4 weeks ago
Friday, October 29 Nine Circles of Hell!
The Nine Circles of Hell! – all the news that gives you fits in print – for Friday, October 29, 2010, are:
Gulf fishermen find new six mile-long oil plume
Scientists Find New Oil Plume In Gulf
Scientists speaking at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show say they continue to see effects of the BP oil spill surfacing in the Gulf of Mexico.
At a conference Thursday, scientists with a group called the International SeaKeepers Society, unveiled a map showing a new plume of oil — about 6 miles long — that’s been discovered in the Gulf by fishermen.
“They described it as having millions of specks of reddish-brown oil in it,” Dr. Mark Luther from the University of South Florida told CBS 4′s Carey Codd.
Scientists cannot say for certain that the plume is from the BP spill, but they said it’s a possibility.
Luther said the oil appears not to be toxic. “It’s not in any concentration that is going to foul the beaches or make seafood inedible.”
However Luther said that since so much oil spilled — millions of barrels– a lot of it sank to deep waters. He said the oil down below will not decay as quickly as oil on the surface and it will eventually rise to the top.
“There’s likely to be effects for years or even decades because there’s so much oil that’s still out there,” Luther said. “We just don’t know where it is.”
Luther is especially worried about how the oil will affect generations of fish.
US wind industry has slowest quarter since 2007
The New York Times
Wind Power Growth Slows to 2007 Levels
In July, the American Wind Energy Association reported that it was having a lousy year. It appears the third quarter of 2010 wasn’t much better.
According to an analysis to be released on Friday, the trade group reports having its slowest quarter since 2007, adding just 395 megawatts of wind power capacity.
For the year to date, new installations were down 72 percent.
The reasons are many.
For starters, as any number of unemployed Americans can testify, the nation’s economic engines just aren’t humming like they used to, and that means less demand for electricity over all. Natural gas, the chief fossil-fuel competitor to renewable sources of electricity, is also dirt cheap these days, making wind power a tougher sell for cost-conscious utilities and state regulators.
But the wind association — and advocates for increased renewable electricity capacity over all — argue that policy is a problem, too. Despite lots of talk on Capitol Hill about the hazards of fossil fuels, their contribution to climate change and the need for broad, long-term supports for the renewables industry, legislators have failed to reach agreement on what that might look like.
Absent such policies, they argue, investment is riskier, clean power deals are harder to broker and entrenched fossil-fuel sources like coal and natural gas enjoy an advantage.
Most Americans “concerned” about next mortgage payment
The Washington Post
Most Americans worry about ability to pay mortgage or rent, poll finds
A majority of Americans now say they are worried about making their mortgage or rent payments, underscoring the extent of economic anxiety in the country heading into midterm elections.
A new Washington Post poll shows that concerns about housing payments have spiked since 2008 despite some improvements in the overall economy. In all, 53 percent said they are “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” about having the money to make their monthly payment. Worries are the most intense among those with lower incomes and among African Americans.
The poll results highlight the political challenge facing the Obama administration: Despite committing hundreds of billions of dollars to bail out troubled financial firms, create jobs and keep distressed borrowers in their homes, it has not been able to make many people feel better about their personal situations or even relieve fears about the cost of a need as basic as shelter.
The recent foreclosure mess provides another example of this gap between the policy decisions in Washington and the sentiment of ordinary Americans. The poll reveals that just over half of the country thinks the administration should impose a national moratorium on foreclosures to sort out whether banks are improperly seizing the homes of struggling borrowers. But the White House rejected that idea, saying it would gravely wound the fragile housing market.
America’s secret spy budget more than triples in 12 years
Los Angeles Times
Overall U.S. intelligence budget tops $80 billion
The U.S. government on Thursday disclosed for the first time in more than a decade what it spent in total on intelligence gathering in the fiscal year that just ended: $80.1 billion.
That’s more than the U.S. spent on the Department of Homeland Security ($53 billion) and the Justice Department ($30 billion), according to figures from the White House Office of Management and Budget. It represents about 12% of the nation’s $664-billion defense budget.
The total intelligence budget has doubled since 2001, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said in a statement.
“It is clear that the overall spending on intelligence has blossomed to an unacceptable level in the past decade,” said Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, which sets the budget and oversees policy.
Intelligence spending has long been classified, but in 2007 the government began revealing part of it — but only the amount not devoted purely to military operations. That figure, known as the National Intelligence Program, was $52.1 billion for fiscal year 2010, which ended Sept. 30, up 6.6% from the previous year.
The government revealed the total intelligence budget twice before, in 1997 and 1998, in response to a lawsuit. It was $26.6 billion and $26.7 billion, respectively, meaning the budget has tripled in 12 years.
Obama “undercutting” Bush-approved Child Soldiers Prevention Act
The Associated Press
US waiving penalties for use of child soldiers
In a move criticized by human rights organizations, the Obama administration has decided to exempt Yemen and three other countries that use child soldiers from U.S. penalties under the 2008 Child Soldiers Prevention Act.
In a memorandum to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, President Barack Obama said he had determined that “it is in the national interest of the United States” to waive application of the law to Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan and Yemen. He instructed Clinton to submit the decision to the Congress with a written justification for the move.
Obama’s memo, released by the White House on Monday, did not include the justification. Administration officials have said, however, that cutting off military aid to those four countries as required by the law would do more harm than good. And they have said that continuing close cooperation with them can be a more effective way of changing their practices.
Jo Becker, children’s rights director at Human Rights Watch, said Obama had supported the legislation when he was in the Senate.
“This is a ground breaking law,” she said. “This is the first year it has taken effect and he’s undercutting it.”
The law was signed by President George W. Bush shortly before he left office but did not take effect until this year.
America’s double-standard on domestic, international flight security
UK airlines back call for airport security changes
The UK airline industry has backed British Airways chairman Martin Broughton’s call for changes to airport security checks.
Mike Carrivick, of BAR UK, which represents more than 80 airlines, said the industry should “step back and have a look at the whole situation”.
The Department for Transport said there were no plans to change rules on checking laptops and shoes.
Mr Broughton said some “completely redundant” security checks should go.
Practices such as forcing passengers to take off their shoes should be abandoned, he added.
He also criticised the US for imposing increased checks on US-bound flights but not on its own domestic services, saying the UK should stop “kowtowing” to US security demands.
And he questioned why laptop computers needed to be screened separately.
Mr Carrivick, of BAR UK, which represents scheduled airlines such as Virgin Atlantic and BMI, said airport security seemed to be a “layered approach”.
He added: “Every time there is a new security scare, an extra layer is added on to procedures.
“We need to step back and have a look at the whole situation. Standards change fairly regularly and this puts pressure on airports and airlines. We need to decide what we are trying to do and how best to do it” …
The US stepped up security in January in the wake of an alleged bomb plot.
It introduced tougher screening rules, including body pat-down searches and carry-on baggage checks, for passengers arriving from 14 nations which the authorities deem to be a security risk.
Passengers from any foreign country may also be checked at random.
Speaking at the UK Airport Operators’ Association annual conference, Mr Broughton said that no-one wanted weaker security.
But he was quoted by the Financial Times as telling the conference: “We all know there’s quite a number of elements in the security programme which are completely redundant and they should be sorted out.”
Mr Broughton, who is also chairman of Liverpool FC, added the UK should only agree to security checks that the US requires for passengers on domestic flights.
“America does not do internally a lot of the things they demand that we do,” he said. “We shouldn’t stand for that.
“We should say, ‘We’ll only do things which we consider to be essential and that you Americans also consider essential’” …
Chris Yates, an aviation security analyst, said scanning technology was sufficient to detect any suspicious devices.
He added: “We need to keep passengers safe, but there’s also a whole bunch of security rules that could be eased out.
“We could be talking about getting rid of the shoe check, because the metal detectors at airports are sensitive enough to pick up the metal strap in my leather shoe, so they should be able to detect whatever might else be hidden in the heel of that shoe.
“There are better ways in which we can do things now at the airport checkpoint. The redesign of that checkpoint, in my opinion, is long overdue.”
Col Richard Kemp, who was a member of the national crisis-management committee Cobra between 2002 and 2006, said a universal approach to airport security was needed.
“One of the key points in this is consistency, to make sure that if a security measure is necessary it’s universally applied.
“I think people are annoyed and rightly; some airlines or some airports want one thing done, others don’t and it doesn’t make sense to the public.”
And Admiral Lord West, a security minister in the previous Labour government, agreed security checks had become far too complicated.
“We were already talking with the Europeans and, of course, the problem is there’s American demands as well.
“Just from my travelling in America it does seem that they have very different standards travelling within [the US].
“So I think the government does need… to push very hard to rationalise these things, working with airport authorities, with the airlines and getting a Europe-wide agreement.”
Iraqis ask government to investigate Wikileaks’ torture claims
The Associated Press
Iraqi Lawmakers Demand Inquiry of Abuse Claims
The Iraqi prime minister’s political opponents demanded Thursday that parliament hold a special session to investigate claims that prisoners have been tortured by his government.
Lawmakers from the Sunni-backed Iraqiya group have seized on the abuse allegations that surfaced last week in a cache of secret U.S. military documents released by online whistle-blower WikiLeaks as evidence that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is unfit to govern. Al-Maliki, meanwhile, has attacked the WikiLeaks release as an attempt to undermine him as he seeks to clench a second term in office.
Parliament has been stalled while Iraqiya and al-Maliki’s Shiite-led coalition battle for the right to form a new government after inconclusive March 7 elections.
“The representatives of the people should not be any less humane than the international organizations that have called for an investigation,” Iraqiya spokesman Haidar al-Mullah told reporters.
He said the inquiry would focus in part on al-Maliki’s oversight of Iraqi security forces in his role as the nation’s commander in chief since some of the alleged abuse by Iraqi security forces occurred after he became prime minister in May 2006 …
The reports of alleged abuse of mostly Sunni detainees at the hands of the Shiite-dominated Iraqi security forces has reignited Sunni fears of another four years under al-Maliki, despite the prime minister’s efforts to portray himself as a national leader above sectarian divisions.
Al-Maliki’s office has insisted the documents show no proof that detainees were abused under his watch.
Uganda’s violent homophobia reignited
Mail & Guardian
Gay Ugandans targeted after outing
Heather Kitaka (not her real name) was in her Kampala home on October 15, listening to music, when it began.
“It started at 3pm and went on all night. People started throwing stones through my gate and shouting. My friends came and said: “Look, you have to leave; you have to get out of here.” So the next day, I left. I haven’t been back since.”
Kitaka is one of 100 people listed in an October 9 article in Uganda’s Rolling Stone newspaper, which featured a list of the country’s 100 “top” homosexuals. Across the front-page story ran a bright, yellow banner that read: “Hang them.”
At least three other people have been attacked and many more are in hiding since the publication in the two-month-old newspaper, started by journalism students.
It included the photos and addresses of many of those “named and shamed”, with claims that the country’s gay community was trying to “recruit” a million children by raiding schools and that a deadly disease causing “shattered flesh” was spreading through it.
This is not the first time that a Ugandan newspaper has ousted members of the country’s gay community …
The articles and the reaction to them underscores the growing homophobia in the country, say the country’s gay community, a year after a Ugandan MP drew up a Bill in Parliament that would have imposed the death penalty for some homosexual acts and life in prison for others.
The legislation was introduced after the visit in March last year of Scott Lively, an American evangelist, and two other American fundamentalist Christians warning about “the gay agenda” and the threat homosexuals posed to the traditional African family.
The Bill has since been suspended in response to pressure from international donors, but the country’s gay community says that it has done its job of seeding prejudice in the East African nation.
“It’s getting worse. Gays were harassed before the Bill was introduced, but since its introduction it has escalated. More people are being beaten up, chased from their churches and evicted from their homes,” said Julian Onziema of the rights group Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMU) …
“Things are getting worse,” said Kitaka. “People are so scared that they’re going back into the closet. But some of us don’t have that option any more.”
Superstitions and the people who believe in them
Superstitious Beliefs Getting More Common
It’s that time of year again. Ghosts, goblins and other spooky characters come out from the shadows and into our everyday lives.
For most people, the thrill lasts for a few weeks each October. But for true believers, the paranormal is an everyday fact, not just a holiday joke.
To understand what drives some people to truly believe, two sociologists visited psychic fairs, spent nights in haunted houses, trekked with Bigfoot hunters, sat in on support groups for people who had been abducted by aliens, and conducted two nationwide surveys.
Contrary to common stereotypes, the research revealed no single profile of a person who accepts the paranormal. Believers ranged from free-spirited types with low incomes and little education to high-powered businessmen. Some were drifters; others were brain surgeons.
Why people believed also varied, the researchers report in a new book, called “Paranormal America: Ghost Encounters, UFO Sightings, Bigfoot Hunts, and Other Curiosities in Religion and Culture.”
For some, the paranormal served as just another way of explaining the world. For others, extraordinary phenomena offered opportunities to chase mysteries, experience thrills and even achieve celebrity status, if they could actually find proof.
“It’s almost like an adult way to get that kidlike need for adventure and exploration,” said co-author Christopher Bader, of Baylor University in Waco, Texas. “Other people are sitting at home and renting videos, but you’re sitting in a haunted house that is infested with demons” …
When the scientists broke down the results, they found that people who are moderately religious are most likely to believe in the paranormal. This could be because they are open enough to believe in the unknown, but not so rigid in their religious beliefs to reject mysterious experiences altogether.
The numbers also showed that different types of paranormal entities appeal to different demographics. Women, for instance, are most likely to believe they live in haunted houses. College graduates are most likely to have out-of-body experiences. Unmarried white men are most likely to believe in UFOs.
Bigfoot hunters were perhaps the most surprising group, Bader said. They defied all stereotypes of paranormal pursuers who wear flowing clothes and commune with spirits.
Instead, they were very serious, extremely conventional and often highly professional. In fact, their beliefs contradicted their lifestyles so much that many of them were plagued by anxiety, which drove them even further to stick to their beliefs.
“Their friends and family consider them kooky,” Bader said. “Everyone is saying they’re nuts. So, they have a real aggressive style and seriousness of purpose. They want to prove everyone wrong.”
For one hunter, the search began one day when he was out in the woods and, he swears, he saw Bigfoot cross his path.
“Imagine the stress that would put on your life,” Bader said. “You consider yourself a normal, smart guy, and you think you just saw a giant monkey walk in front of you. Now, you have to fit that into your life.”
“These are not people trying to explain a crazy world,” he added. “They are trying to prove to themselves that they aren’t crazy.”
Regardless of the person or the phenomenon, paranormal experiences are purely quirks of the human brain, said Michael Shermer, executive director of the Skeptics Society, an educational organization, and founding publisher of Skeptic magazine.
Whether it’s hearing creaks in an old house or watching dots move randomly on a computer screen, he said, people tend to look for patterns and meanings in everything.
“The default condition in brain is that all patterns are real,” Shermer said. “It’s just what we do.”