Friday, February 18 Nine Circles of Hell!


The Nine Circles of Hell! – all the news that gives you fits in print – for Friday, February 18, 2011, plus a bonus story on BP’s disaster, are:

Rallies supporting workers spread from Wisconsin to Ohio

Six weeks into his term, Floridians consider Tea Party governor recall

Anti-government rallies in Iraq continue to spread across country

Bahraini military fires on mourners, then medics

Is Egyptian revolution already falling apart?

Wikileaks: China guided US response to financial collapse

Firefighter refused call to Giffords’ shooting due to “political bantering”

“Poor decisions by management were the real cause” of BP disaster

Obama asks Abbas to withdraw UN resolution that reflects US policy

Rallies supporting workers spread from Wisconsin to Ohio

Public Worker Protests Spread From Wisconsin to Ohio

In what union leaders say is becoming a national fight, protests against legislation to restrict public employees’ collective-bargaining rights spread from Wisconsin to Ohio.

In Madison, Wisconsin, crowds that police estimated at 25,000 engulfed the Capitol and its lawns yesterday during a third-straight day of protests as Democratic senators fled the legislative session. In Columbus, Ohio, about 3,800 state workers, teachers and other public employees came to the statehouse for a committee hearing. President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohioan, argued over whether the bills are “an assault on unions.”

Ohio firefighters Dave Hefflinger and Jerry Greer said they were. They stood near hundreds of workers elbow-to-elbow in the statehouse atrium and listened to a Senate hearing through speakers. Chants of “Kill the bill” echoed.

“We’re here to support our brothers and sisters,” Hefflinger, a 27-year veteran, said in an interview. “They’re trying to take away what we fought for all of these years.”

Hefflinger, 49, and Greer, 39, members of the department in Findlay, Ohio, drove two hours south to protest the bill. The measure would eliminate collective bargaining for state workers, prevent local-government employees from negotiating for health insurance and replace salary schedules with merit pay.

With states facing deficits that may reach a combined $125 billion next year, Republican governors including Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, Ohio’s John Kasich and New Jersey’s Chris Christie are targeting changes in rules for collective bargaining and worker contributions for health-care coverage and pensions …

In a telephone interview Feb. 15, Walker said he spoke with Kasich about the demonstrations. When asked for advice, Walker said, “Don’t blink” …

The bills are state-level skirmishes in a national battle, and the purpose is to undermine labor unions and the Democrats they support, said John Russo, a professor and co-director of the Center for Working-Class Studies at Youngstown State University in Ohio.

“It’s really an ideological battle that’s being fought across the country right now,” Russo said yesterday in an interview while waiting to testify before the Ohio Senate Insurance, Commerce and Labor Committee. “This is a real teaching moment. Let’s have this debate about the role of the public sector.”

There were 50 witnesses scheduled, and Chairman Kevin Bacon said the committee would hear them without a break.

“This is a true test of democracy,” Bacon said.

The statehouse spokesman, Gregg Dodd, estimated the crowd at about 3,800 and said it was the largest gathering inside the statehouse since it was renovated in 1996 …

Joe Rugola, the former president of the Ohio AFL-CIO who also is executive director of the Ohio Association of Public School Employees, said he represents bus drivers and janitors who earn about $24,000 a year.

“I’m still looking for this privileged class of workers,” Rugola said in an interview while waiting to testify. “This is just part of a national attack on working people.”

Six weeks into his term, Floridians consider Tea Party governor recall

Winds of a recall swirling around Florida’s new governor

Just a month and a half on the job, and already the winds of a recall are swirling around Gov. Rick Scott.

The governor has made some enemies in the state capitol, and many are his fellow Republicans in the legislature.

As the rift continues to widen, Scott’s ability to get things done may start to weaken.

Scott arrived in Tallahassee as an outsider and a man with no political experience, who was determined to change government as we know it.

First, he rolled out a controversial budget, cutting everything from education to prisons.

“My job is to represent the taxpayers of this state, and I’m not comfortable that this is a project that we ought to be doing,” Scott said.

The governor’s rejection of federal funding for high-speed rail opened up a new and very public divide with dozens of powerful Republican lawmakers.

They’re making it clear they intend to overrule Scott and House Democratic leader Rep. Ron Saunders couldn’t be happier.

Anti-government rallies in Iraq continue to spread across country
Al Jazeera

Fresh protests hit Iraqi cities

Violent protests have taken place at various locations in Iraq, with anti-government protesters rallying against corruption, poor basic services and high unemployment.

In Basra, the country’s second largest city, about 1,000 people rallied on Friday, demanding better service delivery from the government, jobs and improved pensions.

They called for the provincial governor to resign, and blocked a bridge for an hour. Protesters shouted slogans saying that while Friday’s protests would be peaceful, ones held in the future may not be.

“We’re living in miserable conditions, no electricity, dirty, muddy streets. We have to make changes. We should not be silent,” said Qais Jabbar, one of the protesters.

“I have filed my papers with the provincial council but have gotten no job until now,” said Hussein Abdel, an unemployed 25-year-old. “There is corruption in Basra – they have to start taking care of this city and must stop making fake promises.”

Protests were also held in the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, which generally enjoys more economic prosperity than other parts of the country.

A Kurdish regional opposition party’s offices were attacked by looters, officials said on Friday.

Bahraini military fires on mourners, then medics
The New York Times

Security Forces in Bahrain Open Fire on Mourners

Government forces opened fire on hundreds of mourners marching toward Pearl Square Friday, sending people running away in panic amid the boom of concussion grenades. But even as the people fled, at least one helicopter sprayed fire on them and a witness reported seeing mourners crumpling to the ground.

It was not immediately clear what type of ammunition the forces were firing, but some witnesses reported live fire from automatic weapons and the crowd was screaming “live fire, live fire.” At a nearby hospital, witnesses reported seeing people with very serious injuries and gaping wounds, at least some of them caused by rubber bullets that appeared to have been fired at close range.

Even as ambulances rushed to rescue people, forces fired on medics loading the wounded into their vehicles. That only added to the chaos, with regular people pitching in to evacuate the wounded by car and doctors at a nearby hospital saying the delays in casualties reaching them made it impossible to get a reasonable count of the dead and wounded.

A Western official said at least one person had died in the mayhem surrounding the square, and reports said at least 50 were wounded. The official quoted a witness as saying that the shooters were from the military, not the police, indicating a hardening of the government’s stance against those trying to stage a popular revolt.

Thousands of people gathered at the hospital, offering blood for the wounded, and doctors said they were having to work as “volunteers” because the government had issued orders against helping protesters.

The mourners who defied a government ban to march on symbolic Pearl Square were mostly young men who had been part of a funeral procession for a protester killed in an earlier crackdown by police.

Minutes after the first shots were fired, forces in a helicopter that had been shooting at the crowds, opened fire at a Western reporter and videographer who were filming a sequence on the latest violence. Two young who had been in the march said some of the fire came from snipers …

The violence came a day after both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged the leaders of the country, a longtime ally, to show restraint. President Clinton reiterated that message on Friday and condemned the violence here, in Libya and in Yemen.

Is Egyptian revolution already falling apart?
The Associated Press

Egyptian activists seek democracy, face threats from military

A week after Hosni Mubarak’s fall, the young activists who launched Egypt’s uprising are pushing to ensure the final prize, a real democracy. But already they see threats. The new military rulers have not broken the former ruling party’s hold and are evasive about their future plans. And the protesters’ “revolution” itself faces splintering.

The new stage brings new, more complicated challenges.

The Armed Forces Supreme Council, the body of top generals that now rules the country after Mr. Mubarak’s ouster last Friday, has laid out a transition that emphasizes speed, not the sweeping democratic change the protesters want. The military has left the remains of Mubarak’s ruling party to dominate the caretaker government and the levers of power, including the powerful police forces.

The organizers fear that unless the ruling party is broken and major change guaranteed, Egypt can fall back into an authoritarian rule, a Mubarak regime without Mr. Mubarak.

“Remains of the old system are still operating in society. They are trying to wage a counterrevolution,” said Mohammed Abbas, a Muslim Brotherhood member in the coalition. He said security agents are still targeting protesters, while pro-Mubarak activists are seeking to launch rallies to coincide with those organized by the youth protesters.

Also, the protest coalition is trying to fend off fragmentation that has plagued past reform movements, which tended to coalesce behind a single figure in a personality cult and then fall apart over personal disputes.

The new ruling generals urged the protesters to form their own political party. But the coalition refuses, saying a party now would bring out the divisions among them and break their bond of common demands. Not least, they worry that former members of Mr. Mubarak’s ruling party or others will try to hijack the name of the “Jan. 25 Revolution.”

Wikileaks: China guided US response to financial collapse

Special report: China flexed its muscles using U.S. Treasuries

Confidential diplomatic cables from the U.S. embassies in Beijing and Hong Kong lay bare China’s growing influence as America’s largest creditor.

As the U.S. Federal Reserve grappled with the aftershocks of financial crisis, the Chinese, like many others, suffered huge losses from their investments in American financial firms — from Lehman Brothers to the Primary Reserve Fund, the money market fund that broke the buck.

The cables, obtained by WikiLeaks, show that escalating Chinese pressure prompted a procession of soothing visits from the U.S.Treasury Department. In one striking instance, a top Chinese money manager directly asked U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner for a favor.

In June, 2009, the head of China’s powerful sovereign wealth fund met with Geithner and requested that he lean on regulators at the U.S. Federal Reserve to speed up the approval of its $1.2 billion investment in Morgan Stanley, according to the cables, which were provided to Reuters by a third party.

Although the cables do not mention if Geithner took any action, China’s deal to buy Morgan Stanley shares was announced the very next day.

The two Treasury officials to whom the cables were addressed, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Asia Robert Dohner and Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Monetary and Financial Policy Mark Sobel, declined through a spokesperson to comment for this story. The State Department also declined to comment …

The concern in certain influential Washington and Wall Street circles is that Beijing would leverage its position as the main enabler of U.S. overspending. And the cables provide a glimpse into how much politics inform relations between the world’s two largest economies.

One cable cites Chinese money managers expressing concern that U.S. arms sales to Taiwan — a major, longstanding irritant in the relationship — could sour the Chinese public on Treasury purchases …

The cables also indicate a high level of confidence among the Americans that China can’t entirely stop buying U.S. debt, a sentiment shared by most economists who describe the dynamic as a form of mutually assured financial destruction.

But the cables do show that China can and will pull back, with financial repercussions. In the spring of 2009, with U.S.-China financial tensions running especially high, China’s Treasury holdings fell to around $764 billion, down from nearly $900 billion. In July, after tensions between the two nations mostly subsided, its holdings rose to a record $940 billion.

During the financial turmoil, the cables show that Beijing also shifted its portfolio away from longer-term Treasury notes, which helped drive up America’s long-term borrowing costs.

Firefighter refused to respond to Giffords’ shooting due to “political bantering”
The Associated Press

Memos: Firefighter refused call to Tucson shooting

A veteran firefighter refused to respond to last month’s deadly shooting spree that left Rep. Gabrielle Giffords wounded because of “political bantering,” and it may have delayed his unit’s assignment to help, according to internal city memos.

The Arizona Daily Star reported Thursday that firefighter Mark Ekstrum’s team, which is specially trained to handle large medical emergencies, was dispatched to assist 90 minutes after the Jan. 8 shooting. The newspaper obtained the memos about the incident through a public records request.

While the crew was not among those first called to the supermarket where six people were killed and 13 others wounded, a memo from Ekstrum’s supervisor said his actions caused “confusion and delay” during the emergency.

One of the fire engines from Ekstrum’s station had to stop at another station to pick up personnel to take his place, according to the Star.

Ekstrum, a 28-year veteran of the Tucson Fire Department, retired two days after the incident while his supervisors were still considering how to discipline him.

Capt. Ben Williams wrote in a report that when Ekstrum first said he would not go on the call, “he mentioned something about `political bantering’ and he did not want to be part of it.”

Williams said in the report that he told the 56-year-old firefighter that he could not refuse a call for that reason and then talked to the firefighter privately in his office. He said Ekstrum “started to say something about how he had a much different political viewpoint than the rest of the crew and he was concerned.”

Despite being told that was not acceptable, Williams said Ekstrum informed him he was going home “sick,” so they answered the call without him.

“Poor decisions by management were the real cause” of BP disaster

BP workers could have prevented rig accident: commission

BP had workers on the doomed Deepwater Horizon rig who could have prevented the missteps that led to the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill, but they were not consulted, the White House oil spill commission said on Thursday.

In an expanded report on the causes of the BP drilling disaster that killed 11 workers and ravaged the U.S. Gulf coast last summer, the commission released new details about the events that preceded the BP accident.

The commission’s investigators said BP workers failed to ask a knowledgeable company engineer who was visiting the rig about unexpected results from a critical negative pressure test on the rig.

“If anyone had consulted him or any other shore-based engineer, the blowout might never have happened,” the commission said in a statement.

The misreading of that pressure test and the decision to move ahead with temporary abandonment of BP’s Macondo well was a major catalyst for the April 20 rig explosion that eventually unleashed millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Had BP’s well site leaders brought their faulty explanation of the test results to one of the visiting engineers, “events likely would have turned out differently,” the commission report said.

The engineers visiting the rig that day later questioned the crew’s interpretation of the test results. BP onshore officials said they would have insisted on further testing, had they been consulted.

“The sad fact is that this was an entirely preventable disaster,” the commission’s chief counsel, Fred Bartlit, said in a statement. “Poor decisions by management were the real cause.”

  • The New Orleans Time Picayune story, “BP knew of problems, but left them unattended before Gulf oil well blowout, new report says,” adds this:
    The causes of the BP disaster have been picked over by several investigative bodies for months, including the national Oil Spill Commission and its lead counsel, Fred Bartlit Jr. But a 371-page supplementary report released by Bartlit on Thursday pulls back the curtain even further on what actually went wrong.
    “In clear, precise, and unflinching detail, this report lays out the confusion, lack of communication, disorganization, and inattention to crucial safety issues and test results that led to the deaths of 11 men and the largest offshore oil spill in our nation’s history,” said the commission’s co-chairmen, former Sen. and Gov. Bob Graham of Florida and former Environmental Protection Agency chief William Reilly.

Obama asks Abbas to withdraw UN resolution that reflects US policy

Abbas rejects U.S. request to withdraw UN settlement resolution

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to turn down Washington’s request to withdraw a U.N. Security Council resolution demanding Israel halt settlement expansion on occupied land.

Several officials close to Abbas on Friday predicted this would be the consensus of a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive later in the day to discuss President Barack Obama’s telephone call with Abbas on Thursday.

Washington has made it clear that it will veto the resolution should it come to a vote, and has implored the Palestinian Authority and other Arab nations to withdraw the proposal, but to no avail.

The point of the resolution, foreign diplomats say, is to highlight Washington’s isolated position on the Security Council, show the Palestinian population that the Palestinian Authority is taking action, and to pressure Israel and the United States on the settlement issue.

The resolution has nearly 120 co-sponsors, exclusively Arab and other non-aligned nations. UN diplomats said that the draft would probably receive 14 votes in favor and the one veto if put to an immediate vote.

The U.N. Security Council is scheduled to start discussions later on Friday on a draft resolution that Arab states submitted in January, demanding that Israel halt settlement activities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The Palestinians say continued building flouts the internationally-backed peace plan that will permit them to create a viable, contiguous state on the land after a treaty with Israel to end its occupation and 62 years of conflict.

Israel says this is an excuse for avoiding peace talks and a precondition never demanded before during 17 years of negotiation, which has so far produced no agreement.

Obama, who has said Israeli settlements in territories it captured in a 1967 war are illegal and unhelpful to the peace process, is opposed to a U.N. move that in Washington’s view could shatter hopes of reviving the stalled talks.

The Obama administration is, however, embarrassed by the episode, because the Palestinian proposal accurately reflects their own stated official position on the settlements, which makes it difficult to oppose the resolution and has led to extensive efforts out of Washington to halt the vote.