Friday, July 2 Nine Circles of Hell!

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The Nine Circles of Hell! – all the news that gives you fits in print – for Friday, July 2, are:

Recession erases 35 years of African-American family well-being

Lobbyists fix financial reform so banks can’t lose

Pepper spray, batons, violence, protesters and Puerto Rican police

Fears follow safety breach at Canada’s only privately-run nuke

Another oil spill contaminating Amazon

Survivor saved documents recording Argentine ‘dirty war’ crimes

Mauritius booms on backs of Bangladeshi “modern slaves”

Corruption, cronyism, intrigue, patronage and the South African police

India to US: release exec linked to world’s deadliest industrial accident

Recession erases 35 years of African-American family well-being
the Root
(6/30/10)

The Recession’s Long-Term Impact on Black Kids

As adults wrestle with rising foreclosure rates and disappearing jobs, child-development experts are reporting that children may end up shouldering some of the most severe, long-lasting consequences of the recession of 2008, according to the Foundation for Child Development (FCD). Working with an index of 28 indicators of quality of life called the Overall Composite Child Well-Being Index (CWI), the foundation looked at seven key areas to see how the nation’s children are bearing up under the stress of the recession and how they will do in years to come. The results show that kids from preschool to age 19 may have to fight the detrimental impact of America’s financial crisis for much of their lives. African-American kids will be “harder hit than their white counterparts because a larger proportion of children of color live in poverty,” the report states.

The CWI reveals that “virtually all of the progress made in family economic well-being since 1975 will be wiped out for many,” as individuals, organizations and governments trim budgets. Kenneth C. Land, Ph.D., a professor of sociology and demography at Duke who conducted the research and wrote the CWI report, explains, “In order to measure the full impact of the recession, we looked at trend data from 1975 to 2008, then projected what may happen through 2012.” The survey numbers revealed a host of challenges for children in middle- and lower-income families, “but in each category, the risks would be 1.5 percent to 2 percent higher for African-American children,” he says.

In almost every area measured — health, community and family life, emotional well-being — children have lost ground. Only educational attainment remained the same: frozen at 1975 levels. The most stunning numbers in the CWI report are those that assess poverty. “The percentage of children living below the poverty line is expected to peak at 21 percent in 2010, the highest rate in 20 years — nearly 16 million kids. The rate of children living in extreme poverty (50 percent below the poverty line) is projected to climb 10.1 percent in 2010 to 7.41 million children,” according to CWI figures.

Lobbyists fix financial reform so banks can’t lose
TIME
(7/2/10)

How Washington Lobbyists Shaped the Financial Reform Bill

Since 2009, the Private Equity Council has paid Capitol Tax, which has eight partners, a $30,000-a-month retainer to keep its members’ taxes low. Counting fees paid to four other firms and the cost of its in-house lobbying staff, the council reported spending $4.2 million on lobbying from the beginning of 2009 through March of this year. Now let’s assume it spent an additional $600,000 since the beginning of April, for a total of $4.8 million. With other groups lobbying on the same issue, the overall spending to protect the favorable carried-interest tax treatment was maybe $15 million. Which seems like a lot – except that this is a debate over how some $100 billion will be taxed, or not, over the next 10 years. (Read about lobbyists and health care.)

And what did the money managers get for their $15 million investment? While lawmakers did manage to boost the taxes of hedge-fund managers and other folks who collect carried interest as part of their work, they agreed to a compromise (tucked into a pending tax bill) that will tax part of those earnings at the regular rate and another part at a lower capital-gains rate. The result? A tax bite about $10 billion smaller than what the reformers wanted.

The battle over that carried-interest provision was dwarfed by the real action this year – the massive financial-regulatory-reform bill hammered out by a House-Senate conference committee and targeting what the White House says were the causes of the economy’s near meltdown in 2008. The legislation, which would bring more change to Wall Street than anything else enacted since the New Deal, was a Super Bowl for lobbyists. (Read more about the financial reform bill.)

The 40 people I saw in that Capitol Hill corridor in mid-June were part of an army of approximately 2,000 monitoring the two-week-long conference committee between Senators and Representatives trying to reconcile their different versions of the bill. Just outside the House Financial Services hearing room, two dark-suited, slightly graying men madly BlackBerrying looked up and blanched at my press credentials. After being promised anonymity, they explained that they’d been dispatched by their boss, as one put it, “to grab one of the senior staff on the Republican side and give him an idea about how to reword something in the Volcker rule.”

The Volcker rule, named for former Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, who was one of first to suggest it, would prohibit banks from putting their own money into risky ventures such as private-equity or real estate deals. It’s a restriction that its advocates believe could prevent the next financial implosion. Bankers hate it, but their lobbyists have been unable to fight it off. Instead, they have been chipping away at it, suggesting provisions that would allow some percentage of those funds to go into high-risk deals, delay the rule’s implementation or exempt some big players

The two lobbyists I encountered in the hall are working on a narrower Volcker-rule carve-out. They’re representing “some green-energy interests,” one said. What’s that got to do with the Volcker rule? He explained that Washington is encouraging green-energy investments by granting tax credits, but only investment entities like banks that make consistent profits have predictable tax liabilities and therefore can make use of such tax credits.

By the time the bill was finished, lobbyists seeking Volcker-rule carve-outs had won complete exemptions for most mutual-fund companies and a provision allowing banks to manage funds and still make investments of up to 3% of their capital and to take up to seven years to sell off the investments they already had. Another highly technical tweak allowed banks to define their capital differently from what was originally proposed, meaning that 3% limit on how much they could invest suddenly got lots higher. And the clean-energy troops won a provision that, depending on how the implementation rules get written, might allow exceptions for investments in small or start-up businesses that “promote the public welfare.”

Complexity is the modern lobbyist’s greatest ally. Three lobbyists showed me three different proposals for rewording what may be the bill’s biggest-money section: a provision in the Senate version that would force the five major banks that do most of the country’s trillions of dollars of trading in derivatives – and make nearly $23 billion a year doing so – to spin off those operations. Even holding the dueling paragraphs side by side by side, I found it difficult on first read to appreciate the differences. But with some pointers from the lobbyists, it was clear that billions in profits depended on the variations in this nearly impenetrable language

“Complexity is our enemy,” says Elizabeth Warren, chair of the congressional panel overseeing the Troubled Asset Relief Program, who conceived one of the legislation’s marquee provisions – a consumer-protection agency to regulate mortgages, credit cards and other financial products. “The more complex these bills are,” she complains, “the more they can outgun us.”

Pepper spray, batons, violence protesters and Puerto Rican police
The Associated Press
(6/30/10)

Police, protesters clash at Puerto Rico’s Capitol

A protest at Puerto Rico’s Capitol has turned violent with police using pepper spray and wielding their batons in clashes with demonstrators.

The violence broke out when protesters including some local university students attempted to enter the legislature Wednesday afternoon. Authorities had closed access to the general public after groups announced plans for a protest against budget cuts and other policies of Gov. Luis Fortuno.

Television footage showed protesters throwing eggs and barricades at police who were lined up shoulder-to-shoulder at the top of the Capitol steps. Officers struck some people with batons as they charged the entrance.

Police chief Jose Figueroa Sancha said protesters also vandalized several cars outside the legislature.

  • Join the This is Hell! Facebook fan page and see videos and images posted by This is Hell!’s irregular correspondent in San Juan, Dave Buchen.

Fears follow safety breach at Canada’s only privately run nuke
The Globe and Mail
(6/29/10)

Radiation exposure at Ontario nuclear plant prompts industry-wide investigation

Emerging details of accidental radiation exposure at an Ontario nuclear power plant have triggered an order to investigate the possibility of similar incidents across the country, while raising doubts about safety at Canada’s only privately owned operator.

Last Nov. 26, a routine air sample taken at Bruce Power’s No. 1 reactor on Lake Huron near Owen Sound detected elevated levels of radiation. The incident is one of the most serious safety breaches at a Canadian reactor in recent memory and poses troubling questions about why Bruce executives assumed – mistakenly, it turns out – that they could send workers in to upgrade a laid-up reactor without exposing them to cancer-causing alpha radiation.

The extent of the radiation problem will not be known until Bruce receives test results for all 195 workers considered most at risk of exposure. At a Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission hearing on Monday, Bruce officials revealed that two workers received a dose exceeding the allowable limit of 25 millisieverts a year under its operating licence. However, they stressed that no one received a dose above the regulatory limit, which allows nuclear employees to receive up to 50 millisieverts of radiation a year on the job, the equivalent of 500 chest X-rays.

Nevertheless, the discovery of radiation has shaken the regulator as well as workers at Bruce.

“I’m disturbed by what I’m hearing,” CNSC commissioner Alan Graham said Monday. “I’m wondering, what else is out there that we’re not looking at.”

Another oil spill contaminating Amazon
IPS News
(7/1/10)

‘Don’t Minimise’ Impacts of Amazon Oil Spill

Pluspetrol’s Jun. 19 petroleum spill has left the Marañón River, in the Peruvian Amazon, with oil and grease levels thousands of times greater than the maximum allowed for human consumption, affecting more than 4,000 local residents.

“The oil slick covered the entire width of the Marañón River, with devastating effects for flora and fauna. Fish and aquatic plants have been destroyed,” states the report by chemical engineer Víctor Sotero, of the government’s Peruvian Amazon Research Institute (IIAP), connected to the Ministry of Environment.

IPS obtained access to the report and to the laboratory test results of the spill that occurred Jun. 19 in the northeastern region of Loreto, when the hull of a barge transporting crude oil ruptured, releasing about 400 barrels (159 litres per barrel) of the oil into the river.

The shipment came from Lot 8, under a contract held by the Pluspetrol Norte company, an affiliate of the Argentina-based Pluspetrol corporation.

Analysis of six water samples collected between Jun. 20 and 22 in the affected area revealed grease and oil levels ranging between 10,800 and 2,613,000 milligrams per litre (mg/l).

The results are alarming, considering that the maximum admissible for human consumption of oil-tainted water is 1.0 mg/l, or one part per million, according to Peruvian law.

“With that degree of contamination, those waters cannot be utilised by the local populations until new tests are conducted over the course of the next few months and the presence of these substances falls to zero,” Sotero told IPS.

The spill affects 28 river communities on the Marañón — more than 4,000 people — according to Peru’s ombudsman office, Defensoría del Pueblo. Among them are the indigenous Cocama and Achuar peoples.

“Our brothers are demanding clean water and food. They used to take water from this river and eat its fish, which have gone because of the spill,” said Edwin Vásquez, president of the Indigenous Organisation of the East. He said the water and supplies that Pluspetrol and the Loreto government have distributed are not enough.

Survivor saved documents recording Argentine ‘dirty war’ crimes
The Associated Press
(7/1/10)

Secret list shows fate of Argentine disappeared

Nelida Sosa de Forti almost escaped Argentina’s dictatorship. The airplane’s engines were already running when an air force commander came on board and ordered her and her five sons off the plane. Armed men waiting on the tarmac took them away.

After days in a clandestine prison cell where she did her best to keep them calm, the children were pulled from their mother and dumped on a curb in downtown Buenos Aires, bound, blindfolded and covered by a sheet. They never saw her again.

Her final gift, the oldest son says, was to persuade their jailers to set them free.

For more than 33 years, her family had few clues to her fate — until the list appeared.

In a revelation that is reverberating across Argentina, a survivor of the detention center where Sosa was held has presented a list of 293 detainees, part of a trove of evidence he rescued from destruction decades ago and hid away.

There, in neat columns typed by a police functionary, each “subversive delinquent” is listed alongside a terse decision on their fate. In the last column beside Sosa’s name are the letters “DF,” military shorthand for “disposition final” — death …

The 259 pages of documents are evidence in a provincial trial of four men charged with the disappearances and torture of 22 people in the early years of the 1976-1983 dictatorship. The trial in Tucuman is now in its last stages, with the verdict expected July 8.

The documents — copies of which were obtained by the AP — include handwritten notes made during torture sessions, reports about spying efforts, the names of intelligence agents and the identities of bodies. Many bear the stamps and signatures of police and military agencies and officials.

Official investigations until now have been based largely on missing-person complaints and a patchwork of survivors’ memories. They determined the military junta killed about 13,000 people, though human rights groups believe as many as 30,000 died during what Argentines call the “dirty war.”

The new evidence is something else entirely: documents created by the very people allegedly responsible for kidnappings, tortures and summary executions just as they were happening.

It is something that was never supposed to see the light of day: Junta leaders ordered the destruction of meticulous records kept on people they considered to be dangerous political subversives.

The documents reflect a systematic plan of repression and summary execution that had begun in Tucuman even before the military coup, and they should help resolve some of the junta’s earliest disappearances, including those never included among the official 13,000 dead.

Mauritius booms on backs of Bangladeshi “modern slaves”
IPS News
(7/2/10)

Poor Foreigners Working Like “Modern Slaves” in Mauritius

Workers from Bangladesh have helped Mauritius to achieve the economic success and world market share that the Indian Ocean island state boasts about. But many live and work in conditions described as akin to “modern slavery”, apart from facing discrimination, the denial of labour rights and even violence …

They are not the only foreign migrants: the 5,834 Bangladeshis are among 30,000 foreigners working in Mauritius. As at mid-June 2010, there were 11,757 Indian; 6,704 Chinese; 1,696 Malagasy; and 268 Nepalese workers.

Of the 30,000, about 22,800 of them work in the manufacturing sector; 4,431 in the construction industry; 638 in the hospitality industry; 712 in community service; and 224 in transport and communications.

Expatriates work hard for long hours and are never absent. At times they are not paid — either because the factories have run short of cash or because they have closed. Hundreds of them, especially Bangladeshis, who dared to demonstrate in public were sent back home in the past year.

In their dormitories at factories, the situation is worse as hygiene and sanitation are poor. Many of them sleep on pieces of sponge, pestered by fleas and other bugs. The rooms, the kitchens and the yards are dirty.

IPS visited one such place at Grand Gaube — a one-storey concrete building with wooden partitions separating the rooms where about 50 Bangladeshi and Indian expatriates live.

Feizal Ally Beegun, spokesperson of the Textile Manufacturing and Allied Workers Union, showed IPS decrepit mattresses and kitchen tools that the workers have been using for at least 15 years.

“The employers do not care for them; they live like animals. How can humans sleep in such places?” he asked. “There is no government office where they can complain — even when their passports are seized from them.”

Imam Nasrullah Ginowrie, a social worker from Baie-du-Tombeau, near Port Louis, who has attended to Bangladeshi and Indian labourers for three years, calls them “modern slaves”.

“I am not allowed to meet them and they are warned not to complain to me. I know of some Bangladeshi women who have been kicked by their superiors. They are held very late at night in the factories,” Ginowrie told IPS.

Corruption, cronyism, intrigue, patronage and the South African police
BBC News
(7/2/10)

Selebi case like a crime novel

The trial of Jackie Selebi – South Africa’s first black police chief – has gripped the nation.

Sharing the stage in what reads like a John Le Carre novel was a mafia drugs boss, a mining magnate and multi-millionaire Zimbabwean businessman.

A witness wept on the stand, there were allegations of money being handed over in brown paper bags and spy games.

Intrigue, obfuscation and patronage have characterised the case.

In the end though – despite his political links, Selebi has been left crestfallen: Guilty of corruption on an obscene scale.

At the end of the case, Judge Meyer Joffe said: “Every day society in general relies on the honesty and truthfulness of policemen and women… It is not an example that must be emulated by members of the Saps [South African Police Service].”

As he points out, this case speaks of so much more than Selebi, a man who helped shape the geopolitics of the new South Africa, being seduced by cash, fine dining and gifts of the latest designer suits.

It is about cronyism and the politicisation of South Africa’s intelligence services as it confronts the fight against crime …

Although Mr Mbeki is no longer president, there are some serious questions for the current administration.

For example on the appointment of political figures to senior positions within the civil service and in particular the police.

Adriaan Basson who is writing a book about the Selebi case, has warned President Zuma to take note.

“A lot of the people who were protective and loyal to Jackie Selebi are still in the police,” warns Mr Basson.

“They are also very senior in the intelligence services, and so we need to ask ourselves as South Africans whether the police have the capability to fight crime and fight corruption in the police.”

India to US: release exec linked to world’s deadliest industrial accident
Reuters
(6/30/10)

India PM To Ask U.S. To Extradite Ex-CEO In Bhopal Case

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Tuesday India would try to convince the United States to extradite the former chairman of Union Carbide, wanted in connection with the world’s deadliest industrial accident.

An Indian court has listed Warren Anderson as an absconder in a case to determine his responsibility in the Bhopal disaster, a gas leak at a Union Carbide pesticide plant that killed thousands of people a quarter of a century ago.

The United States has turned down a previous extradition request for Anderson, who was chairman of Union Carbide when the accident occurred …

Bhopal activists have also accused the United States of double standards after the Obama administration extracted billions in compensation from oil giants BP Plc for the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

They want similar treatment meted out for the Bhopal disaster and have called for more compensation for the victims and a cleanup for the plant site.

Singh’s government set up the ministerial panel after public outrage over a perceived lenient verdict against former Union Carbide officials this month in the first convictions handed out by India’s slow-moving justice system.

In a rare admission of failure by the top-ranked government official, Singh acknowledged the shortcomings of the legal system, saying: “That it should have taken 25 years before the case could be decided is something that we have to reflect about and the inadequacies of our judicial system.”

The Bhopal accident killed at least 3,500 people according to government estimates. But rights activists say 25,000 died in the immediate aftermath and around 100,000 people suffer ailments such as blindness, cancer and birth defects to this day.

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