The Nine Circles of Hell! – all the news that gives you fits in print – for Friday, July 22, 2011, are:
Syrian opposition keeps growing despite protester deaths
The Associated Press
Thousands protest in Syria despite security
Tens of thousands of Syrians defied a massive security crackdown and flooded the streets of Damascus and other cities Friday, insisting their protest movement was united and demanding the downfall of President Bashar Assad’s regime.
There were reports that security forces opened fire, but no immediate word on casualties.
The call for unity comes after a week that saw a wave of sectarian bloodshed in the central city of Homs — a fearsome development in the country’s religiously mixed society. The opposition has been careful to paint their movement as free of any sectarian overtones.
The uprising has grown steadily over more than four months, posing the most serious threat to the Assad family’s four-decade rule. Last Friday saw the largest crowds yet, with hundreds of thousands taking to the streets across the country.
Syrian security forces killed 32 people last Friday, half of them in the capital, activists said. In an apparent effort to avoid a repeat of that, security forces deployed heavily in Damascus as early as dawn Friday, pulling people from their homes and setting up checkpoints.
Still, activists said, thousands of people protested in the Midan and Hajar al-Aswad districts of the capital. Soldiers and security forces fanned out in the Qaboun and Rukneddine neighborhoods.
“They are surrounding Qaboun from all sides and they’ve cut off mobile and land lines,” an activist there told The Associated Press, asking for anonymity out of fear for his own safety.
Elsewhere, tens of thousands were in the streets in the northern Idlib province, in eastern Syria’s Deir ez-Zour region and in southern Syria.
Over the past week, the military also has launched a massive crackdown in Homs, the city in central Syria at the heart of the uprising. Homs, which is about 100 miles (160 kilometers) from Damascus, has seen some of the most intense violence as the regime tries to stamp out the revolt.
Details about the weeklong siege in Homs were sketchy, as most witnesses told The Associated Press they were too scared even to look out their windows.
Another African politician attacks homosexuals
Ghana official calls for effort to ’round up’ suspected gays
In a new burst of African homophobia, a government minister in Ghana has drawn support after calling on the country’s intelligence services to track down and arrest all gays and lesbians.
The call from Paul Evans Aidoo, the minister for the Western Region of Ghana, marks the latest in a series of expressions of officially condoned homophobia across the continent, which has previously been seen in Malawi, Uganda and South Africa.
Joy FM, a popular radio station in the capital Accra, reported earlier this week that Mr Aidoo, a Catholic, said: “All efforts are being made to get rid of these people in society.” He called for the Bureau of National Investigations to round up gays and called on landlords and tenants to inform on people they suspect of being homosexual. “Once they have been arrested, they will be brought before the law,” he is reported to have said.
The comments from the National Democratic Congress politician come in the feverish run-up to the 2012 elections in the West African country. There has been controversy over the meaning of a clause in the criminal code of Ghana’s 1992 constitution which condemns “unnatural carnal knowledge”. The constitution guarantees human rights “regardless of race, place of origin, political opinion, colour, religion, creed or gender”, but does not mention sexuality.
The move by Mr Aidoo has drawn support from other politicians, including the general secretary of the People’s National Convention (PNC) who told Radio Gold on Tuesday: “Homosexuality is abhorrent. Media discourse across the world is being dictated by the vulgar opinions of homosexuals. Ghana and probably Africa cannot sustain the menace of homosexuals.”
The lifestyles of gay, lesbian, bisexuals and transgender people are listed as criminal in 38 African countries, according to South African campaigners. Last year, the launch of a parliamentary bill in Uganda proposing the death penalty for same-sex encounters sparked a campaign of “outing” of a dozen lesbians and gay men by a Kampala newspaper. One of those named, gay rights activist David Kato, was beaten to death with a hammer in January. The law is still under discussion in Uganda but after intense international pressure, MPs supporting it now say imprisonment rather than the death penalty would be appropriate.
In Malawi, two men who staged a partnership ceremony in December 2009 were jailed for 14 years. They were pardoned in April 2010 after pressure from European and American aid donors. The prime ministers of Zimbabwe and Kenya, where new constitutions are under debate, have in the past year denounced homosexuality.
In Malawi, is the “Arab Spring spreading South of the Sahara?”
The Washington Post
Malawi protests leave nine dead, but president refuses to step down
At least nine people were killed in Malawi on Wednesday after security forces clashed with demonstrators protesting the government.
New clashes at businesses and politicians’ offices were reported Thursday, as a coalition of more than 80 rights groups took to the streets to protest repression of democratic gains, severe fuel shortages and a lack of foreign currency, the Financial Times reported.
President Bingu wa Mutharika refused calls to step down, but promised in a conciliatory address to the nation the he would talk to the opposition. But protests in the commercial city of Blantrye showed no signs of stopping, with some demonstrators burning flags that bore Mutharika’s image.
Is the “Arab Spring spreading South of the Sahara?” Global Voices, a Web site of the international blogger community asked. “It’s winter in Africa, south of the Equator, but the temperature in Malawi feels more like Spring — particularly that of the recent Arab pedigree.”
Earlier this month, the U.K. suspended budgetary support to Malawi, accusing the government of human rights abuses and damaging the economy by having an overvalued exchange rate.
But former vice president Cassim Chilumpha says it is more about democracy.
Why Chile’s Once Trapped Miners Are Suing Their Government
Last October, the Chilean miners known simply as “Los 33″ became an icon of Chilean national unity and a global media obsession as they emerged after 69 days trapped 2,300 ft. below the Atacama Desert floor, heads held high. But with the euphoria of their tale of resilience, courage and solidarity long faded, 31 of the world’s most famous miners have filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the government, blaming their ordeal on careless mine inspection. The remaining two miners hold the company rather than the government responsible and are represented by a different attorney.
Luis Urzúa, the group’s shift leader underground and their spokesman since resurfacing, says the suit is not about the money, as some believe. Nor is it an attack on the administration of conservative President Sebastián Piñera, who, despite sharply declining approval ratings, can still count Los 33 among his biggest supporters.
Urzúa insists the misfortune that befell Los 33 was the consequence of years of official negligence. If the celebrity created by their miracle rescue can serve a greater purpose, he says, they hope it will be to help transform safety enforcement in Chile’s vast mining industry.
“Chile is a country of miners and is socially committed to mining,” says Urzúa. “But it took what happened to us for the government to finally take steps so that these accidents don’t continue to occur.”
Despite promises to tighten mine-safety measures, the government has yet to enact legislation on the issue. Shortly after the accident was first reported, when the location of the miners was still in question and even less was known of their condition, Piñera fired the national director of the National Geology and Mining Service (Sernageomin), Chile’s mine safety monitoring agency; set up a national commission to investigate the accident; and assembled a team of experts tasked with revamping the mining industry’s regulatory framework …
While at least one of the 33 has returned to mining, most say they have no intention of doing so. But the 31 plaintiffs plan to use their lawsuit to shape a legacy that protects miners — those who produce the country’s national wealth — by ensuring that safety standards are enforced, which their bosses and government failed to do. “An example of justice has to be made in this country and the world,” miner Mario Sepúlveda told local media. “If a poor supervisor had committed this mistake, he’d probably be in prison.”
In essence the miners are challenging a business culture in Chile that allows for scores of fatal accidents every year, says Manuel Antonio Garretón, a sociologist at the Univeristy of Chile. Working-class Chileans have rarely had an opportunity like the one offered “Los 33″ to fight for the safety of all who do dangerous work. “At this moment” he says, “nobody is in a morally superior position to the miners” …
A majority of the miners’ families filed a multimillion dollar lawsuit against the San Esteban Mining Co. while the men were trapped underground. With that suit, the nearly $17 million lawsuit against the state and their book and movie deals, “Los 33″ won’t have to set foot inside a mine again if they so choose. But lawsuits can drag on for years, and none of the miners’ financial situations have seen a marked improvement, says Urzúa.
For most of the 33, their busy days have slowed, replaced by the routine of life as out-of-work miners. On the anniversary of their saga, they will gather outside the San José to reflect on all that has transpired. Says Urzúa, “It’s important for us as miners that the world know the hope and desire to live, friendship and camaraderie, the faith we had to survive.”
New Yorkers can’t swim in raw sewage-polluted rivers
As heat soars, New Yorkers warned to stay out of rivers
New Yorkers have been warned to stay out of the Hudson and Harlem Rivers on one of the hottest weekends of the year after millions of gallons of untreated sewage discharged from Manhattan into the waterways because of a four-alarm fire that shut down one of the city’s largest sewage treatment plants.
The city’s drinking water has not been impacted, officials said, but people have been cautioned not to swim or kayak on the waterways through at least Monday.
The New York City health department also declared large parts of the East River and the Kill Van Kull unfit for swimming through the weekend …
The city has also warned against eating fish caught in these waterways, NBC New York reported …
“We do have concerns about the amount of raw sewage entering into the water,” New Jersey’s environmental commissioner, Bob Martin, told the New Jersey Star-Ledger.
“Right now we are in the initial assessment phase to gather the right data,” Martin told the paper.
Larry Levine, a water expert for the Natural Resources Defense Council, noted in his blog Friday that New York ironically had celebrated “City of Water Day” last weekend.
“As bad as” this spill “is, there’s an even more disturbing, inconvenient truth about sewage in our water,” he wrote. Because of an outdated sewage system, “the city still routinely dumps billions of gallons of raw sewage into local waterways every year when it rains.”
US Justice Dept. prepare subpoenas for News Corp. investigation
The Wall Street Journal
Justice Department Prepares Subpoenas in News Corp. Inquiry
The U.S. Justice Department is preparing subpoenas as part of preliminary investigations into News Corp. relating to alleged foreign bribery and alleged hacking of voicemail of Sept. 11 victims, according to a government official.
The issuance of such subpoenas, which would broadly seek relevant information from the company, requires approval by senior Justice Department leadership, which hasn’t yet happened, the person said.
The issuance of subpoenas would represent an escalation of scrutiny on the New York-based media company. While the company has sought to isolate the legal problems in the U.K., it has been bracing for increased scrutiny from both the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission, according to people familiar with the company’s strategy.
The Justice Department has said it is looking into allegations that News Corp.’s now-defunct News of the World weekly in the U.K. paid bribes to British police. It has been unclear whether the Justice Department or the SEC have begun formal probes.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation separately has begun an inquiry into whether News Corp. employees tried to hack into voice mails of Sept. 11 victims, people familiar with the early-stage probe have said.
America’s explosion in school suspensions rates questioned
The New York Times
School Discipline Study Raises Fresh Questions
Raising new questions about the effectiveness of school discipline, a report scheduled for release on Tuesday found that 31 percent of Texas students were suspended off campus or expelled at least once during their years in middle and high school — at an average of almost four times apiece.
When also considering less serious infractions punished by in-school suspensions, the rate climbed to nearly 60 percent, according to the study by the Council of State Governments, with one in seven students facing such disciplinary measures at least 11 times.
The study linked these disciplinary actions to lower rates of graduation and higher rates of later criminal activity and found that minority students were more likely than whites to face the more severe punishments.
“In the last 20 to 25 years, there have been dramatic increases in the number of suspensions and expulsions,” said Michael Thompson, who headed the study as director of the Justice Center at the Council of State Governments, a nonpartisan group. “This quantifies how you’re in the minority if you have not been removed from the classroom at least once. This is not just being sent to the principal’s office, and it’s not after-school detention or weekend detention or extra homework. This is in the student’s record.”
The study, which followed every incoming Texas seventh grader over three years through high school and sometimes beyond, joins a growing body of literature looking at how to balance classroom order with individual student need.
Several experts said in interviews that the data, covering nearly one million students and mapping each of their school records against any entry in the juvenile justice system, was the most comprehensive on the topic yet …
Several teachers and administrators in Texas were shocked to learn of the report.
“That’s astronomical,” said Joe Erhardt, a science teacher at Kingwood Park High School in the Houston suburb of Humble, Tex. “I’m at a loss.”
Doug Otto, superintendent of the Plano Independent School District, said the data showed that “suspensions are a little too easy.”
“Once they become automatic, we’ve really hurt that child’s chances to receive a high school diploma,” he added “We’ve got to find ways to keep those kids in school. Don’t get me wrong — we have to provide safe environments for all the other kids. But you have to balance it out and cut down the suspensions and expulsions.”
Almost 15 percent of students, a vast majority of whom had extensive school disciplinary files, had at least one record in the juvenile justice system, according to the report.
Minority students facing discipline for the first time tended to be given the harsher, out-of-school suspension, rather than in-school suspension, more often than white students, the study said. (The nature of the offenses was not noted.) A disproportionate number of minority students also ended up in alternative classrooms, where some have complained that teachers are often less qualified.
Europe’s contraband cigarette market thriving
How Contraband Cigarettes Came To Flourish In The Heart Of Europe
One of the competitors of the global cigarette giant Imperial Tobacco is hanging out near a discount mart on Landsberger Allee. His clothing is torn. He’s small and wiry; his eyes are mistrustful. He holds a plastic bag. “There’s one of our friends, right there,” says Bernd, spotting the Vietnamese man through the car window. As he gets out of the car and heads towards him, the man hurriedly moves away and disappears around the corner, mobile phone clamped to his ear. “Now the other guys know we‘re here,” Bernd says, lighting a cigarette.
Bernd’s describes himself as a bull. Bernd isn‘t his real name. And he’s not a cop. At least not any more. He used to work for the German Federal Criminal Police. There, he learned his self-confident walk and his way of staring right through a person. He also picked up a lot of knowledge about organized crime. For this reason, Reemtsma, the German subsidiary of Imperial Tobacco, the fourth largest tobacco company in the world, was happy to hire him as head of security. Like every multinational cigarette maker, Reemtsma needs all the help it can get to keep its biggest competitors in check – and its biggest competitor isn’t the Marlboro man. It’s the black market man on the street corner.
In 2010, 22 billion untaxed cigarettes were smoked in Germany, according to the Deutscher Zigarettenverband (DZV), a German tobacco lobby. Nobody doubts the number, and because of it, the state lost more than 4 billion euros in tax revenue last year, and profits for companies like Reemtsma and Philip Morris (which owns Marlboro) were heavily impacted.
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Vietnamese have been the main sellers of contraband smokes, as it’s become an established form of criminality. Much like forced prostitution and drug dealing, this racket is extremely difficult to crush, despite the best efforts of customs officials and the millions invested by the tobacco industry.
According to DZV estimates, taxes on more than 40% of all cigarettes smoked in Berlin are unpaid. That figure rises to 60% near the border with Poland. In Bavaria, nearly every third cigarette is smuggled, while in northern Germany it’s more than one in 10. Customs agents say those estimates are conservative …
Bernd buys a pack for 2.20 euros. He takes a cigarette out, crumbles the tobacco up between his fingers and examines it. “The white stuff, that’s not tobacco,” he says. “But at least there aren’t any shredded CDs or mouse droppings.” He looks at the package: it hasn’t been put together straight, and in lousy English claims that Jin Ling is produced under license from Philip Morris – which of course is not true. These are fakes of a brand that itself has not been approved for sale in Germany.
And yet, Jin Ling is now the most smoked cigarette in Germany. The box is reminiscent of the old Camel package, except that instead of a camel there’s a ram. Jin Lings are made in three factories — in Kaliningrad (Russia), Moldavia, and the Ukraine. In Russia, however, hardly anyone has ever heard of them: they are mainly made to be smuggled into Western Europe. It’s said that the factory price for a carton of 10 packs is 2 euros. Here, the seller is asking 22 euros – a profit margin of 1,100% less the cost of smuggling. “More lucrative than hashish,” Bernd says.
So it’s no wonder that for that kind of money, smuggling is big business. According to customs officials, the way the business is organized is that Eastern Europeans manufacture, purchase and smuggle the merchandise. In Germany, Vietnamese gangs take over. Sales areas are divided up among gang members — and they no longer sell fake Marlboros the way they did 15 years ago. Instead, they hawk Jin Lings, Classics, or packs with Cyrillic writing on them. That way, nobody gets nabbed for trademark violation.
Teaching evolution in schools is debated in Texas – again
The Associated Press
Teaching evolution up for debate again in Texas
The debate over teaching evolution in public schools flared up again at the Texas State Board of Education on Thursday, with supporters and opponents of the approach sparring at a meeting over supplemental science materials for the upcoming school year and beyond.
The Republican-dominated board drew national attention in 2009 when it adopted science standards encouraging schools to scrutinize “all sides” of scientific theory, a move some creationists hailed as a victory.
The board’s new chairwoman, former biology teacher Barbara Cargill, disputes the theory of evolution. First elected in 2004, she was appointed chairwoman earlier this month by Gov. Rick Perry, who is considering a run for president. Cargill is considered one of the panel’s more conservative members.
The new teaching materials are necessary because the state could not afford to buy new textbooks this year, leaving students to use some that are several years old. The board is considering materials recommended by state Education Commissioner Robert Scott. A vote is scheduled Friday.
One conservative group, Texans for a Better Science Education, put out a call to pack Thursday’s public hearing with testimony urging board members to adopt materials that question Charles Darwin’s theory on the origin of life. But much of the day’s testimony was dominated by people who support teaching evolution.
“I don’t want my children’s public school teachers to teach faith and God in a science classroom,” said the Rev. Kelly Allen of University Presbyterian Church in San Antonio. “True religion can handle truth in all its forms. Evolution is solid science.”