Friday, May 21 Nine Circles of Hell!


If Democrats legalize “crack cocaine of gambling,” taxpayers get billions
ABC News

High Stakes Showdown: Internet Gambling Debate Rages on Capitol Hill

With just two weeks to go before a federal law aimed at quashing Internet gambling takes effect, a handful of House Democrats, including Rep. Barney Frank, D-Massachusetts, are going all in, pushing for the legalization of some of the most popular forms of online gambling. The lobbying is intense, and the stakes are high – by some estimates the Internet gaming industry generates as much as $6 billion a year in profits – and no one on either side of the debate appears ready to fold.

Meanwhile, in an exclusive interview with on Tuesday, Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Alabama, the Ranking Member of the House Financial Services Committee, said he would do everything in his power to stop the legalization of Internet gambling, specifically singling out online poker.

“Internet gambling is the crack cocaine of gambling,” Bachus told “Young people are particularly vulnerable – we don’t want to put a casino in every dorm room in the country. Compulsive gambling, by many accounts, is a very serious, growing problem.”

Offshore oil drilling lease price down significantly in last 30 years
Solve Climate

Research Shows Federal Oil Leasing and Royalty Income a Raw Deal for Taxpayers

Taxpayers are receiving significantly less of a bang for their buck from offshore oil development—even though energy companies have access to six times as many leases as they did in the early 1980s.

Statistics compiled by two researchers studying the last 30 years of leasing policy show that per-acre lease rates have plummeted almost nine-fold from shortly after the time Ronald Reagan assumed the presidency to the tail end of President George W. Bush’s second term.

An average of $2,224 per acre for all federal leases sold between 1954 and 1982 careened to $263 per acre for federal leases sold between 1983 and 2008.

And those eye-opening losses don’t even account for how inflation has eaten into the U.S. dollar during that time span.

The recent BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has prompted the researchers who published these findings almost a year ago, to again ask why Congress and the Department of the Interior’s Minerals Management Service (MMS) have been so reluctant to update a leasing program severely altered in favor of the oil industry, first in the early 1980s by James Watt, Reagan’s secretary of Interior, and later again under President Clinton.

Shell keeps Iranian relationship on the DL from US customers
The Wall Street Journal

Oil Trade With Iran Thrives, Discreetly

An oil tanker named Front Page, chartered by Royal Dutch Shell PLC, left this port on March 17 and reported it was going to another U.A.E. port, then on to Saudi Arabia, ship-tracking data show.

But the tracking information reveals that Front Page also made an unreported stop—to the coast of Iran. There it loaded Iranian oil, according to records obtained by oil traders and shipping sources.

The incident, some oil-industry experts say, is an example of how some companies these days are hiding their business dealings with Iran, even when they are perfectly legal because they aren’t subject to any sanctions.

Another oil tanker that stopped in Iran in March, which oil traders say was chartered by Total SA of France, turned off its tracking transponder throughout the visit, according to ship-tracking data.

Spokesmen for Shell and Total declined to comment.

None of the current sanctions proposals in the United Nations or the U.S.—including the latest ones agreed to this week by the U.S., Russia and China—would target Iran’s oil-export business, which generates about half of its government revenues. Doing so, experts say, likely would drive up the commodity’s price world-wide and result in higher gasoline prices in the U.S., of as much as $1 more a gallon, even though the U.S. doesn’t import any Iranian oil.

U.S. officials also fear that targeting Iranian crude could wreak havoc on the recession-ravaged economies of allies like Japan, which last year imported about 421,000 barrels of Iranian crude a day, just behind China and India …

Still, given all the controversy over Iran’s nuclear program, many companies decline to discuss their Iranian oil purchases.

Companies like Shell and BP have said they have stopped selling gasoline to Iran. But they rarely mention that they continue to buy crude or other Iranian oil products, which generally is a much larger and more lucrative business than gasoline deliveries.

Iran only imports about 100,000 barrels of gasoline a day. The country currently exports about 2 million barrels of oil a day—down from about 2.6 million in 2008.

“It’s something they [companies] just don’t want to advertise because of the stigma,” says Lucian Pugliaresi, president of Energy Policy Research Foundation, Inc., an industry and government-funded research organization in Washington.

One tanker industry executive speculated that Shell might want to disguise its Iranian purchases so as not to suggest that the gasoline it sells in the U.S. is refined from Iranian oil, which would violate U.S. law.

Shell is one of the biggest oil-product sellers in the U.S. According to its 2009 annual report, Shell sold 1.33 million barrels a day of gasoline, diesel and other fuel products there. There is no evidence that any of Shell’s U.S. products are sourced from Iran.

For Iraqis who supported US troops, ‘the worst days are yet ahead’
Foreign Policy

Left Behind in Iraq

America is leaving Iraq. We already itch to forget. The U.S. media gave more coverage to the elections in Zimbabwe than those held in March across Iraq. We award Oscars to films about Iraq, but don’t particularly care to watch them. The seventh anniversary of the U.S. invasion passed recently, with little notice.

Another regrettable anniversary recently passed, one from which U.S. President Barack Obama might take heed. The fall of Saigon 35 years ago marked the end of the Vietnam War and the beginning of a seismic refugee crisis. An eleventh-hour request for $722 million to evacuate the thousands of South Vietnamese who had assisted the United States went unfunded by a war-weary Congress. What ensued in those early morning hours on the rooftops of Saigon, as desperate Vietnamese clamored beneath departing helicopters, would be the war’s final image seared into the American conscience. Al Jazeera rebroadcast these scenes of abandonment throughout 2005, when I worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in Baghdad and Fallujah. My Iraqi colleagues who risked their lives to help us were demoralized by the footage, and constantly worried about what would happen to them when we left.

Since my return, I have been trying to help thousands of Iraqis who fled the assassin’s bullet. They have been tortured, raped, abducted, and killed because they worked for America. My organization, The List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies, assists these imperiled Iraqis in navigating the straits of the winding U.S. refugee resettlement bureaucracy. Although it is the largest single list in existence of U.S.-affiliated Iraqis, at several thousand names, our list is only a reflection of a much larger community. Estimates vary, but between 50,000 to 70,000 Iraqis have been employed by the United States over the past seven years. It is likely that thousands have already been killed as “traitors” or “agents” of America. (I have a separate list documenting hundreds of assassinated interpreters who worked for just one contractor, a small but gruesome glimpse.) And while I once thought that the dark years of Iraq’s 2006-2008 civil war were the bleakest for these Iraqis, I am increasingly concerned that the worst days are yet ahead.

Using secret state evidence in courts is undemocratic
The Guardian

An uncivilised society

Past This is Hell! guest Andy Worthington writes …

Justice, the all-party law reform and human rights organisation, has been advocating for the use of intercept evidence for many years, and as Baroness Neville-Jones wrote: “The Privy Council review of the use of intercept material as evidence concluded that it was desirable. Gordon Brown has said that he favours using intercept material as evidence in such cases and the Conservative party agree with him.”

It is time for us to join the rest of the world in using intercept evidence, and to stop relying on secrecy, innuendo and a kind of mob mentality about our “rights” and the “rights” of terrorists when it comes to dealing with the threat of terrorism. Trials and sentences are not only a bedrock of a civilised society; they are also a bulwark against a fundamental erosion of our values that has been allowed to rage unchecked for the last eight years, in which the use of secret evidence and imprisonment without charge or trial has replaced our trust in the ability of the criminal justice system to successfully try terrorists – and to imprison them if they are proved to have committed a crime.

American Jewish establishment turned its back on liberal Zionism
New York Review of Books

The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment

In 2003, several prominent Jewish philanthropists hired Republican pollster Frank Luntz to explain why American Jewish college students were not more vigorously rebutting campus criticism of Israel. In response, he unwittingly produced the most damning indictment of the organized American Jewish community that I have ever seen.

The philanthropists wanted to know what Jewish students thought about Israel. Luntz found that they mostly didn’t. “Six times we have brought Jewish youth together as a group to talk about their Jewishness and connection to Israel,” he reported. “Six times the topic of Israel did not come up until it was prompted. Six times these Jewish youth used the word ‘they‘ rather than ‘us‘ to describe the situation.”

That Luntz encountered indifference was not surprising. In recent years, several studies have revealed, in the words of Steven Cohen of Hebrew Union College and Ari Kelman of the University of California at Davis, that “non-Orthodox younger Jews, on the whole, feel much less attached to Israel than their elders,” with many professing “a near-total absence of positive feelings.” In 2008, the student senate at Brandeis, the only nonsectarian Jewish-sponsored university in America, rejected a resolution commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of the Jewish state.

Luntz’s task was to figure out what had gone wrong. When he probed the students’ views of Israel, he hit up against some firm beliefs. First, “they reserve the right to question the Israeli position.” These young Jews, Luntz explained, “resist anything they see as ‘group think.’” They want an “open and frank” discussion of Israel and its flaws. Second, “young Jews desperately want peace.” When Luntz showed them a series of ads, one of the most popular was entitled “Proof that Israel Wants Peace,” and listed offers by various Israeli governments to withdraw from conquered land. Third, “some empathize with the plight of the Palestinians.” When Luntz displayed ads depicting Palestinians as violent and hateful, several focus group participants criticized them as stereotypical and unfair, citing their own Muslim friends.

Most of the students, in other words, were liberals, broadly defined. They had imbibed some of the defining values of American Jewish political culture: a belief in open debate, a skepticism about military force, a commitment to human rights. And in their innocence, they did not realize that they were supposed to shed those values when it came to Israel. The only kind of Zionism they found attractive was a Zionism that recognized Palestinians as deserving of dignity and capable of peace, and they were quite willing to condemn an Israeli government that did not share those beliefs. Luntz did not grasp the irony. The only kind of Zionism they found attractive was the kind that the American Jewish establishment has been working against for most of their lives …

Morally, American Zionism is in a downward spiral. If the leaders of groups like AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations do not change course, they will wake up one day to find a younger, Orthodox-dominated, Zionist leadership whose naked hostility to Arabs and Palestinians scares even them, and a mass of secular American Jews who range from apathetic to appalled. Saving liberal Zionism in the United States—so that American Jews can help save liberal Zionism in Israel—is the great American Jewish challenge of our age. And it starts where Luntz’s students wanted it to start: by talking frankly about Israel’s current government, by no longer averting our eyes …

In theory, mainstream American Jewish organizations still hew to a liberal vision of Zionism. On its website, AIPAC  celebrates Israel’s commitment to “free speech and minority rights.” The Conference of Presidents declares that “Israel and the United States share political, moral and intellectual values including democracy, freedom, security and peace.” These groups would never say, as do some in Netanyahu’s coalition, that Israeli Arabs don’t deserve full citizenship and West Bank Palestinians don’t deserve human rights. But in practice, by defending virtually anything any Israeli government does, they make themselves intellectual bodyguards for Israeli leaders who threaten the very liberal values they profess to admire …

Not only does the organized American Jewish community mostly avoid public criticism of the Israeli government, it tries to prevent others from leveling such criticism as well. In recent years, American Jewish organizations have waged a campaign to discredit the world’s most respected international human rights groups. In 2006, Foxman called an Amnesty International report on Israeli killing of Lebanese civilians “bigoted, biased, and borderline anti-Semitic.” The Conference of Presidents has announced that “biased NGOs include Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Christian Aid, [and] Save the Children.” Last summer, an AIPAC spokesman declared that Human Rights Watch “has repeatedly demonstrated its anti-Israel bias.” When the Obama administration awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Mary Robinson, former UN high commissioner for human rights, the ADL and AIPAC both protested, citing the fact that she had presided over the 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa. (Early drafts of the conference report implicitly accused Israel of racism. Robinson helped expunge that defamatory charge, angering Syria and Iran) …

All of which raises an uncomfortable question. If American Jewish groups claim that Israel’s overseas human rights critics are motivated by anti- Israeli, if not anti-Semitic, bias, what does that say about Israel’s domestic human rights critics? The implication is clear: they must be guilty of self-hatred, if not treason. American Jewish leaders don’t generally say that, of course, but their allies in the Netanyahu government do. Last summer, Israel’s vice prime minister, Moshe Ya’alon, called the anti-occupation group Peace Now a “virus.” This January, a right-wing group called Im Tirtzu accused Israeli human rights organizations of having fed information to the Goldstone Commission that investigated Israel’s Gaza war. A Knesset member from Netanyahu’s Likud promptly charged Naomi Chazan, head of the New Israel Fund, which supports some of those human rights groups, with treason, and a member of Lieberman’s party launched an investigation aimed at curbing foreign funding of Israeli NGOs …

To sustain their uncritical brand of Zionism, therefore, America’s Jewish organizations will need to look elsewhere to replenish their ranks. They will need to find young American Jews who have come of age during the West Bank occupation but are not troubled by it. And those young American Jews will come disproportionately from the Orthodox world …

But it is this very parochialism—a deep commitment to Jewish concerns, which often outweighs more universal ones—that gives Orthodox Jewish Zionism a distinctly illiberal cast. The 2006 AJC  poll found that while 60 percent of non-Orthodox American Jews under the age of forty support a Palestinian state, that figure drops to 25 percent among the Orthodox. In 2009, when Brandeis University’s Theodore Sasson asked American Jewish focus groups about Israel, he found Orthodox participants much less supportive of dismantling settlements as part of a peace deal. Even more tellingly, Reform, Conservative, and unaffiliated Jews tended to believe that average Palestinians wanted peace, but had been ill-served by their leaders. Orthodox Jews, by contrast, were more likely to see the Palestinian people as the enemy, and to deny that ordinary Palestinians shared any common interests or values with ordinary Israelis or Jews.

Is ADM’s new gig forced child labor and deforestation?

ADM’s New Frontiers: Palm Oil Deforestation and Child Labor

Past This is Hell! guest Charlie Cray writes …

ADM used to be known as the country’s corporate welfare king, and its top executives drew headlines as they perp-walked to prison. That was then, when the company ran elaborate price-fixing schemes in the lysine and other global commodity markets. This is now:  For the second year in a row, ADM topped Fortune magazine’s list of most admired food production companies.

But underneath its improved public image, ADM’s major forays into new markets, including cocoa and palm oil, are raising concerns. This time they center on the impacts of the global food conglomerate’s supply chain, and on charges of complicity in forced child labor and massive deforestation …

Rather than replace palm oils and trans fats with healthier soy, corn, sunflower and peanut oils grown closer to home on land long used for agriculture, food producers are destroying virgin habitat while giving consumers no notification and little choice.

Vast areas of Indonesian rainforest have already been lost to palm oil monoculture, which has wiped out the habitats of precious Indonesian species, including orangutans, rhinos, Asian tigers, elephants, the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing (the largest butterfly in the world), and the slow lori – a primate described as one of the cutest mammals on the planet (google “slow lori” and judge for yourself).

The industry’s rapid expansion has also driven many small landholders and indigenous communities from ancestral lands, leaving them bereft of their traditional livelihoods and food security.

“Oil palm plantations have violated many local communities’ rights,” says Nordin, a leader of the Indonesian NGO Sawit Watch. “Their land has been wrestled away from them, their community members imprisoned, and their environment destroyed.”

For first time, scientists bring inanimate object to life
Financial Times

Scientists create a living organism

Scientists have turned inanimate chemicals into a living organism in an experiment that raises profound questions about the essence of life.

Craig Venter, the U.S. genomics pioneer, announced on Thursday that scientists at his laboratories in Maryland and California had succeeded in their 15-year project to make the world’s first “synthetic cells” — bacteria called Mycoplasma mycoides.

“We have passed through a critical psychological barrier,” Dr. Venter told the FT. “It has changed my own thinking, both scientifically and philosophically, about life, and how it works.”

Men who’ve used ED drugs, twice as likely to have hearing loss

Study: Viagra May Be Linked To Hearing Loss

It’s the little blue pill that works wonders for the sex life. But does taking Viagra increase the risk of hearing loss?

A new study is raising concern about a troubling side effect from Viagra and similar drugs.

Hearing expert Dr. Scott Messenger has learned to ask men of a certain age a certain question when they report sudden hearing loss.

“We are now asking, are you taking any erectile dysfunction medication?” Messenger said.

Soon after Viagra hit the market in 1998 a handful of reports began to surface of men suffering from sudden hearing loss after taking Viagra.

Three years ago the Food & Drug Administration ordered the makers of Viagra and similar drugs to include a hearing loss warning on their lengthy patient information forms.

That’s when a researcher from the University of Alabama-Birmingham decided to take a closer look. Click here to read the study.

He studied medical records of more than 11,000 men over the age of 40. Of those reporting hearing loss 3 percent had taken a drug for erectile dysfunction. But of those with “no” hearing loss only 1.4 percent had taken e-d drugs.

In other words, men who self-reported hearing loss were more than twice as likely to have used a type of erectile dysfunction medication in the past.