The Nine Circles of Hell! – all the news that gives you fits in print – for Friday, July 9, 2010, are:
Wal-Mart spends over a million bucks fighting $7,000 fine
The New York Times
Wal-Mart Fighting $7,000 Fine in Trampling Case
Wal-Mart Stores has spent a year and more than a million dollars in legal fees battling a $7,000 fine that federal safety officials assessed after shoppers trampled a Wal-Mart employee to death at a store on Long Island on the day after Thanksgiving in 2008.
The mystery, federal officials say, is why Wal-Mart is fighting so hard against such a modest fine.
It is not as if Wal-Mart has not already taken action to address any missteps and prevent another such accident. Three weeks before the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration ordered the fine, Wal-Mart, seeking to avoid criminal charges, reached a settlement with the Nassau County, N.Y., district attorney that called for the company to adopt new crowd management techniques in all 92 of its stores in New York State. At the time, Wal-Mart also agreed to create a $400,000 fund for customers injured in the stampede and to donate $1.5 million to various community programs in Nassau County.
More recently, the company announced improved crowd-control policies for all its United States stores to try to prevent such an accident from happening again.
But in fighting the federal fine, Wal-Mart is arguing that the government is improperly trying to define “crowd trampling” as an occupational hazard that retailers must take action to prevent.
Wal-Mart’s all-out battle against the relatively minor penalty has mystified and even angered some federal officials. In contesting the penalty, Wal-Mart has filed 20 motions and responses totaling nearly 400 pages and has spent at least $2 million on legal fees, according to OSHA’s calculations.
The dispute has become so heated — and Wal-Mart’s defense so vigorous — that officials at OSHA, an arm of the Labor Department, complain that they have had to devote huge numbers of staff time to the case, including 4,725 hours of work by employees in the legal office.
The company has made so many demands that Labor Department officials said they would not discuss the case except on condition of anonymity because they feared being subpoenaed about their discussions with a reporter.
Gulf responders exposed to chemical that sickened Valdez workers
The New York Times
New BP Data Show 20% of Gulf Spill Responders Exposed to Chemical That Sickened Valdez Workers
In an under-the-radar release of new test results for its Gulf of Mexico oil spill workers, BP PLC is reporting potentially hazardous exposures to a now-discontinued dispersant chemical — a substance blamed for contributing to chronic health problems after the Exxon Valdez cleanup — among more than 20 percent of offshore responders.
BP’s new summary of chemical testing, posted to its website this week after a nearly monthlong absence of new data, also makes notable revisions to the company’s public characterization of the health risks facing Gulf workers. The oil giant now describes the government as a partner in developing the program for monitoring cleanup crews.
In a June 9 report on worker test results, BP confidently asserted that the health hazards of exposure to both dispersant chemicals and the components of leaking crude “are very low.” In its latest summary, BP replaced those three words with an assurance that health risks “have been carefully considered in the selection of the various methods employed in addressing its spill.”
The new BP summary, including results up to June 29, show a broad majority of workers testing below exposure limits set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
But the Valdez-linked chemical 2-butoxyethanol was detected at levels up to 10 parts per million (ppm) in more than 20 percent of offshore responders and 15 percent of those near shore. The NIOSH standard for 2-butoxyethanol, which lacks the force of law but is considered more health-protective than the higher OSHA limit, is 5 ppm.
Some public-health advocates pointed out that BP references the NIOSH ceiling of each chemical it tested for except 2-butoxyethanol, an ingredient in the Corexit 9527 dispersant that BP phased out after spraying it in the Gulf during the early days of the spill. “They’re playing with these numbers,” said Mark Catlin, a veteran industrial hygienist who has studied the worker-health fallout from the 1989 Valdez spill.
Natural Resources Defense Council Senior Scientist Gina Solomon described BP’s continued offshore 2-butoxyethanol detection during the month of June as “worrisome.”
“It suggests to me that there is still, clearly, a serious air-quality concern. … [Gulf] air quality, if anything, seems to be deteriorating,” Solomon said.
Obama’s popularity with Latinos dropping
Did Obama break promise to Latinos?
Did President Obama break his promise to Latino voters that he’d deliver a comprehensive immigration reform plan in his first year?
And if so, will it wind up costing Democratic candidates in the November mid-term elections and, for that matter, the president himself when he comes up for re-election in 2012?
The answers are: yes and probably.
Yes, of course, Obama broke his promise to Latinos. And it is probably true that, for doing so, Obama and fellow Democrats will continue to lose Latino support …
That first year came and went, and now we’re 18 months into the Obama administration. There’s no immigration bill in sight. In fact, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, has said that he won’t propose a bill he’s been working on until after the November elections, possibly as late as March 2011 …
Now, after a year and a half in office, ICE is still conducting immigration raids, and comprehensive immigration reform isn’t on the table.
More and more of the Latinos I hear from feel as if they’ve been snookered. They see the passion that Obama put into an issue he really cared about — health care — and they resent the fact that when it comes to immigration reform, the president seems to think that words speak louder than actions.
What they resent even more is that they feel teased every time Obama makes yet another major speech promising to deliver something he has no intention of delivering — comprehensive immigration reform …
Some political observers believe that the recently filed lawsuit by the Department of Justice against the Arizona immigration law is part of the administration’s strategy of rebuilding support with Latinos, about 70 percent of whom oppose the measure.
I hope not. For one thing, that strategy wouldn’t work. Latinos aren’t about to give Obama, a former lecturer on constitutional law, much credit for recognizing the obvious: that the Arizona law is blatantly unconstitutional because it usurps federal authority over immigration law in violation of Article 1, Section 8.
The suit could have gone further and argued, as other lawsuits against the measure have, that the process of implementing the law runs the risk of violating the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment by singling out Latinos as the most likely to resemble illegal immigrants.
Such a law is so odious that the idea that the federal government would challenge it is a given.
After all, the Obama administration isn’t suing Arizona to defend Latinos but to defend the Constitution. So that won’t assuage the concerns of Latinos that the White House doesn’t really care about them or issues that matter to them …
In fact, every time this administration tries to reassure Latino voters that it is in their corner, the effect is the opposite. It reminds Latinos that, as long as Obama is in the White House, they’re on their own.
Britain’s lengthy ‘marriage of convenience’ with militant Islamists
Bin Laden, the Taliban, Zawahiri: Britain’s done business with them all
Whitehall has been desperately trying to do a deal with the Taliban since at least 2004, when it is claimed that Maulana Fazlur Rahman, a radical pro-Taliban cleric in Pakistan, was invited to visit the Foreign Office. Rahman told the Pakistani media that “Britain is holding indirect talks with the Taliban militia to seek an honourable American exit from Afghanistan”.
This dependence on militant Islamists to achieve foreign policy objectives is an echo of the past, when such collusion was aimed at controlling oil resources and overthrowing nationalist governments. The Anglo-American operation in Iran in 1953 to remove the popular Mossadeq government, which had nationalised British oil operations, involved plotting with Ayatollah Seyyed Kashani, the founder of the militant fundamentalist group Devotees of Islam. MI6 and the CIA financed demonstrations against Mossadeq, and even discussed installing Kashani – a predecessor of Ayatollah Khomeini – as Iran’s leader after the coup. The Foreign Office noted that in power Kashani “would conceivably accept western money”, but viewed him as “a complete political reactionary”, and therefore not reliable as a long-term asset.
Also targeted was Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser, who in 1952 overthrew the pro-British King Farouk, providing an Arab nationalist alternative to the pro-western monarchies in the Middle East. Britain had first covertly funded the Muslim Brotherhood, a new radical force with a terrorist wing, in 1942, and further links were made with the organisation after Nasser’s revolution. By 1956, when Britain invaded Egypt, contacts were developed as part of plans to overthrow Nasser. Indeed, the invasion was undertaken in the knowledge that the Muslim Brotherhood might form the new regime. After Nasser died in 1970, and the pro-western president Anwar Sadat secretly sponsored militant Islamist cells to counter nationalists and communists, British officials were still describing the Brotherhood as “a potentially handy weapon” for the regime.
Declassified files reveal that planners recognised their Islamist collaborators as anti-western, but entered into marriages of convenience to achieve short-term objectives. As British power waned in the Middle East, Whitehall sought out all the allies it could find, with little regard for the long-term consequences. Britain’s role in the emergence of global terrorism should not be exaggerated, but there are many contributions: opposition to Arab nationalism, which paved the way for the rise of radical Islam in the 1970s; support for the Afghan holy warriors in the 1980s, from which emerged Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida; and the phenomenon of “Londonistan” in the 1990s, when the capital became an organising centre for global jihad, tolerated by the authorities.
But Whitehall’s view of Islamist militants as handy weapons or shock troops is far from historical. In 1999, during Nato’s bombing campaign against Yugoslavia, the Blair government secretly trained fighters in the Kosovo Liberation Army to act as Nato’s soldiers on the ground. The KLA was openly described by ministers as a terrorist organisation, and worked closely with al-Qaida fighters who joined the Muslim cause; their military centre was in the same camp network in Kosovo and Albania where the SAS were providing training. One KLA unit was led by the brother of Ayman al-Zawahiri, Bin Laden’s right-hand man. This murky feature of Blair’s “humanitarian intervention” remains conveniently overlooked in most accounts of the war.
The attacks of 9/11 and 7/7 have made Britain revise but not end its secret affair with radical Islam. In the occupation of southern Iraq, Britain’s weak position led to conniving with Shia militias. Liberal, secular forces were bypassed after the invasion, and when Britain withdrew its combat forces it in effect handed responsibility for “security” to these militias. The irony is that Britain’s favoured collaborator, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, has long been Iran’s favoured vehicle for its policy in Iraq. Britain also continues its deep alliance with a Pakistan that is the main protector of the Taliban, and does little to press Islamabad to end its support for the jihad in Kashmir. Thus, in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Whitehall has been in the bizarre situation of being allied to its enemy …
The government says it has prevented 12 bomb plots in the last decade and that we face a threat from 200 networks. My concern is that the wards of state pledging to protect us have neither accounted for “blowback” nor stopped contributing to it. Governments guided by morals would have different priorities and would discontinue policies based on interests that endanger us and much of the world.
‘Unprecedented police brutality’ at East Jerusalem protest
Some 300 left-wing activists clashed with police on Friday during the weekly protest at the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Ten activists were detained and held for questioning over blocking roadways and failing to comply with police instructions.
Every weekend, Israeli protesters demonstrate alongside the Arab locals against settler activity in the Arab neighborhood. The demonstrators decry the settlers’ takeover of several homes in the area.
Participating in Friday’s protest were renowned Israeli author David Grossman and former Meretz MK Zahava Gal-On.
The clash erupted when demonstrators tried to make their way to the contested homes in the neighborhood.
Gal-On and Grossman said that they were pushed aggressively by police officers. Gal-On said that “it was one of the more violent events. We wanted to enter the neighborhood, but the police brutality was unprecedented” …
The protesters carried signs calling for and end to settlements in East Jerusalem. “Democracy stops at Sheikh Jarrah,” some signs said, while others read “stop ethnic cleansing.”
Degrees scandal hits Pakistan; “genuine or fake, both are called degrees”
Pakistani politicians: fake it to make it
Highlighted and hounded by an insatiable media, Pakistan’s ruling class is embroiled in a fake degrees scandal that could oust more than 10 percent of federal and provincial lawmakers and precipitate a mid-term election at a time when weak civilian authorities are already grappling with a rickety economy and robust militancy.
The issue came to the fore late last month, when the Supreme Court ordered the Higher Education Commission to vet the credentials of all 1,170 federal and provincial lawmakers, after more than a dozen MPs were found to have lied about their academic qualifications. Now, barely a day goes by without yet another expose in the press about some lawmaker who faked it to make it.
The academic requirement for parliamentarians was introduced by former President Pervez Musharraf ahead of the 2008 polls. Although President Asif Ali Zardari’s government later waived it, the Supreme Court has ruled that the credentials of anyone who was elected in the last round at the ballot box must be checked.
The fallout has produced some eyebrow-raising statements, perhaps none more shocking than the unapologetic utterances of Baluchistan’s chief minister, Nawab Aslam Raisani. “A degree is a degree, whether fake or genuine! It makes no difference!” he said prompting outrage from media commentators. Yesterday he said he was surprised by the strong reaction to his comment. “In a lighter mood, I had passed that remark on the hot issue of fake degrees, but television channels and newspapers portrayed it as if I was their supporter,” he told The News. Nonetheless, he still maintained that “whether genuine or fake, both are called degrees.”
Other embattled lawmakers created a ruckus in Wednesday’s session of the Punjab Assembly after political friends and foes alike angrily banded together to blame the media for reporting on colleagues with fake degrees. According to the mainstream Dawn newspaper, legislators sought legal means to muzzle the media and referred to an “unholy alliance between the generals, judges and journalists” to malign politicians. They also demanded that generals, judges and journalists’ degrees be verified as well. Several burst into tears while calling for a boycott of television appearances until the owners of the channels apologize to parliamentarians they have “defamed.”
The short, impoverished lives of India’s ‘e-waste’ pickers
Agence France Presse
India’s poor risk ‘slow death’ recycling ‘e-waste’
Young rag-pickers sifting through rubbish are a common image of India’s chronic poverty, but destitute children face new hazards picking apart old computers as part of the growing “e-waste” industry …
Few statistics are known about the informal “e-waste” industry, but a United Nations report launched in February described how mountains of hazardous waste from electronic products are growing exponentially in developing countries.
It said India would have 500 percent more e-waste from old computers in 2020 than in 2007, and 18 times more old mobile phones.
The risks posed to those who handle the cast-offs are clear to T.K. Joshi, head of the Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health at the Maulana Azad Medical College in New Delhi.
He studied 250 people working in the city as recyclers and dismantlers over 12 months to October 2009 and found almost all suffered from breathing problems such as asthma and bronchitis.
“We found dangerously high levels — 10 to 20 times higher than normal — of lead, mercury and chromium in blood and urine samples,” he told AFP.
“All these have a detrimental effect on the respiratory, urinary and digestive systems, besides crippling immunity and causing cancer.”
Toxic metals and poisons enter workers’ bloodstreams during the laborious manual extraction process and when equipment is crudely treated to collect tiny quantities of precious metals.
“The recovery of metals like gold, platinum, copper and lead uses caustic soda and concentrated acids,” said Joshi.
“Workers dip their hands in poisonous chemicals for long hours. They are also exposed to fumes of highly concentrated acid.”
Safety gear such as gloves, face masks and ventilation fans are virtually unheard of, and workers — many of them children — often have little idea of what they are handling.
“All the workers we surveyed were unaware of the dangers they were exposed to. They were all illiterate and desperate for employment,” said Joshi. “Their choice is clear — either die of hunger or of metal poisoning.”
And he warned exposure to e-waste by-products such as cadmium and lead could result in a slow, painful death.
“They can’t sleep or walk,” he said. “They are wasted by the time they reach 35-40 years of age and incapable of working.”
There are no estimates of how many people die in India from e-waste poisoning as ill workers generally drift back to their villages when they can no longer earn a living.
“More people are fighting palm oil companies to hold on to their land”
Indonesia: Demand for palm oil fuels land-grabbing
Communities throughout Indonesia are losing land to companies seeking to profit from the booming palm oil industry.
“Each year, more people are fighting palm oil companies to hold on to their land,” said Gefri Saragih, campaign department head of Sawit Watch, a local NGO monitoring palm oil cultivation.
“Last year, around 1,000 people were fighting for their land, and this year, it looks like that figure will double.”
Since 2006, 632 communities have clashed with palm oil operators, the group reported, mostly because of a lack of community consultation, required as part of a project’s environmental impact assessment.
“But this consultation rarely happens in Indonesia,” said Bustar Maitar, a forest campaigner with Greenpeace Southeast Asia. “Companies are supposed to share the benefits with the community as well, but we never see them fulfil their promises, and that leads to conflict.”
On 8 June, police opened fire on hundreds of farmers rallying in Riau Province on Sumatra Island, killing one woman and leaving one man with head injuries, local media reported.
The farmers claimed that Tri Bakti Sarimas, a palm oil plantation operator, had broken a profit-sharing agreement signed with the communities in 1997. Others accused the company of overstaying its concession, claiming it expired in 2002.
“This just proves how weak these agreements between companies and communities are,” said Bustar. “Once the companies have permission to use the land, they forget about the communities and just leave them behind.”
Under Indonesian law, the government owns all the forests and can grant decades-long land concessions to a community or private enterprise.
More than 50 million Indonesians depend on the forests for their livelihoods, and many are fighting to earn 35-year community concessions to keep companies off their land.
“We are well on our way to the next great extinction event”
Report: Oceans’ demise near irreversible
A sobering new report warns that oceans face a “fundamental and irreversible ecological transformation” not seen in millions of years as greenhouse gases and climate change already have affected temperature, acidity, sea and oxygen levels, the food chain and possibly major currents that could alter global weather.
The report, in Science magazine, doesn’t break a lot of new ground, but it brings together dozens of studies that collectively paint a dismal picture of deteriorating ocean health.
“This is further evidence we are well on our way to the next great extinction event,” said Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, the director of the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland in Australia and a co-author of the report.
John Bruno, an associate professor of marine sciences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the report’s other co-author, isn’t quite as alarmist, but he’s equally concerned.
“We are becoming increasingly certain that the world’s marine ecosystems are reaching tipping points,” Bruno said, adding, “We really have no power or model to foresee” the effect.