has divided Egypt but which looks set to be approved in the second round of a referendum on Saturday.”
Here’s how Reuters describes the scene: “Protesters broke into cheers when the public prosecutor appointed by Mursi last month announced his resignation late on Monday.
“In a statement on its Facebook page, the Muslim Brotherhood, which propelled Mursi to power in elections in June, said the enforced resignation of public prosecutor Talaat Ibrahim was a ‘crime.’
“The Supreme Judiciary Council, which governs the country’s judicial system, should refuse to accept the prosecutor’s resignation, the Brotherhood said.
“Further signs of opposition to Mursi emerged when a judges’ club urged its members not to supervise Saturday’s vote. But the call is not binding and balloting is expected to go ahead.
“If the constitution passes next weekend, national elections can take place early next year, something many hope will help end the turmoil that has gripped Egypt since the fall of Hosni Mubarak nearly two years ago.
“The National Salvation Front opposition coalition said there were widespread voting violations in the first round and called for protests to ‘bring down the invalid draft constitution.’
“The Ministry of Justice said it was appointing a group of judges to investigate complaints of voting irregularities around the country.”
Reuters adds, “The closeness of the first-round referendum vote and low turnout give Mursi scant comfort as he seeks to assemble support for difficult economic reforms.”
Mustapha Kamal Al-Sayyid, a professor of political science at Cairo University, is quoted saying, “This percentage … will strengthen the hand of the National Salvation Front and the leaders of this Front have declared they are going to continue this fight to discredit the constitution.”
Reuters continues, “Mursi is likely to become more unpopular with the introduction of planned austerity measures, polarizing society further, Sayyid [said].”
Leading Egypt appears to have become the Muslim Brotherhood’s version of ‘be careful what you wish for.’

Crime has cost the poor $6 trillion.
Reuters finds, “Crime, corruption and tax evasion have cost the developing world nearly $6 trillion over the past decade, and illicit funds keep growing, led by China, a financial watchdog group said in a new report.
“China accounted for almost half of the $858.8 billion in dirty money that flowed into tax havens and Western banks in 2010, more than eight times the amounts for runners-up Malaysia and Mexico.
“Total illicit outflows increased by 11 percent from the prior year, Global Financial Integrity, a Washington-based group that campaigns for financial accountability, said in its latest report released on Monday.”
Raymond Baker, director of GFI, said, “Astronomical sums of dirty money continue to flow out of the developing world and into offshore tax havens and developed country banks.
“Developing countries are hemorrhaging more and more money at a time when rich and poor nations alike are struggling to spur economic growth. This report should be a wake-up call to world leaders that more must be done to address these harmful outflows.”
Reuters adds, “Leaders of the Group of 20 major economies increasingly are focusing on ways to crack down on money laundering, bank secrecy and tax loopholes to prevent funds stolen from public coffers or earned through criminal activity from depleting the budgets of developing countries.
“The sums are so huge that for every dollar in foreign direct aid, $10 leaves developing countries.
“The report said the 10 countries with the highest measured illicit money outflows between 2001 and 2010 were, in order: China, Mexico, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Philippines, Nigeria, India, Indonesia, United Arab Emirates.”
No word on the nationalities of the people behind the illicit money.

The rich get richer and the poor get poorer all thanks to privatizing government.
Reuters is doing an amazing investigation
.
It starts, “In the town that launched the War on Poverty 48 years ago, the poor are getting poorer despite the government’s help. And the rich are getting richer because of it.
“The top 5 percent of households in Washington, DC, made more than $500,000 on average last year, while the bottom 20 percent earned less than $9,500 – a ratio of 54 to 1.
“That gap is up from 39 to 1 two decades ago. It’s wider than in any of the 50 states and all but two major cities. This at a time when income inequality in the United States as a whole has risen to levels last seen in the years before the Great Depression.
“Americans have just emerged from a close presidential election in which the government’s role as a leveling force was fiercely debated. The right argued the state does too much; the left, too little. The issue is now at the center of tense negotiations over whose taxes to raise and what social programs to cut before a Jan. 1 deadline. And the government’s role will be paramount again next year if Congress takes up tax reform.
“The federal government does redistribute wealth down to struggling Americans. But in the years since President Lyndon Johnson took aim at poverty in his first State of the Union address, there has been an increasingly strong crosscurrent: The government is redistributing wealth up, too – especially in the nation’s capital.
“The beneficiaries are not the billionaire financiers and celebrities who have come to personify income inequality in the 21st century. Yet the Washington elite are just as much part of the trend, having influenced laws and decisions that alter the entire country’s distribution of income.
“Two decades of record federal spending and expanding regulation have fostered a growing upper class of federal contractors, lobbyists and lawyers in the District of Columbia area. The federal government funneled $83.5 billion their way in defense and other work in 2010 – an increase of more than 300 percent since 1989, even after adjusting for inflation. Private industry poured more than $3 billion into lobbying to influence the government, nearly double what it spent a decade ago.
“Like spokes on a wheel, the high-rise offices of this elite radiate out from Capitol Hill along major arteries deep into suburban Maryland and Virginia. The latest Census figures placed 10 of the capital’s surrounding counties in the top 20 nationwide for median household income – up from six in 1990.
“There probably isn’t much society can do to stop some causes of the spreading class divide, such as technological change. But there’s one factor that is changeable – public policy. This series of articles explores how government is exacerbating or alleviating the causes and consequences of inequality, by examining three places where the rich-poor gap has widened.”
There were plenty on the left who were critical of President Bill Clinton’s “reinventing government’ but they were dismissed as “too radical.” Later, Clinton would be deified as a hero of the Democratic Party despite selling off public services to private investors.
Reuters continues, “Public policy isn’t the only driver of inequality. Technological change has driven demand for high-skill professionals and eliminated a layer of lower-skill jobs. Weakened unions have lost power to lift wages. Perhaps the biggest factor of all is that the people on the winning side of these tectonic shifts – entrepreneurs, financiers and chief executives – are earning ever-larger fortunes.
“But government makes a difference.”
On the big government contractors who are making a fortune, Reuters reports, “They are the beneficiaries of a shift in US policy over the past 20 years that has directed trillions of tax dollars to private-sector contractors by outsourcing government operations and through record spending on war, national security, science and technology.
“President Bill Clinton launched his ‘reinventing government’ initiative in the 1990s. The federal money flowing to business rose 7 percent during his second term and 72 percent under Bush, who outsourced a record amount of national-security and defense work after the 2001 attacks by al Qaeda and through two wars. The upward trend continued under President Barack Obama until leveling off in 2010.
“The outsourcing boom has been particularly dramatic in the Washington region. Direct spending by the federal government accounts for 40 percent of the area’s $425 billion-a-year economy. The government spends more on private-sector procurement here than in any other metropolitan area or state – up 300 percent since 1990.
“Roughly 15 cents of every dollar from the entire federal procurement budget stays in or around the government’s hometown, said Stephen S. Fuller, director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University. Last year, that was about $80 billion out of $536 billion in procurement spending, he said. The 15 percent share is far greater than the region’s 2 percent portion of the US population.”
Fuller says, “We’re seeing an enormous transfer of wealth from taxpayers to the Washington economy.”
The new Washington, DC, according to the Reuters study, “has widened a split in the working population between haves and have-nots.
“The ranks of Washington-area workers with incomes above $100,000 rose to 22 percent of the workforce, up from 14 percent in 1990, adjusted for inflation, a Reuters analysis of Census data found. The share making less than $40,000 stayed flat, while the middle hollowed out to 41 percent from 49 percent.
“Executives, lawyers and high-tech workers are among the occupations that increased most in both numbers and average income. At the bottom, one of the fastest-growing areas is personal services, such as hairdressers and childcare workers.”
Reuters also finds, “Nearly 13,000 lobbyists registered with the government last year and reported $3.3 billion in fees, or about $260,000 per lobbyist. That’s 22 percent more lobbyists and 37 percent more inflation-adjusted revenue per lobbyist than in 1998, according to a Reuters analysis of data from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.
“Times are flush for Washington lawyers as well. The number of attorneys in the area has risen 44 percent, twice the national rate, to 41,000 since 1999. Their average income, adjusted for inflation, rose 35 percent to $156,000.
“The number of organizations with a political presence in Washington – that maintain an office or are represented by lobbyists or lawyers – more than doubled between 1981 and 2006 to nearly 14,000, according to a study by political scientists Kay L. Schlozman, Sidney Verba and Henry E. Brady.
“These professionals work predominantly for groups representing the top of society. Schlozman and her colleagues found that more than half the groups were devoted to furthering the interests of businesses. The next closest were state and local governments, at 12 percent. The rest were fragmented into single-digit shares among divergent interests. Second to last on the list, just above unions, were groups advocating for the poor, at 0.9 percent.”
Turns out, past This is Hell! guest Thomas Frank was right.
Again.
Now give a copy of Tom’s book, “The Wrecking Crew” as a Holiday gift.

Finally this morning, America is crazy.
Sure, it’s FoxNews.com, but they have some insane numbers.
“More than 46 million adults over the age of 18 have experienced some element of mental illness.
“In fact, the rate is 50 percent higher for those between the ages of 18 to 25, compared to those above the age of 50. “The impact of mental illness on the American society is crippling our national identity. What is most concerning is whether these staggering statistics on incidents are a reflection of poor access to mental health coverage and care, or a symptom of underlying social-economic pressures that push susceptible individuals over the brink.
The article adds, “certain mental health conditions such as depression, are often associated with other chronic conditions. In fact, 30 percent of individuals who have some sort of chronic conditions are more likely to have depression and other mental health issues. The challenge for individuals in seeking care is that medical necessity, as deemed by an insurance carrier or other care coordinator, sometimes comes in the way, and people are sometimes told they don’t need to see a psychiatrist or it’s not medically necessary.
“From a macro-economic perspective, there is enough data to support the fact that mental health issues comprise one of the top five cost drivers for major employers and our society as a whole …
“If more than half of those individuals who really need help are in the age group of 18 to 25, the problem really arises as to how we will ever know about the underlying issues of a group of individuals who are often not in the workforce and may be covered on their parent’s insurance plan — but nobody will ever know about the underlying problem.
“A staggering statistic is that approximately 40 percent of incoming college students at major universities across the United States are on some kind of medication for anxiety, depression or other mental health issues.”
The rest of the article is lacking, but those numbers are important.
Lots of Americans say they’ve had mental illness.
That either says lots of us have been a bit tetched at times — or we think what we experienced was a sign of crazy.
Now we gotta figure out if we are crazy or we’ve decided that our behavior was clearly the sign of illness and not just being a dick.

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9 Circles! Tuesday: Exxon Mobil Goes To War, Privatized DC and Crazy America
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