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Friday, July 30 Nine Circles of Hell!
The Nine Circles of Hell! – all the news that gives you fits in print – for Friday, July 30, are:
Obama’s arms trade expansion could put weapons in wrong hands
Obama seeks to expand arms exports by trimming approval process
The United States is currently the world biggest weapons supplier — holding 30 per cent of the market — but the Obama administration has begun modifying export control regulations in hopes of enlarging the U.S. market share, according to U.S. officials.
President Barack Obama already has taken the first steps by tucking new language into the Iran sanctions bill signed in early July. His aides are now compiling the “munitions list,” which regulates the sale of military items.
The administration’s stated reason for the changes is to simplify the sale of weapons to U.S. allies, but potential spinoffs include generating business for the U.S. defense industry, creating jobs and contributing to Obama’s drive to double U.S. exports by 2015.
Critics say the reforms are being rushed and warn that the expedited procedures could allow weapons technology to fall into the wrong hands …
“The concern that we have is that the net result of this process would be to open the floodgates for military sales to states that do not meet the standards established in years previous,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association.
“We’re No. 1 in weapons in the world, so I don’t understand what the problem is we need to fix,” said a Republican staffer for the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the topic.
Czech activists will protest Obama’s new missile defense plan
The Associated Press
US wants missile defense center in Czech Republic
The Czech prime minister said Friday his government has been negotiating a plan with the United States to place a warning center in the Czech Republic as part of a reworked U.S. missile defense plan.
Petr Necas said the purpose of the center was to gather and analyze information from satellite censors “to detect missiles aiming at NATO territory.”
“It’s not supposed to be a huge military installation,” Necas said.
He said only several people will be needed to run the center, and that they could be from the U.S., NATO member countries or the Czechs after undergoing training.
It is not clear yet where in the country the installation could be based or when it could become operational. Necas said Prague was an option.
The U.S. plans to initially invest $2 million in 2011 and 2012 for the center, which is expected to become part of a joint NATO missile defense shield in the future, Necas said.
In September, the Obama administration scrapped Bush-era blueprints for basing long-range interceptors in Poland and a radar system in the Czech Republic as part of a missile defense shield designed to shoot down long-range missiles from countries including Iran.
It was strongly opposed by Russia and unpopular among the Czech public.
The new system is focused on short- and medium-range interceptors …
Necas’s government may support the new U.S. plan but opponents say they were ready to protest again.
“It’s too serious to be silent,” said Jan Tamas who organized numerous protest rallies against the radar base proposed by the Bush administration.
Michigan spill not first for company with “suspect” safety record
The Associated Press
Past problems for company at heart of oil spill
A Canadian company whose pipeline leaked hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil into a Michigan river has experienced leaks, an explosion and dozens of regulatory violations in the past decade throughout the Great Lakes region and elsewhere in the U.S.
Enbridge Inc. or its affiliates have been cited for 30 enforcement actions since 2002 by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration – the U.S. Department of Transportation’s regulatory arm. They include a warning letter sent Jan. 21 in which the agency told the company it may have violated safety codes by improperly monitoring corrosion in the pipeline responsible for the massive spill Monday in Talmadge Creek, a waterway in Calhoun County’s Marshall Township that flows into the Kalamazoo River.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimated the spill at more than 1 million gallons of oil, saying it had traveled 25 miles downstream. The state estimates it has traveled 35 miles. Gov. Jennifer Granholm warned of a “tragedy of historic proportions” should it travel an additional 80 miles and reach Lake Michigan and the vacation communities that depend on it …
Health officials went door-to-door to advise residents in about 30 to 50 homes near the spill to evacuate because of air quality concerns, Calhoun County health official Jim Rutherford said. He said health officials were advising residents of about 100 homes near the river that use well water to use bottled water for drinking and cooking.
The slick, which emits a noxious, unpleasant odor, has killed fish and coated other wildlife in oil.
About 20 injured animals, mostly birds, were being treated Thursday at a wildlife rehabilitation center in Calhoun County’s Marshall Township, where the leak occurred, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service said. The center refused to admit an Associated Press reporter. An agency spokeswoman said officials didn’t want to further traumatize the animals by allowing in more people and the center wasn’t prepared for a media tour. One was planned for Friday.
According to the Jan. 21 warning, Enbridge was implementing an alternate way of monitoring corrosion in the pipeline, and had detailed to regulators the steps it was taking to track corrosion in the interim.
But the agency warned the company in the letter that it was violating code by not using a sufficient amount of certain chemicals used to protect pipe interiors, not using proper monitoring equipment to determine if those chemicals were working, and not examining its monitoring equipment at least twice a year.
“The transition from one technology to another must be implemented in a manner that ensures continued compliance with the regulations,” the agency wrote.
Two years ago, Enbridge was cited for committing eight probable violations that may have contributed to an explosion that killed two people working Nov. 28, 2007, on a 34-inch pipeline near Clearbrook, Minn. Among its findings, the regulatory agency found Enbridge failed to follow written procedures for couplings on the pipeline, didn’t make the repairs in a safe manner and didn’t make sure workers had adequate training for that job …
An Enbridge affiliate, Houston-based Enbridge Energy Co., spilled almost 19,000 gallons of crude oil onto Wisconsin’s Nemadji River in 2003. An additional 189,000 gallons of oil spilled at the company’s terminal two miles from Lake Superior, though most was contained.
In 2007, two spills released about 200,000 gallons of crude in northern Wisconsin as Enbridge was expanding a 320-mile pipeline. The company also was accused of violating Wisconsin permits designed to protect water quality during work in and around wetlands, rivers and streams, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources said. The violations came during construction of a 321-mile, $2 billion oil pipeline across that state. Enbridge agreed to pay $1.1 million in 2009.
The Michigan leak came from a 30-inch pipeline, which was built in 1969 and carries about 8 million gallons of oil daily from Griffith, Ind., to Sarnia, Ontario.
Bruce Bullock, director of Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University’s Cox School of Business, said Enbridge is similar to many other pipeline companies. Noting the age of Michigan’s pipeline, Bullock said that like the rest of the industry, Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge is dealing with aging infrastructure.
“They don’t have a reputation of being particularly a star player in terms of their profile or anything like that, but they certainly have a good reputation in terms of delivering for their shareholders,” Bullock said. “They certainly don’t have a bad reputation.”
But Andy Buchsbaum, director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes office, said Enbridge has a history of spills – including two major leaks in the past year. He said those leaks, coupled with the fatal blast in Minnesota, are problematic.
“This is a company whose safety record is very definitely suspect and cause for concern,” Buchsbaum said.
Governments put ten times more money in dirty energy than clean
Fossil Fuel Subsidies Are 12 Times Support for Renewables, Study Shows
Global subsidies for fossil fuels dwarf support given to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power and biofuels, Bloomberg New Energy Finance said.
Governments last year gave $43 billion to $46 billion of support to renewable energy through tax credits, guaranteed electricity prices known as feed-in tariffs and alternative energy credits, the London-based research group said today in a statement. That compares with the $557 billion that the International Energy Agency last month said was spent to subsidize fossil fuels in 2008.
“One of the reasons the clean energy sector is starved of funding is because mainstream investors worry that renewable energy only works with direct government support,” said Michael Liebreich, chief executive of New Energy Finance. “This analysis shows that the global direct subsidy for fossil fuels is around ten times the subsidy for renewables.”
Three-quarters of US metro areas show foreclosure rate increase
Homes keep falling into foreclosure as programs fail to help
More than three years into the housing crisis that helped trigger a worldwide recession, the torrid pace of home foreclosures continues to tear at the core of the American dream.
New figures Thursday from Realty-Trac showed that foreclosure activity declined over the first six months of the year in nine of the 10 large metropolitan areas with the highest foreclosure rates.
However, most of the 206 metropolitan areas with 200,000-plus residents didn’t fare as well. In fact, three out of four posted year-to-year increases in their foreclosure rates. Seventeen of the 20 hardest-hit areas were in Florida and California
In the first half of 2010, more than 1.6 million U.S. properties were hit with foreclosure filings, which include bank repossessions, default notices and auction sale notices. That’s up 8 percent from the first six months of 2009 and puts the U.S. on pace to top 3 million filings this year. That includes more than a million bank repossessions, and while sub-prime borrowers and bad loans led the surge in foreclosures in 2008 and 2009, this year’s wave comes from homeowners who’ve lost their jobs.
The numbers reflect the widespread and continued fragility of local housing markets amid what’s largely a jobless recovery. They also raise questions about the effectiveness of programs designed to fight foreclosures, such as the Obama administration’s Home Affordable Modification Program.
Illegal immigration down while deaths of illegal immigrants rises
The New York Times
An Arizona Morgue Grows Crowded
The Pima County morgue is running out of space as the number of Latin American immigrants found dead in the deserts around Tucson has soared this year during a heat wave.
The rise in deaths comes as Arizona is embroiled in a bitter legal battle over a new law intended to discourage illegal immigrants from settling here by making it a state crime for them to live or seek work.
But the law has not kept the immigrants from trying to cross hundreds of miles of desert on foot in record-breaking heat. The bodies of 57 border crossers have been brought in during July so far, putting it on track to be the worst month for such deaths in the last five years.
Since the first of the year, more than 150 people suspected of being illegal immigrants have been found dead, well above the 107 discovered during the same period in each of the last two years. The sudden spike in deaths has overwhelmed investigators and pathologists at the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office. Two weeks ago, Dr. Parks was forced to bring in a refrigerated truck to store the remains of two dozen people because the building’s two units were full.
“We can store about 200 full-sized individuals, but we have over 300 people here now, and most of those are border crossers,” Dr. Parks said. “We keep hoping we have seen the worst of this, of these migration deaths. Yet we still see a lot of remains.”
The increase in deaths has happened despite many signs that the number of immigrants crossing the border illegally has dropped in recent years. The number of people caught trying to sneak across the frontier without a visa has fallen in each of the last five years and stands at about half of the record 616,000 arrested in 2000.
Not only has the economic downturn in the United States eliminated many of the jobs that used to lure immigrants, human rights groups say, but also the federal government has stepped up efforts to stop the underground railroad of migrants, building mammoth fences in several border towns and flooding the region with hundreds of new Border Patrol agents equipped with high-tech surveillance tools.
These tougher enforcement measures have pushed smugglers and illegal immigrants to take their chances on isolated trails through the deserts and mountains of southern Arizona, where they must sometimes walk for three or four days before reaching a road.
“As we gain more control, the smugglers are taking people out to even more remote areas,” said Omar Candelaria, the special operations supervisor for the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector. “They have further to walk and they are less prepared for the journey, and they don’t make it.”
July 2010 deadliest month yet for US troops in Afghanistan
The Associated Press
US troop death tally of 63 makes for deadliest month in Afghanistan
Three US troops died in blasts in Afghanistan, bringing the military death toll for July to at least 63 and surpassing the previous month’s record as the deadliest for American forces in the nearly nine-year-old war.
The three died in two blasts in southern Afghanistan the day before, a Nato statement said today. No names or nationalities were given, but US officials said the three were Americans.
US and Nato commanders had warned that casualties would rise as the international military force ramped up the war against the Taliban, especially in the organisation’s southern strongholds in Helmand and Kandahar provinces.
President Barack Obama ordered 30,000 US reinforcements to Afghanistan last December in an effort to turn back the resurgent Taliban.
British and Afghan troops launched an offensive today in the Sayedebad area of Helmand to try to deny insurgents a base from which to launch attacks in Nad Ali and Marjah, the British military said. Coalition and Afghan troops have sought to solidify control of Marjah after overrunning the poppy-farming community five months ago.
In Kabul, a crowd threw stones and set fire to a 4×4 car after a traffic accident today in which two Afghans were killed and two were injured, according to a traffic official, Abdul Saboor. The vehicles are associated with foreigners. Saboor said people from the 4×4 fled the scene.
Israel’s official 1967 story on what happened in Golan challenged
The aroma of ripe figs fills your nostrils as soon as you enter the village of Ramataniya. At the height of summer, they’re overripe and the smell of fermentation is oppressive. With no one to pick it, the fruit rots on the trees. With no one to trim them, the roots and branches grow wild, cracking the black basalt walls of the nearby houses, reaching through empty window frames, and destroying stone walls in the yards.
Neglect and ruin are everywhere. The red tiles have vanished from the roofs. The floor tiles have been removed. Any belongings were confiscated or plundered decades ago. Bars still cover some windows, but the doors are gone. The occasional snake pokes out from beneath a heap of stones that were once part of a wall; birds peck at the rotting figs, and an enormous wild boar wanders skittishly down the path. Suddenly it stops and takes a look back, as if debating whether to stake a claim or run for its life. In the end, it flees.
Of the dozens of Syrian villages that were abandoned in the Golan Heights after the Six-Day War, Ramataniya is thought to be the best preserved. Apparently thanks to the brief period of Jewish settlement here in the late 19th century – and not because of its Byzantine history – it was declared an archaeological site right after the 1967 war and thereby saved from the bulldozers. But the fate of the rest of the Syrian localities in the Golan Heights was completely different: Apart from the four Druze villages at the foot of Mount Hermon, they were all destroyed, in most cases down to their very foundations.
However, the fires in recent weeks that wiped out the shrubs and weeds exposed their remains, which attest that more than 200 villages, towns and farms flourished in the Syrian-ruled Heights before the war. Many of the houses crumbled over the years due to the ravages of weather and time. Others were blasted by Israel Defense Forces troops during live-fire training exercises there. But most were wiped off the face of the earth in a systematic process of destruction that began right after Israel’s occupation of the Golan.
Only the Syrian outposts and army camps there have remained largely untouched, their concrete-and-steel fortifications searing reminders of the terror waged in the Golan against Israelis, who suppress memories of the civilian life that flourished in the alleyways and homes of Ramataniya and the other villages.
The 1960 Syrian census in the Golan Heights listed Ramataniya as having 541 inhabitants; on the eve of the Six-Day War, there were 700. According to most estimates, in 1967, the population of the entire area conquered by Israel there ranged from 130,000-145,000. The data are based on the census and a calculation of natural growth.
In the first Israeli census of the Golan, conducted exactly three months after the end of the fighting, there were just 6,011 civilians living in the entire Golan region. For the most part, they lived in the four Druze villages that remain populated to this day. A minority lived in the city of Quneitra, which was returned to Syria following the Yom Kippur War. So, in less than three months, more than 120,000 people either left of their own accord – or were expelled.
In an article entitled “Hopeful truths of the new reality,” published in Life Magazine on September 29, 1967, then Israeli defense minister Moshe Dayan presented his version of what happened to the Golan residents. The army broke through along the entire front stretching from the Jordanian to the Lebanese borders, to a depth of 20 kilometers. The entire area, apart from seven Druze villages, was now abandoned, he added, because as the Syrian troops retreated, the civilian population took its herds and fled eastward, afraid of being caught in the cross-fire or becoming targets of bombing and shelling.
Other Israeli politicians, army personnel and spokesmen described the Syrian population’s flight in similar terms. In a letter to the UN secretary general, Israel’s UN representative, Gideon Rafael, responded to claims by the Syrian representative that tens of thousands of civilians had been expelled from their homes following the war. Rafael wrote that “most of the population of the Golan Heights fled prior to the Syrian forces’ withdrawal. Out of a population of about 90,000, 6,404 remained.”
Over the years, the Israeli narrative concerning the flight of Syrian civilians from the Golan during the war found its way into textbooks and historical literature. “In addition to the outposts, the Syrians had positions and fortifications in many of the villages in the Golan,” wrote Ze’ev Schiff and Eitan Haber in their 1976 book “A Lexicon of the Israeli Army.” “These villages were home mostly to Turkmens, Circassians and Druze. Most abandoned their homes during the Six-Day War. It was primarily the Druze who remained” …
There is no question that many civilians joined the fleeing Syrian army forces both before and after the offensive. Many, but not all. A Syrian estimate a week after the war stated that only about 56,000 civilians had abandoned the Golan at that point. On June 25, the Syrian information minister, Mahmoud Zuabi, stated at a press conference in Damascus that just 45,000 civilians had left the conquered region. In the heat of battle, no orderly records were kept so it is impossible today to verify or disprove the figures, but testimony from Israeli soldiers also indicates that a fair number of Syrian civilians remained throughout the Golan. “I remember we saw dozens and sometimes even hundreds of them in the fields, outside the villages,” says Elisha Shalem, commander of the 98th Reserve Paratroop Battalion. After his battalion took part in the conquest of the northern West Bank, his troops were airlifted on the final day of the war to the southern Golan, near where Kibbutz Meitzar is now located. “Our mission was to penetrate as deeply as possible into the Golan before the cease-fire went into effect,” he recounts. “We were barely concerned with taking over outposts or villages. The number of encounters with the Syrians involving combat was very low in our sector. They were mostly busy retreating. While we were landing from the helicopters, a tank force and a patrol company from the Jordan Valley was coming up, and as soon as we joined up with the vehicles, we moved eastward very quickly. We didn’t stop along the way, so we couldn’t really gauge the scope of it. But throughout our movement eastward, all the villages big and small that we passed appeared to be abandoned. The army camps were also completely empty, except for a few soldiers who surrendered immediately when they saw us. But I clearly remember that we saw hundreds of people in the fields and outside the villages. They watched us, from a safe distance, waiting to see what the day would bring. The civilians were not players in the game, here or anywhere else in the Golan Heights. Even though some of the population was armed, we did not deal with them at all, at least in my battalion, even though we operated in an area with a relatively high concentration of villages.”
Shalem believes the inhabitants left the villages as soon as the shelling started, but says they didn’t abandon their land and apparently were waiting to return home once the battles ended: “It’s a behavior pattern we’d seen in earlier conquests in the war … Civilians flee their homes, but stay where they can maintain eye contact with the village, to see how things evolve. These were simple folks for the most part, not big politicians by any means, and in the absence of any leadership they did what was necessary to preserve their homes and property.”
Shalem’s account is supported by most of the testimonies of fighters interviewed for this article. Almost everyone who poked his head out of his tank or armored vehicle remembers seeing hundreds of Syrian civilians gathered outside the villages during the two days of fighting in the Golan. The accounts say many civilians were in fact heading east in convoys, sometimes with the retreating army, but that many also remained, in the hope that normal life would resume even under the occupying power …
Red Cross spokespeople claim that every civilian who was transferred by them to Syrian territory after the war was required to sign a document attesting that he was doing so of his own accord. But they will not reveal the signed documents, or any data attesting to the number of people transferred to Syria under these circumstances, until 50 years have passed.
By the end of the summer of 1967 there were hardly any Syrian civilians left in the Golan Heights. IDF forces prevented residents who’d left from returning, and those who’d remained behind were evacuated to Syria. On August 27, IDF General Command issued an order classifying 101 villages in the Golan as “abandoned,” and prohibiting entry to them. Anyone in violation of this order “was subject to five years’ imprisonment or a fine of 5,000 liras, or both.”
Every two weeks, a report about civilian life under the military administration in the Golan was submitted. About the last half of September, one such report said: “Our forces opened fire 22 times to chase away shepherds and infiltrators who approached outposts. Three Syrian and two Lebanese infiltrators were apprehended for questioning.” It is important to note that it is explicitly stated that these were unarmed civilians.
The above report also said: “Relative to the past weeks, the number of infiltrations from Syrian territory has decreased, due to the alertness of our forces who open fire at [those] who approach.”
This and every other report listed a few incidents. On September 27, for instance, “a Golani lookout spotted 15 people in Dabah. An army vehicle went out toward the village and fired in their direction. After the shooting, they fled.”
California leads all states in anti-Semitism
The Associated Press
ADL: California had most anti-Semitic incidents in 2009
California had the country’s highest number of anti-Semitic assaults, harassment and vandalism incidents last year, the Anti-Defamation League said Tuesday.
In its annual survey, the ADL identified 275 events in the country’s most populous state in 2009, up 22% from the year before. The incidents included a Jewish student in Buena Park getting beaten up after confronting a classmate drawing swastikas.
Across the country, the ADL identified a total of 1,211 incidents, including the June 2009 shooting at the US Holocaust Museum; the May 2009 arrests of four men accused of placing what they thought were bombs outside two Bronx synagogues; and a number of acts of vandalism.
“America is not immune to anti-Semitism, and 2009 was no different in this regard than in any other year,” said Abraham Foxman, ADL national director. “It is a sobering reality that as Jews have become more accepted in society, there remains a consistent hatred of Jews among too many.”
The audit identified 29 assaults, 760 instances of harassment and 422 cases of vandalism nationwide.
New York state was second in the nation with 209 incidents.
Overall, the nationwide number of incidents was down slightly from 2008, but the ADL said it had tightened its reporting methods and revamped how it considered incidents.