Monday, October 4 Nine Circles of Hell!


The Nine Circles of Hell! - all the news that gives you fits in print – for Monday, October 4, 2010, are:

Predatory lending targeting minorities fueled housing crisis

Gates Foundation buying into GM giant Monsanto, ‘Big Ag’ Cargill

Toxic mercury found in bird eggs downriver from oilsands sites

Costa Rica: poverty, pollution and pineapple production

Illegal fishing leads to “modern-day slavery” and European plates

Germany freaks out after cops injure protesters

First convictions of Israeli soldiers for actions during Gaza war

Pro-gun activists pushing carry laws state-by-state, bar-by-bar

Rahm Emmanuel’s Chicago citizenship questioned

Predatory lending targeting minorities fueled housing crisis

Racial predatory loans fueled U.S. housing crisis: study

Predatory lending aimed at racially segregated minority neighborhoods led to mass foreclosures that fueled the U.S. housing crisis, according to a new study published in the American Sociological Review.

Predatory lending typically refers to loans that carry unreasonable fees, interest rates and payment requirements.

Poorer minority areas became a focus of these practices in the 1990s with the growth of mortgage-backed securities, which enabled lenders to pool low- and high-risk loans to sell on the secondary market, Professor Douglas Massey of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and PhD candidate Jacob Rugh, said in their study.

The financial institutions likely to be found in minority areas tended to be predatory — pawn shops, payday lenders and check cashing services that “charge high fees and usurious rates of interest,” they said in the study.

“By definition, segregation creates minority dominant neighborhoods, which, given the legacy of redlining and institutional discrimination, continue to be underserved by mainstream financial institutions,” the study says.

Redlining is the practice of denying or increasing the cost of services, such as banking and insurance, to residents in specific areas, often based on race …

The study, which used data from the 100 largest U.S. metropolitan areas, found that living in a predominantly African-American area, and to a lesser extent Hispanic area, were “powerful predictors of foreclosures” in the nation.

Even African-Americans with similar credit profiles and down-payment ratios to white borrowers were more likely to receive subprime loans, according to the study.

“As a result, from 1993 to 2000, the share of subprime mortgages going to households in minority neighborhoods rose from 2 to 18 percent,” Massey and Rugh said.

They said the U.S. Civil Rights Act should be amended to create mechanisms that would uncover discrimination and penalize those who discriminated against minority borrowers.

Gates Foundation buying into GM giant Monsanto, ‘Big Ag’ Cargill
The Guardian

Why is the Gates foundation investing in GM giant Monsanto?

Past This is Hell! guest John Vidal writes …

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is sponsoring the Guardian’s Global development site is being heavily criticised in Africa and the US for getting into bed not just with notorious GM company Monsanto, but also with agribusiness commodity giant Cargill.

Trouble began when a US financial website published the foundation’s annual investment portfolio, which showed it had bought 500,000 Monsanto shares worth around $23m. This was a substantial increase in the last six months and while it is just small change for Bill and Melinda, it has been enough to let loose their fiercest critics …

But it got worse. South Africa-based watchdog the African Centre for Biosafety then found that the foundation was teaming up with Cargill in a $10m project to “develop the soya value chain” in Mozambique and elsewhere. Who knows what this corporate-speak really means, but in all probability it heralds the big time introduction of GM soya in southern Africa …

Few people doubt that GM has a place in Africa, but is Gates being hopelessly naïve by backing two of the world’s most aggressive agri-giants? There is, after all, genuine concern at governmental and community level that the United State’s model of extensive hi-tech farming is inappropriate for most of Africa and should not be foist on the poorest farmers in the name of “feeding the world”.

Toxic mercury found in bird eggs downriver from oilsands sites
The Canadian Press

Mercury in eggs downstream from oilsands grows 50 per cent: study

A study by Environment Canada indicates levels of toxic mercury in the eggs of water birds downstream from the oilsands industry seem to have grown by nearly 50 per cent over the last three decades.

The study, one of the few to compare the region’s ecosystem before and after its industrial boom, doesn’t tie the increased mercury specifically to energy development.

But the report’s author says its findings suggest that the Athabasca River is the source of at least some of that mercury.

“The fact that we see higher mercury at the sites that are downstream of the Athabasca River would suggest that the Athabasca is a significant source,” said biologist Craig Hebert, whose study is now under peer review prior to publication.

Hebert’s team travelled to three northern Alberta locations in 2009 to collect bird eggs in order to analyze contaminant levels in them. Two of those sites were in the Athabasca River delta; the third was on the Peace River.

“We know that bird eggs provide a pretty good indication of local contamination.”

While arsenic and hydrocarbon levels were found to be below detectable limits, mercury amounts were significantly higher — especially in the eggs taken from the Athabasca region.

But it wasn’t until the scientists searched the material collected and archived in Environment Canada storage vaults that they were able to draw any conclusions about what has been happening over time.

Hebert knew that scientists had been to the area back in the late 1970s. When he checked the archived collections, he found 10 eggs safely stored away at -40 C from the same nesting sites and the same species that his team had examined.

“That 1977 data … was pre- most of the development in the oilsands,” said Hebert. “It was like having a time machine.”

When the eggs were analyzed, scientists discovered that the 2009 eggs from California gulls had a mercury load 49 per cent higher than those from 1977.

“Contamination from oilsands development is one possibility,” the report says.

Costa Rica: poverty, pollution and pineapple production
The Guardian

Bitter fruit: The truth about supermarket pineapple

Late morning, and the suffocating heat of Costa Rica’s rainy season has turned the air over the plantation leaden. On the horizon, where the spikes of thousands of pineapple plants merge into a grey-green fog, sits a spraying machine. Settled and silent for now, like a giant stinging insect that has briefly come to land, its long stick arms are folded back above its head while the belly of the tank on the trailer behind it, marked with a skull and crossbones warning, is being refilled with its next toxic load. Then the whine starts up again, the arms unfold, the spray nozzles open and it sets off towards us.

Alongside me, Fernando Ramirez, leading agronomist at the National University’s toxic substances institute, is explaining the agrochemical cycle required to produce perfect luxury fruit from a tropical monoculture. “Pineapples need very large amounts of pesticides, about 20kg of active ingredient per hectare per cycle. The soil is sterilised; biodiversity is eliminated. Fourteen to 16 different types of treatment are typically needed, and many have to be applied several times. They use chemicals that are dangerous for the environment and human health.” The chemicals involved are legal in Costa Rica but include some of the most controversial in the world.

This intensive agriculture has delivered cheap pineapples and created a new market. Global production has risen by nearly 50% since 1998. Two US-based multinationals, Del Monte and Dole, dominate the trade, and three-quarters of the pineapples on European shop shelves now come from Costa Rica. Two years ago, the fruit became even cheaper, when it became the focus of a price war. Go into any supermarket today and you can see “half price” and “two for the price of one” offers on boxes of pineapples.

But this is an industry built on environmental degradation and poverty wages. Moreover, price cuts appear to have led to an immediate, sometimes brutal deterioration in conditions that were already poor. On a visit to Costa Rica in June to make a documentary with funding from Consumers International, I heard repeated allegations of chemical contamination, wage cuts, union-breaking involving mass sackings and accidental poisonings.

Like many other local experts, Ramirez, who is the country’s coordinator for the Pesticide Action Network, fears that the pineapple boom has outpaced the government’s ability to regulate it. “The fight now is against pineapples because there’s been an explosion in production, but it’s difficult because the owners of the plantations have very big political and economic influence.”

By now, the sprayer was bearing down on us and we reached for our masks. Then, out of nowhere, an armed guard rode up on his motorbike to inspect us. Costa Rica, with a population of just over 4m, has only 12,000 or so policemen and no army, but an estimated 17,000 gun-carrying security guards employed by private companies. We were standing resolutely on one of the many roads that are public rights of way but run right through the plantations. Across the road, a gang of a dozen or so workers who had been slumped, sweat-drenched, by a bank, snatching their day’s half-hour break, pulled themselves up, slung machetes over their shoulders and clambered on to the back of another trailer heading off to a picking area. The 12-hour piece-rate harvesting shift still had a long time to go. The guard talked urgently down his walkie-talkie to base, glared at us, then rode off in a cloud of red dust.

Ramirez continued describing his concerns. “Some of the plantations have used paraquat, for example, to clear the soil at very, very high doses, 10 to 15 times the normal dose on other crops; it’s banned in Europe. They use lots of herbicides because the EU will not allow even one weed in a container of imports. This is absolute monoculture, and that and the climate provide the perfect conditions for pests and diseases. They use organophosphates, organochlorines, hormone disruptors, chemicals that are known to cause cancer, chemicals that are reproductive toxins [cause birth defects]… Many are highly toxic, some are persistent pollutants.”

In its most recent tests on pineapples imported from Costa Rica, the UK government’s pesticide residues committee found 94% of samples contained residues of the fungicide triadimefon, a reproductive toxin and suspected hormone disruptor. None was above the legal limits, however, and the committee concluded they would not be expected to have an effect on consumer health. Other experts take the view that we should reduce our exposure to residues of this sort as much as possible, especially among vulnerable groups such as pregnant women and children.

The main burden of this constant agrochemical assault falls not on affluent western consumers, however, but on Costa Ricans – 90 complaints about public water relating to 19 pineapple companies are currently before the country’s environmental court, including some against the biggest producers. One involves the community of El Cairo, which sits below two vast plantations in Costa Rica’s Atlantic region, Hacienda Ojo de Agua and Finca Babilonia. The former is contracted to supply pineapples to Del Monte; the latter has been directly owned by Del Monte since 2008.

Illegal fishing leads to “modern-day slavery” and European plates
The Guardian

‘Slavery’ uncovered on trawlers fishing for Europe

Forced labour and human rights abuses involving African crews have been uncovered on trawlers fishing illegally for the European market by investigators for an environmental campaign group.

The Environmental Justice Foundation found conditions on board including incarceration, violence, withholding of pay, confiscation of documents, confinement on board for months or even years, and lack of clean water.

The EJF found hi-tech vessels operating without appropriate licences in fishing exclusion zones off the coast of Sierra Leone and Guinea over the last four years. The ships involved all carried EU numbers, indicating that they were licensed to import to Europe having theoretically passed strict hygiene standards.

“We didn’t set out to look at human rights but rather to tackle the illegal fishing that’s decimating fish stocks, but having been on board we have seen conditions that unquestionably meet the UN official definition of forced labour or modern-day slavery,” EJF investigator Duncan Copeland said. A report on the abuses is published by the foundation today.

Its photographs and film of the areas in which the crews were working and sleeping show quarters with ceilings less than a metre high where the men cannot stand up. Temperatures in the fish holds on some vessels where men were being required to sort, process and pack fish for lucrative European and Asian markets were 40 to 45 degrees, with no ventilation, On some vessels the crews of up to 200 had little access to clean drinking water.

The trawlers have mostly been identified engaging in pirate fishing off west Africa. Many of the men on board have been recruited from the area around the Senegalese capital, Dakar. Others have been recruited from rural areas of Asia, including China and Vietnam, by agents.

Germany freaks out after cops injure protesters
Der Spiegel

Germany Shocked by ‘Disproportionate’ Police Action in Stuttgart

A hardline police operation against demonstrators protesting against a new railway station project in Stuttgart has shocked Germany, after more than 100 people were injured by tear gas and water cannon. German commentators argue that the police went overboard and warn of more violence to come.

The controversial Stuttgart 21 railway project has been the focus of increasing protests in recent months. But Thursday seemed to mark a turning point as the conflict between the authorities and protesters escalated dramatically.

Around 600 police used water cannon, tear gas, pepper spray and batons in an operation against over 1,000 demonstrators in the southwestern city of Stuttgart on Thursday. The activists had tried to use a sit-down protest to prevent the city’s Schlossgarten park from being cleared so that work could begin on felling trees in the park as part of construction work on the new station. Thursday’s protests were attended by a broad cross-section of society, including pensioners and children.

The protest’s organizers said in a statement that more than 400 protestors had suffered eye irritation as a result of the police’s operation, with some suffering from lacerations or broken noses.

The German Red Cross said on Friday morning that 114 demonstrators had been treated on site, and a further 16 were taken to hospitals. Among the injured were school children who had been taking part in an officially registered demonstration.

Images of people bleeding from the eye after being hit by water cannon featured on German television and newspapers Friday. One 22-year-old protestor suffered a serious eye injury after being hit in the right eye by a water cannon jet, a Stuttgart doctor told the news agency DPA, adding that the man might lose his sight in that eye as a result.

The Stuttgart 21 project involves moving the city’s main railway station underground and turning it from a terminus into a through station. The project is controversial partly because of its price tag — it is slated to cost €4.1 billion ($5.38 billion) — and because of the trees that will be cut down in the Schlossgarten park. There is also criticism that the project does not make sense from a transport point of view, as few main lines go through the city …

Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel felt obliged to comment on Thursday’s events. “I would like it if such demonstrations proceeded peacefully,” she told the regional public broadcaster SWR, which broadcasts in the southwest of Germany. “Anything that could lead to violence has to be avoided.” She defended the Stuttgart 21 project as sensible and right.

The escalation is likely to cause political problems for the state government, a coalition of Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the business-friendly Free Democratic Union. State elections will be held next March, and the Stuttgart 21 project is already a key campaign issue. The CDU has been in government in Baden-Württemberg for 57 years. If it were to lose the election, it would be a blow to the chancellor and her national government.

First convictions of Israeli soldiers for actions during Gaza war
The New York Times

Israeli Soldiers Convicted of Using Boy as Shield

An Israeli military court convicted two soldiers on Sunday of using a 9-year-old Palestinian boy as a human shield by forcing him to check bags for explosives in Israel’s 2008-9 Gaza war.

The court said that the two soldiers, both infantry sergeants, had taken part in an operation to seize an apartment building in Tel al-Hawa, a southern suburb of Gaza City, while under attack from Hamas fighters.

A summary of the court’s judgment provided by the military spokesman’s office said the two had rounded up civilians and come upon bags in a bathroom. They grabbed the child and ordered him to check the bags for booby traps.

“The boy, who feared for his fate and was pressured by the situation, wet his pants,” the judges said, pointedly noting that, “unlike the soldiers, the boy had no means of personal protection.”

After the boy emptied the contents of one bag and had trouble opening a second, one of the soldiers shot at the second bag. The boy was returned, terrified but unharmed, to his family.

Sunday’s convictions, which could carry prison terms, are the first serious ones in Israel’s criminal investigations into the conduct of its soldiers during the three-week Gaza invasion aimed at stopping rocket fire at Israeli communities. The army says it looked into 48 cases, and a third of them are still in progress.

In July, the army indicted several officers and soldiers for actions during the offensive, including a staff sergeant accused of deliberately shooting at least one Palestinian civilian who was walking with a group of people waving a white flag.

But human rights groups say that the military’s criminal proceedings are insufficient and that Israeli troops carried out a number of atrocities that require outside investigation.

Pro-gun activists pushing carry laws state-by-state, bar-by-bar
The New York Times

More States Allowing Guns in Bars

Happy-hour beers were going for $5 at Past Perfect, a cavernous bar just off this city’s strip of honky-tonks and tourist shops when Adam Ringenberg walked in with a loaded 9-millimeter pistol in the front pocket of his gray slacks.

Mr. Ringenberg, a technology consultant, is one of the state’s nearly 300,000 handgun permit holders who have recently seen their rights greatly expanded by a new law — one of the nation’s first — that allows them to carry loaded firearms into bars and restaurants that serve alcohol.

“If someone’s sticking a gun in my face, I’m not relying on their charity to keep me alive,” said Mr. Ringenberg, 30, who said he carries the gun for personal protection when he is not at work.

Gun rights advocates like Mr. Ringenberg may applaud the new law, but many customers, waiters and restaurateurs here are dismayed by the decision.

“That’s not cool in my book,” Art Andersen, 44, said as he nursed a Coors Light at Sam’s Sports Bar and Grill near Vanderbilt University. “It opens the door to trouble. It’s giving you the right to be Wyatt Earp.”

Tennessee is one of four states, along with Arizona, Georgia and Virginia, that recently enacted laws explicitly allowing loaded guns in bars. (Eighteen other states allow weapons in restaurants that serve alcohol.) The new measures in Tennessee and the three other states come after two landmark Supreme Court rulings that citizens have an individual right — not just in connection with a well-regulated militia — to keep a loaded handgun for home defense.

Experts say these laws represent the latest wave in the country’s gun debate, as the gun lobby seeks, state by state, to expand the realm of guns in everyday life.

The rulings, which overturned handgun bans in Washington and Chicago, have strengthened the stance of gun rights advocates nationwide. More than 250 lawsuits now challenge various gun laws, and Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, a Republican, called for guns to be made legal on campuses after a shooting last week at the University of Texas, Austin, arguing that armed bystanders might have stopped the gunman.

The new laws have also brought to light the status of 20 other states — New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts among them — that do not address the question, appearing by default to allow those with permits to carry guns into establishments that serve alcohol, according to the Legal Community Against Violence, a nonprofit group that promotes gun control and tracks state gun laws …

Down at Bobby’s Idle Hour, however, Mike Gideon said he did not believe that guns in bars were unsafe. As he sipped a beer in the fading afternoon light, Mr. Gideon, who characterized his 19-gun collection as “serious,” said that having a few permit holders around made any public space safer and that he boycotts any business that does not allow him to carry a weapon.

“People who have gun permits have the cleanest records around,” said Mr. Gideon, 54. “The guy that’s going to do the bad thing? He’s not worried about the law at all. The ‘No Guns’ sign just says to him, ‘Hey, buddy, smooth sailing.’ ”

Rahm Emmanuel’s Chicago citizenship questioned
Chicago Sun-Times

Experts say Rahm Emanuel not a legal resident of city

The first question isn’t: Can Rahm win? It’s: Can Rahm run?

Sunday, Rahm Emanuel announced in a video posted on a website that he is preparing to run for mayor of Chicago. But two of Chicago’s top election lawyers say the state’s municipal code is crystal clear that a candidate for mayor must reside in the town for a year before the election.

That doesn’t mean they must simply own a home in the city that they rent out to someone else. They must have a place they can walk into, keep a toothbrush, hang up their jacket and occasionally sleep, the lawyers say.

Another three election lawyers say Emanuel could be thrown off the ballot on a residency challenge. None says Emanuel will have it easy.

Today, Emanuel launches his “listening tour” of Chicago neighborhoods — taking his message and open ears, he says, to Chicago’s “grocery stores, L stops, bowling alleys and hot dog stands.”

Though he was widely expected to run, Sunday’s video was his first statement of his intentions since Mayor Daley announced he would not seek another term. Friday, Emanuel left Washington and his job as White House chief of staff.

Ironically, President Obama would have no problem coming back to Chicago to run for mayor because he never rented out his home and has come back to stay there on rare occasions.

“He has a physical location that he owns and has exclusive right to live in,” said attorney Jim Nally.

But Emanuel’s problem as he prepares to run for mayor is that he rented out his house, and the tenant refuses to back out of the lease.