Friday, January 28 Nine Circles of Hell!


The Nine Circles of Hell! – all the news that gives you fits in print – for Friday, January 28, 2011, plus a bonus story on India’s ‘oil mafia’, are:

Indigent burials hit by budget cuts

Elected Tea Partiers “running into the brick wall of fiscal reality”

Fox News “diminish(es) the memory and meaning of the Holocaust”

Alaska’s “astonishingly high” sexual assault rate

Arizona defies crime stats as one of nation’s leaders in gun deaths

Report blaming crisis on banks, DC “put on a shelf to collect dust”

Afghan roadside bombs kill record number of US soldiers

Indian human rights activist’s life sentence condemned

Indian workers strike after colleague is burnt alive by ‘oil mafia’

Indigent burials hit by budget cuts
The Wall Street Journal

Michigan Works to Speed Burials for the Poor

Michigan’s new head of human services promised to streamline the process for funding indigent burials, following a Wall Street Journal article Monday describing backlogs at the Wayne County morgue in Detroit.

… A state official confirmed that the department was working with the county on the issue. Officials from the county medical examiner’s office aim to bury about 50 bodies in that time period, Dennis Niemiec, a spokesman for Wayne County said.

Wayne County has about 185 bodies in storage awaiting burial, some dating back to 2008. Because of state budget cuts, the county can afford to bury only about half as many bodies as it needs to, Albert Samuels, chief investigator for the county’s medical examiner’s office, told the Journal last week.

Wayne County is among many cash-strapped localities around the country scrambling to deal with the cost of indigent burials amid budget cuts at the state and local levels.

In Toledo, Ohio, the city council on Tuesday approved a plan to adopt cremation as the default option for indigent people, unless their religion bars it. The change is aimed at saving the city $600 per body and tens of thousands of dollars a year.

Michigan spent about $4.2 million on indigent burials in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, 2009, burying about 17,000 bodies.

Elected Tea Partiers “running into the brick wall of fiscal reality”

Special Report: A Long Island tax cut backfires on the Tea Party

At his January 2010 inauguration, Tea Party-backed Republican Edward Mangano marched up to the podium, pen in hand. Even before being officially declared Nassau County Executive, he signed a repeal of an unpopular home energy tax.

The move elicited chants of “Eddie, Eddie, Eddie” from supporters assembled in the auditorium of Mangano’s alma mater, Bethpage High School, 30 miles east of New York City.

“This is very cool and quite an honor,” Mangano said as he gave his admirers a thumbs-up.

The fiscal consequences, however, were anything but cool. The repeal set Mangano on an immediate collision course with the state-appointed fiscal overseer, the Nassau County Interim Financial Authority, or NIFA. It culminated in NIFA seizing control of the wealthy New York county’s finances on Wednesday.

Nassau’s ills exemplify the growing tension across the country as dozens of freshly-elected Tea Party lawmakers, many of whom promised to cut taxes, must find ways to slash record budget gaps as revenues dwindle.

“A lot of people who got elected on this type of anti-tax platform are running into the brick wall of fiscal reality,” said Matthew Gardner, executive director of the non-partisan Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy in Washington.

Besides being a cautionary tale, the setback in Nassau County is a black eye for the Tea Party, the grassroots movement built around the core principles of constitutionally limited government, free-market ideology and low taxes …

“As is the case elsewhere in New York State and the nation, this is the convergence of anti-tax fervor and a lack of political will to make the expense cuts necessary to balance the budget,” Stokes, the NIFA board member, told Reuters.

Fox News “diminish(es) the memory and meaning of the Holocaust”

Rabbis warn Rupert Murdoch: Fox News and Glenn Beck ‘using’ Holocaust

Four hundred rabbis, including the leaders of all the main branches of Judaism in the US, have signed an open letter calling on Rupert Murdoch to sanction the head of Fox News and one of the channel’s most famous hosts for frequent inappropriate references to the Nazis and the Holocaust.

The rabbis chose a poignant place to make their protest: they took out an advert costing at least $100,000 in one of Murdoch’s own newspapers, the Wall Street Journal. The advert was printed today – the UN-designated Holocaust Remembrance Day.

In the letter, the Jewish coalition calls on Murdoch to take action against Roger Ailes, the bombastic president of Fox News, as well as against Glenn Beck, the channel’s most notorious rightwing commentator. “We share a belief that the Holocaust, of course, can and should be discussed appropriately in the media. But that is not what we have seen at Fox News,” the letter says.

“You diminish the memory and meaning of the Holocaust when you use it to discredit any individual or organisation you disagree with. That is what Fox News has done in recent weeks.”

Alaska’s “astonishingly high” sexual assault rate

Anchorage Daily News

Victimization survey quantifies a brutal Alaska reality

A joint hearing by two state Senate committees revealed grim numbers on Monday.

• More than 47 percent of Alaska women report that they’ve been the victims of either threats and/or actual physical domestic violence in a romantic or intimate relationship at some time in their lives.

• More than 44 percent have suffered physical violence in a close relationship, from slapping to severe beatings.

• More than 9 percent report either physical violence or the threat of it in the last year.

• More than 37 percent report that they’ve suffered some form of sexual assault in their lives.

• More than 4 percent report that they’ve suffered sexual assault in the last year.

• More than 58 percent of Alaska women report that they’ve suffered either threats of violence or actual physical violence in an intimate relationship or sexual assault at some time in the lives.

Andre Rosay of the UAA Justice Center told the senators that these numbers are “astonishingly high.” The numbers are based on a survey of 871 adult Alaska women in May and June of 2010, called the 2010 Alaska Victimization Survey. Both Rosay and Lauree Morton, interim director of the state Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, said even those staggering numbers are almost certainly conservative.

Sen. Hollis French asked Morton if the numbers surprised her. “Sen. French, no,” Morton replied. She said people working in the field have long known that Alaska numbers were high. The survey — which had women reporting sexual assault at about 10 times the rate sexual assault is reported to police — only quantified what many Alaskans have known or suspected. Still, the numbers shock. What to do? Recent actions include Gov. Sean Parnell’s “Choose Respect” campaign and his hiring of more village public safety officers in rural Alaska. Sen. Fred Dyson noted the success of programs to report crimes against children, in which police, nurses and counselors work together to ease the pain of interviews and exams; similar models could ease the ordeal of reporting, arrests and successful prosecutions for women.

Arizona defies crime stats as one of nation’s leaders in gun deaths
Arizona Republic

Arizona’s gun-death rate among the worst in U.S.

From murders to suicides, Arizona is consistently among the most deadly states in the nation for gun violence, federal records show.

Over a nine-year span, the state’s rate of gun deaths of all types ranked seventh in the United States and sixth for gun-involved slayings, according to an Arizona Republic analysis of death reports compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The rankings are based on data from 1999 to 2007, the most recent statistics available from the CDC.

Overall, violent-crime rates in Arizona are not far from rates for the U.S. as a whole, but the rate of deaths specifically tied to guns surprises national experts.

Crime-victimization patterns that measure factors such as age and racial demographics suggest that Arizona would figure to be among the states with a lower risk for violent crime.

“That’s much higher than I would expect the state to be,” said Franklin Zimring, a law professor at the University of California-Berkeley who studies demographic factors in crime. “The demographic-risk profile should keep Arizona lower. It’s higher than expected. Now, the question is: Why?” …

Arizona, as the cultural symbol of the Old West with a fierce independent streak and strong support for gun rights, is the focus of that interest.

“You’ve got a lot of guns,” Zimring said. “To some extent, the laws are maybe trying to encourage that; and if so, you’re paying a price for it. But there are a lot of other factors.”

As of October, Phoenix and Tucson trailed only Houston for the number of federal licenses allowing the sale, resale, manufacturing or importation of firearms, according to data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. As a state, Arizona ranked 16th in licensed gun dealers. Texas was first.

Tucson ranked first among the nation’s cities for licenses specifically involving the manufacturing of firearms, and Phoenix and Mesa were in the top four.

Arizona reported more than 3,000 murders with guns over a nine-year span (1999-2007), according to CDC data. That amounts to six gun murders per 100,000 residents. The national rate was about four.

Arizona’s total gun-death rate – a figure that includes murders, suicides, accidents, police shootings and other unclassified killings – was nearly 16 per 100,000. The national rate was about 10.

“Places that have more guns have more gun violence, and Arizona is very high on that,” said Gary Kleck, a criminologist at Florida State University whose work on the defensive use of firearms has made him one of the leading scholars on gun rights. His book, “Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America,” raised questions about the value of gun-control laws.

Report blaming crisis on banks, DC “put on a shelf to collect dust”
Bloomberg News

Infighting, Investigations Overshadow FCIC Report

With the ink barely dry on the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission’s assessment of the 2008 market meltdown, the group is turning to other pursuits: infighting and preparing for congressional investigations.

The report, published as a book and online today, blames Washington regulators and Wall Street banks equally for failures leading to the crisis. The findings weren’t endorsed by the commission’s four Republican members, who wrote two dissents and criticized decisions by the Democratic chairman, Phil Angelides.

Adding to the turmoil, Representative Darrell Issa this week demanded thousands of pages of documents from the FCIC as his House Oversight and Government Reform Committee ramps up an investigation into allegations of overspending, partisanship and conflicts of interest. The California Republican’s staff also sent letters to former commission employees, asking them to preserve documents.

The sideshow “makes it easy to chalk this up as just another chapter in the divisive politics in Washington,” rather than a serious investigation, said Michael Perino, a professor at St. John’s University’s law school in New York.

“The most likely outcome seems to be that this report gets put on a shelf to collect dust,” added Perino, whose 2010 book, “The Hellhound of Wall Street,” chronicled the 1930s congressional probe headed by Ferdinand Pecora that led to the creation of the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Afghan roadside bombs kill record number of US soldiers
Washington Post

Number of U.S. casualties from roadside bombs in Afghanistan skyrocketed from 2009 to 2010

The number of U.S. troops killed by roadside bombs in Afghanistan soared by 60 percent last year, while the number of those wounded almost tripled, new U.S. military statistics show.

All told, 268 U.S. troops were killed by the improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, in 2010, about as many as in the three previous years combined, according to the figures, obtained by The Washington Post. More than 3,360 troops were injured, an increase of 178 percent over the year before.

Military officials said an increase in attacks was expected, given the surge in U.S. and NATO troops, as well as the intensified combat. Even so, the spike comes despite a fresh wave of war-zone countermeasures, including mine-clearing machines, fertilizer-sniffing dogs and blimps with sophisticated spy cameras.

The U.S. military has struggled for years to find an antidote to the homemade explosives. IEDs – concocted primarily of fertilizer and lacking metal or electronic parts that would make them easier to detect – are the largest single cause of casualties for U.S. troops, by a wide margin.

Army Lt. Gen. Michael L. Oates, the director of a Pentagon agency dedicated to combating the bombs, noted that the percentage of IED attacks that have inflicted casualties – on U.S., NATO and Afghan forces, as well as Afghan civilians – has actually declined in recent months, from 25 percent last summer to 16 percent in December, according to U.S. military statistics.

Indian human rights activist’s life sentence condemned

Life Sentence for Activist Raises Concerns Over Civil Liberties in India

When the trial of Indian human-rights activist Binayak Sen concluded on Dec. 24 with a sentence of life imprisonment, the reaction was resounding: Indian national dailies cried foul, Nobel laureates around the world protested and Human Rights Watch accused the Indian government of attempting to “silence peaceful political dissent.” After decades of work as a doctor and civil-liberties activist in the eastern Indian state of Chhattisgarh, one of the country’s most problematic areas and plagued by a violent Maoist insurgency, the court found Sen guilty of sedition.

In India, which prides itself on its rambunctious but tolerant democracy, Sen’s conviction has raised serious concerns about free speech and called into question the soundness of reasoning in the Indian judicial system. Activists in India view Sen’s conviction not just as an isolated miscarriage of justice, but the latest incident in a troubling trend in the country, where they say basic civil liberties are being trampled by the government’s goals of economic growth and security.

Nowhere is this balance between security and individual rights more tenuous than in Chhattisgarh, where Sen had been most active. In the state and surrounding areas, the Indian government faces one of its gravest threats: the Maoist insurgent group, or Naxals. Earlier this year, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reaffirmed that the group, which controls large swaths of India’s eastern tribal belt, is the country’s biggest internal security threat …

Critics of the judgment claim that Sen was being targeted because he found fault in the government’s heavy-handed methods in combating the Maoist insurgents, particularly by supporting Salwa Judum, a paramilitary force that forcibly cleared hundreds of villages in Chhattisgarh and displaced tens of thousands in an effort to disrupt the Maoists’ activity in the area. In a 2005 memo, Sen outlined evidence of torture and abuse by the group. “In this crisis, we appeal to all democratic forces, all human rights organizations, to join hands in investigating the reality of the Salwa [Judum],” he wrote.

Finding a solution to the Naxal problem has proven difficult. Between 2006 and 2009, nearly 1,000 members of the Indian security forces were killed — almost the same number as coalition forces killed during the same period in war-torn Afghanistan. So far, the government has made little progress in its 50-year battle against the insurgents, who operate within 20 of India’s 28 states. To help security forces quell the group, the government has given them greater legal leeway to detain and investigate potential suspects. With the legal flexibility, however, has come a cost. “It’s empowering security forces to detain people and coerce confessions,” says Meenakshi Ganguly, the South Asia director for Human Rights Watch. “That’s not to say that Maoists aren’t abusive or violent, but this is not the way for the state to meet the challenge.”

Targeting activists — or even sympathizers — diverts attention from an effective counterinsurgency campaign, says Ajai Sahni, the executive director of the Institute for Conflict Management in New Delhi. “It’s a process of punishment by trial,” Sahni says. “The trial process can be so damaging to people that simply putting a man on trial and incarcerating can inflict tremendous punishment and be used as an example.”

But the slow machinery of the Indian justice system can serve as a deterrent in itself. When Sen was arrested in 2007, he spent months in jail without being charged. His trial took over two years to complete, and much of that time he spent behind bars. “A number of people held under [the sedition] laws haven’t been tried, the poor don’t have lawyers, there’s no legal aid and the charges against them are vague,” says Ramesh Gopalakrishnan, a South Asian specialist at Amnesty International. “Some are human-rights defenders and some are Maoists. But you have to charge them; you can’t hold them forever.”

Indian workers strike after colleague is burnt alive by ‘oil mafia’
Indian Express

80,000 Maha officers on strike to protest Sonawane killing

Over 80,000 gazetted officers in Maharashtra on Thursday went on a cease work to protest the killing of Additional District Collector Yashwant Sonawane by members of the oil mafia.

“We have not announced the protest as a strike but we are shunning work to register our protest against this gruesome act which has shaken the government employees,” president of the Maharashtra Gazetted Officers Mahasangh Ravindra Dhongade said.

The Shiv Sena has also called for a bandh in Manmad in Nashik district today to protest Sonawane’s killing.

“We have asked our colleagues to shun work. We are organising morchas and rallies to protest the killing. Our colleagues will meet district collector and regional commissioners and submit a memorandum against the incident,” he said …

Additional District Collector Yashwant Sonawane was burnt alive by suspected members of local oil mafia.

  • There are more confusing details in the IANS story, “IAS officers condemn killing of Malegaon officer“:
    The IAS Officers’ Association strongly condemned the shocking killing of Nashik’s additional district collector Yashwant Sonawane, and demanded strict action against anti-social elements, an association official said.
    ‘We have taken the issue of adulteration of petrol, diesel, kerosene, edible oil and milk seriously and will take firm action against the culprits,’ association’s chief secretary Ratnakar Gaikwad said.
    ‘We will also take stringent action against sand mafia. All these illegal activities will be stopped immediately,’ he said.