Friday, July 23 Nine Circles of Hell!


The Nine Circles of Hell! – all the news that gives you fits in print – for Friday, July 23, are:

Climate bill loss is Obama’s ‘the first major legislative setback’

BP’s inoperable ‘deadman switch’ fueled spill

BP rig’s alarm system was deliberately disabled last year

Pawnshop shelves reveal Gulf Coast desperation

Jobless benefits good for the economy, not a disincentive to work

Bailed out banks paid over $2 billion in excess executive bonuses

“Paradise for criminals,” ‘Central America’s latest nascent narco-state’

Fallujah has higher cancer rates than post-bomb Hiroshima

Debate grows over how Christian the libertarian Tea Party really is

Climate bill loss is Obama’s ‘the first major legislative setback’
The New York Times

Senate Abandons Climate Effort, Dealing Blow to President

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid abandoned efforts to reduce carbon emissions from the nation’s power plants yesterday, marking the first major legislative setback for President Obama, who entered office vowing to address climate change.

Reid (D-Nev.) was cornered into the decision after a handful of Democrats and Republicans failed to be swayed by an 18-month effort in Congress to charge corporate polluters for releasing carbon dioxide. The move will likely leave a national climate bill passed by the House last summer lifeless.

The majority leader will scramble instead to pass a modest measure with politically safe provisions addressing the BP PLC oil spill and energy efficiency in buildings and promoting the use of natural gas in big trucks, before the Senate adjourns for August recess.

“I had to make a decision. Here’s the decision I made,” Reid told reporters after meeting privately with the Senate’s 59 Democrats. “We know we don’t have the votes.”

The decision ignited despair among some environmental groups and renewable energy coalitions, which see a rare opportunity slipping away. Democrats are at risk of losing their majority in the House and perhaps several seats in the Senate during midterm elections in November.

“It is time for all of us to make our voices heard. Over the recess we must deliver a message to senators: ‘Do your job!’” David Hawkins, director of climate programs at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement. “Don’t fail us. Don’t fail our children. Don’t come home again without having tackled these real and present dangers.”

BP’s inoperable ‘deadman switch’ fueled spill
The Wall Street Journal

BP Managers Named in Disaster Probe

Two managers from BP  PLC have been named as subjects of a federal investigation into the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

The two men are the first individuals from BP to be named “parties in interest” in the case, indicating that they are potential targets of the probe.

Both were aboard the rig representing BP, which owned the well being drilled, when the well blew out April 20, killing 11 and unleashing the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

Investigators on Thursday said they had named as parties Robert Kaluza, a BP employee overseeing operations on the rig, and Patrick O’Bryan, BP’s vice president in charge of drilling. Neither could be reached for comment Thursday evening. A lawyer for Mr. Kaluza didn’t immediately respond to messages. BP declined to comment.

Mr. Kaluza has twice been called to testify in front of the investigative board holding hearings in this city just outside New Orleans. He declined, citing his rights under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution …

Meanwhile, internal documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal show engineers who pulled some of the Deepwater Horizon’s equipment from the seabed two weeks after the rig exploded found that a crucial safety switch wasn’t functional.

The safety switch addressed in the documents, known as a “deadman switch,” should have activated once the floating rig erupted into flames and lost communication with well-control equipment a mile below the surface. The switch should have triggered the blowout preventer, a 450-ton set of valves designed to shut down the well.

But a test of the blowout preventer’s control system found that the deadman switch was inoperable, according to a May report by Cameron International Corp., which made the equipment. Cameron employees attempted to activate the switch, but nothing happened.

A second control system had a dead battery, congressional investigators have said, though Transocean disputes that.

The Cameron report, which was ordered by Transocean, also noted that the deadman switch was rebuilt, most likely aboard the rig, in February by an “unknown person” …

The report, which hasn’t previously been made public, provides a new clue into why the blowout preventer didn’t operate as expected and seal off the raging well—one of the chief unanswered questions in the Deepwater Horizon disaster. While a working switch wouldn’t have prevented the uncontrolled blowout on April 20, it could have cut off the fuel that fed the inferno for 36 hours until the rig sank …

According to testimony at the hearings, the Deepwater Horizon experienced a series of power losses, computer crashes and other issues in the months before the explosion, and hundreds of items were overdue for maintenance. But in a March 29 email, a BP manager praised workers on the rig for completing 63 of 70 maintenance items. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the email referred to the same maintenance issues.

A survey of the oil rig’s workers by Lloyd’s Register Group, which was done last spring at Transocean’s request, found that they were concerned about safety aboard the rig. Less than half felt they could report unsafe conditions without reprisal, according to the survey, which was earlier reported by the New York Times.

In hearings Thursday, Natalie Roshto said her husband, Shane, who died on the rig, was particularly worried. “From day one he deemed this hole a well from hell,” said Ms. Roshto, who is suing Transocean for the wrongful death of her husband. “He said Mother Nature just doesn’t want to be drilled here.”

BP rig’s alarm system was deliberately disabled last year
The Washington Post

Technician: Deepwater Horizon warning system disabled

Long before an eruption of gas turned the Deepwater Horizon oil rig into a fireball, an alarm system designed to alert the crew and prevent combustible gases from reaching potential sources of ignition had been deliberately disabled, the former chief electronics technician on the rig testified Friday.

Michael Williams said he understood that the rig had been operating with the system in “inhibited” mode for a year to prevent false alarms from disturbing the crew.

Williams said the explanation he got was that the leadership of the rig did not want crew members needlessly awakened in the middle of the night.

The ex-Marine, who survived the April 20 conflagration by jumping from the burning rig, was addressing a federal panel probing the disaster.

Pawnshop shelves reveal Gulf Coast desperation

Pawnshop oddities reflect Gulf struggles

You can tell a lot about the health of a community based on the items people are selling.

There is a glut of power tools on the shelves, speaking to a lack of new construction in Gulfport.

Hurricane Katrina, the Great Recession and now the Gulf oil disaster have battered the town’s economy. More first-time pawners are coming to the shop and they’re bringing with them the mementos of better days, said Riley.

“We’ve been seeing a lot more high-end jewelry, one-, two-, three-karat diamonds,” he said. “Stuff that people bought when the economy was booming and are now having to sell.” Mississippi’s middle-class have become new customers.

Pawnbrokers are often portrayed in the media as fencers of stolen property, predatory lenders or simply people who prey on folks who are down on their luck. The current economy is changing these stereotypes, according to Riley.

“The average person pawning stuff right now … is the blue-collar guy out there working and trying to make ends meet,” he said. “Right now the job market is terrible and there are a lot of people not working, so in order to feed the family they’ve got to get some money.”

Jobless benefits good for the economy, not a disincentive to work
The Washington Post

Five myths about unemployment

The Senate voted this week to restore benefits  to the long-term unemployed, aid that expired more than seven weeks ago. Under the extension, unemployed workers can receive a maximum of 99 weeks of income assistance. Helping the long-term unemployed in a period of prolonged recession is generally a bipartisan issue. But this time, Republicans argued that the measure would add too much to the national debt. It’s a discussion that gets bogged down in several myths about how to help the long-term unemployed, and the economy, at the same time.

(Here’s the five myths …)

1. Unemployment benefits make people less likely to find jobs …

2. Unemployment insurance doesn’t contribute to economic recovery …

3. We can’t afford to do this right now …

4. The private sector can take care of unemployment on its own …

5. The unemployment rate gives us a good sense of how many people are affected by the downturn.

Bailed out banks paid over $2 billion in excess executive bonuses
The New York Times

Federal Report Faults Banks on Huge Bonuses

With the financial system on the verge of collapse in late 2008, a group of troubled banks doled out more than $2 billion in bonuses and other payments to their highest earners. Now, the federal authority on banker pay says that nearly 80 percent of that sum was unmerited.

In a report to be released on Friday, Kenneth R. Feinberg, the Obama administration’s special master for executive compensation, is expected to name 17 financial companies that made questionable payouts totaling $1.58 billion immediately after accepting billions of dollars of taxpayer aid, according to two government officials with knowledge of his findings who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the report.

The group includes Wall Street giants like Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and the American International Group as well as small lenders like Boston Private Financial Holdings. Mr. Feinberg’s report points to companies that he says paid eye-popping amounts or used haphazard criteria for awarding bonuses, the people with knowledge of his findings said, and he has singled out Citigroup as the biggest offender.

Even so, Mr. Feinberg has very limited power to reclaim any money. He can use his status as President Obama’s point man on pay to jawbone the companies into reimbursing the government, but he has no legal authority to claw back excessive payouts.

Mr. Feinberg’s political leverage has been weakened by the banks’ speedy repayment of their bailout funds. Eleven of the 17 companies that received criticism in the report have repaid the government with interest, so they have no outstanding obligations to reimburse.

As a result, Mr. Feinberg will merely propose that the banks voluntarily adopt a “brake provision” that would allow their boards to nullify or alter any bonus payouts or employment contracts in the event of a future financial crisis. All 17 companies have told Mr. Feinberg that they will consider adopting the provision, though none has committed to do so.

Mr. Feinberg is expected to call the payouts ill advised but not unlawful or contrary to the public interest, the people with knowledge of his report said.

“Paradise for criminals,” ‘Central America’s latest nascent narco-state’
Foreign Policy

How Mexico’s Drug War Is Killing Guatemala

Before he resigned in exasperation from his job as the top prosecutor of the international anti-corruption commission in Guatemala last month, Carlos Castresana liked to compare the country to an obstinate hospital patient. “The patient refuses to take the medicine that is recommended,” he recently told a reporter. “And a patient who does not take the medicine dies.”

Guatemala definitely needs to take its pills. But now that the good doctor is on his way out, the country’s condition looks more dire than ever. Castresana, the internationally appointed Spanish magistrate who presided over the U.N.-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), was perhaps the country’s lone hope amid the wave of organized crime and corruption that is quickly inundating Central America’s latest nascent narco-state. As he steps down and hands the reins to his newly appointed successor, the Costa Rican Francisco Dall’Anese, Guatemala’s halting progress at combating those ills risks disappearing with him. Indeed, his sudden departure must feel like a victory for those who want Guatemala to remain “a paradise for criminals,” as the International Crisis Group recently called the country.

Just how bad is it? Last month, Guatemala’s president, Alvaro Colom Caballeros, welcomed the courts’ removal of the newly elected attorney general for his alleged ties to criminal groups that, among other nefarious activities, sold adopted babies on the black market. Days earlier, four severed heads were placed in strategic locations in Guatemala City with messages pinned to them warning of a similar fate for the minister of the interior and director of prisons. This was the drug gangs’ way of firing back against a recent tightening of regulations in Guatemala’s jails. And, in the midst of the chaos, the Constitutional Court approved the extradition to the United States of a former president accused of embezzling millions in public funds. Just another day in Guatemala.

The country’s descent has been a long spiral, but the pace has accelerated in recent years. The government signed a peace accord with leftist rebels in 1996, ending a 36-year old civil war. But as Mexico and Colombia cracked down on their own drug trafficking problems, the criminals sought new refuge, and Guatemala fit the bill: a weak government, a strategic location, and a bureaucracy whose allegiance came cheap.

Today, Guatemala is overrun with Mexican narcotraficantes and increasingly brazen street gangs. Other organized criminal networks traffic in not only babies, but also weapons, passports, timber, and immigrants. Close to 96 percent of those crimes go unpunished, in part because there’s no long arm of the law — criminal influence reaches the highest levels. The country’s small security forces, meanwhile, are poorly trained and paid, especially when matched against drug traffickers bristling with sophisticated weapons and tactics.

Fallujah has higher cancer rates than post-bomb Hiroshima
World News Australia

Iraqi city has higher cancer rates than Hiroshima

A report has been published indicating cancers and other diseases in the Iraqi city of Fallujah are significantly higher than those of the survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs of 1945.

The survey found that in the five years following the 2004 attacks by USA-led forces there has been a four-fold increase in all cancer.

The types of cancer are similar to that in the Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors who were exposed to nuclear fallout.

Researchers found a 12 fold increase in child hood cancers since 2004.

Debate grows over how Christian the libertarian Tea Party really is
The Washington Post

Is the Tea Party unbiblical?

When conservative broadcaster Glenn Beck warned churchgoers to “run as fast as you can” if their pastors preach about “social justice,” was he also encouraging them to run from the Bible?

That’s what some progressive Christian leaders are arguing as battle lines are drawn for the 2010 mid-term elections. They say Beck and his Tea Party followers are, in a word, unbiblical.

Not so fast, say Tea Party activists, who claim biblical grounds for a libertarian-minded Jesus. He didn’t like tax-based welfare programs, they say, and encouraged his followers to donate from the heart.

The insurgent Tea Party movement threatens to usurp the political prominence of religious conservatives, whose focus on hot-button social issues has been overshadowed by the Tea Party’s fight against big government.

“I think that the general ideology of the Tea party is not a Christian one,” said David Gushee, professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University and co-founder of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, a faith-based nonprofit.

“This kind of small government libertarianism, small taxes, leave-me-alone-to-live-my-life ideology has more in common with Ayn Rand than it does with the Bible.” Gushee described the Tea Party as “an uneasy marriage between the libertarian conservative strand and the Christian right strand” of American politics. In this “uneasy alliance,” however, he said the Christian side has taken a backseat to the movement’s libertarian impulses …

But the Bible, and particularly the Hebrew prophets, are also firm on need to protect the vulnerable, which sometimes requires government action, said Simon Greer, president and CEO of the Jewish Funds for Justice, which helped fuel the progressive backlash against Beck.

Greer said his New York-based group is founded on “the fundamental religious call to care for others,” which in turn is based “on the belief that we’re all made in the image of the divine.”

“The only sensible conclusion is that we need mechanisms like effective government. . . to solve the pressing problems that our country faces,” he said.

The Rev. Jim Wallis, founder of the Washington-based social justice group Sojourners, is even blunter in his assessment of the Tea Party’s approach to giving.

“The libertarian enshrinement of individual choice is not the pre-eminent Christian virtue,” he wrote on his blog, God’s Politics. “Emphasizing individual rights at the expense of others violates the common good, a central Christian teaching and tradition” …

For his part, Joseph Farah, founder and CEO of the Web site WorldNetDaily and author of the new “Tea Party Manifesto,” says he puts his faith in the generosity of the American people and supports church-based welfare over government-run programs. The data, however, tell a different story.

According to Illinois-based Empty Tomb, Inc., which tracks charitable giving, American church-goers gave only about 2.5 percent of disposable income to churches in 2007; of that, only about 0.37 percent — roughly $100 per member — went to charities beyond the church. Those figures are down by about half since 1968.

Michael Lindsay, a sociologist at Rice University and author of “Faith in the Halls of Power,” doesn’t have much hope for individual charity.

“I would like to think that Christians are generous,” he said, “but sadly the truth of the matter is that their rhetoric is much stronger than their action.”