Nine Circles of Hell! for Monday, August 22 Nine Circles of Hell!


The Nine Circles of Hell! – all the news that gives you fits in print – for Monday, August 22, 2011, are:

Lawsuit claims Wisconsin voter ID law is unconstitutional

GOP wants tax break to end that Obama wants to continue

Culture of consumerism behind UK riots

Tunisian women say rights threatened by post-uprising conservatism

So, who gets Libya’s oil?

Hamas claims Israel, Gaza factions have ceasefire as shells fall

Bahrain crackdown probe shut down by angry mob fearing whitewash

Obama New York AG pressures to drop foreclosure settlement opposition

Last year, judges found federal prosecutors violated laws, ethics rules

Lawsuit claims Wisconsin voter ID law is unconstitutional
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

Wisconsin’s photo ID law for voters to face lawsuit

In approving one of the strongest photo ID requirements in the country for voters, GOP lawmakers and Gov. Scott Walker violated a few little-noted paragraphs of the state constitution – so say opponents of the law who are preparing a legal challenge to it.

But Republicans dismissed that claim, saying that in writing the legislation earlier this year they took care not to violate the federal or state constitution. They said the current objections over the state’s charter show photo ID opponents are recognizing the difficulties of a federal lawsuit over the law.

A lawsuit being prepared by the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin will allege that the law violates right to vote provisions of the state constitution not present in the U.S. Constitution. The group plans to file its lawsuit in Dane County Circuit Court, its attorney Lester Pines said.

“It is absolutely clear that the Legislature paid no attention to the (right to vote) provisions of the Wisconsin Constitution when it passed voter ID,” Pines said. “I’m not aware of any point in which they came up.”

GOP wants tax break to end that Obama wants to continue
The Associated Press

GOP may OK tax increase that Obama hopes to block

News flash: Congressional Republicans want to raise your taxes.

Impossible, right? GOP lawmakers are so virulently anti-tax, surely they will fight to prevent a payroll tax increase on virtually every wage-earner starting Jan. 1, right?

Many of the same Republicans who fought hammer-and-tong to keep the George W. Bush-era income tax cuts from expiring on schedule are now saying a different “temporary” tax cut should end as planned. By their own definition, that amounts to a tax increase.

The tax break extension they oppose is sought by President Barack Obama. Unlike proposed changes in the income tax, this policy helps the 46 percent of all Americans who owe no federal income taxes but who pay a “payroll tax” on practically every dime they earn.

There are other differences as well, and Republicans say their stand is consistent with their goal of long-term tax policies that will spur employment and lend greater certainty to the economy.

“It’s always a net positive to let taxpayers keep more of what they earn,” says Rep. Jeb Hensarling, “but not all tax relief is created equal for the purposes of helping to get the economy moving again.” The Texas lawmaker is on the House GOP leadership team.

The debate is likely to boil up in coming weeks as a special bipartisan committee seeks big deficit reductions and weighs which tax cuts are sacrosanct.

At issue is a tax that the vast majority of workers pay, but many don’t recognize because they don’t read, or don’t understand their pay stubs. Workers normally pay 6.2 percent of their wages toward a tax designated for Social Security. Their employer pays an equal amount, for a total of 12.4 percent per worker.

As part of a bipartisan spending deal last December, Congress approved Obama’s request to reduce the workers’ share to 4.2 percent for one year; employers’ rate did not change. Obama wants Congress to extend the reduction for an additional year. If not, the rate will return to 6.2 percent on Jan. 1.

Obama cited the payroll tax in his weekend radio and Internet address Saturday, when he urged Congress to work together on measures that help the economy and create jobs. “There are things we can do right now that will mean more customers for businesses and more jobs across the country. We can cut payroll taxes again, so families have an extra $1,000 to spend,” he said.

Social Security payroll taxes apply only to the first $106,800 of a worker’s wages. Therefore, $2,136 is the biggest benefit anyone can gain from the one-year reduction.

The great majority of Americans make less than $106,800 a year. Millions of workers pay more in payroll taxes than in federal income taxes.

The 12-month tax reduction will cost the government about $120 billion this year, and a similar amount next year if it’s renewed.

Culture of consumerism behind UK riots

UK riots were product of consumerism and will hit economy, says City broker

The recent riots in London and other big cities were the product of an “out-of-control consumerist ethos” which will have profound impacts for the UK economy, a leading City broker has said.

The report by Tullett Prebon warns: “The consumerist ethos, in which a materialist vision is both peddled and, for the vast majority, simultaneously ruled out by exclusion, has extremely damaging consequences, both social and economic.”

The report, the firm’s global head of research Tim Morgan, the report is part of a series one of in a series put out by in which the brokerage in which it analyses bigger issues for the UK. Last month, the brokerTullett Prebon issued a report on the UK’s economic situation as part of Morgan’s Project Armageddon.

The report details recommendations to resolve what it sees as a political and economic malaise: new role models, policies to encourage savings, the channelling of private investment into creating rather than inflating assets, and greater public investment.

“We conclude that the rioting reflects a deeply flawed economic and social ethos… recklessly borrowed consumption, the breakdown both of top-end accountability and of trust in institutions, and severe failings by governments over more than two decades.”

The note pinpoints the philosophy behind the riots as consumerism, which is also “the underlying message of the advertising and marketing industries, and huge budgets are devoted to pushing a message which, updated from Déscartes, is: ‘I buy, therefore I am’ “.

A typical internet user sees a hundred adverts an hour, the report says, and the underlying message many receive is: “Here’s the ideal. You can’t have it.” Accompanying this is an inflation of government and private debt, a key theme of Dr Morgan’s other work …

“The dominant ethos of ‘I buy, therefore I am’ needs to be challenged by a shift of emphasis from material to non-material values. David Cameron’s ‘big society’ project may contribute to the inculcation of more socially-oriented values, but much more will need to be done to challenge the out-of-control consumerist ethos.

“The government, too, needs to consume less, and invest more. Government spending has increased by more than 50% in real terms over the last decade, but public investment has languished. Saving needs to be encouraged, and private investment needs to be channelled into asset creation, not asset inflation.”

Dr Morgan adds: “A young person who tries to become the next Alan Sugar or James Dyson is as likely to fall short as if he or she sets out to become the next global football star.

Tunisian women say rights threatened by post-uprising conservatism
Al Jazeera

Tunisia: Women’s rights hang in the balance

For 55 years, Tunisia celebrated Women’s Day every August 13, representing the push for gender equality that has been one of the hallmarks of the North African nation’s post-colonial era.

Women were active players in the uprising that ended the rule of Zine Abidine Ben Ali, and many hope that event will translate into a more visible role in the country’s soon-to-be democratic political life.

Yet some are worried that the rights women have enjoyed for the past five decades might soon be swept away by the tide of social conservatism that has emerged in the wake of the uprising.

“We know that the former regime took advantage of women’s rights,” says Faiza Skandrani, who founded an organisation called Equality and Parity shortly after the uprising.

Despite the legal rights, women suffered from the same climate of fear and oppression as men, she says.

Now that the old regime is out, activists are hoping that this will mean women will become politically empowered and active members of the new democracy.

Not everyone shares the same vision of what the new Tunisia should look like, and Skandrani says that women’s rights activists are facing a conservative backlash that is drowning out other perspectives in the media.

“It is very difficult for us to have our voices heard, whether on the TV or the radio,” she says. For women and men alike, everything hinges on the election of the constituent assembly on October 23.

So, who gets Libya’s oil?
The New York Times

The Scramble for Access to Libya’s Oil Wealth Begins

Even before Libyan rebels could take full control of Tripoli, Foreign Minister Franco Frattini of Italy said on state television Monday that the Italian oil company Eni “will have a No. 1 role in the future” in the North African country.

Mr. Frattini even reported that Eni technicians were already on their way to eastern Libya to restart production. But Eni quickly denied that it had sent any personnel to the still-unsettled region, which is Italy’s largest source of imported oil.

The awkward exchange suggested that the scramble to secure access to Libya’s oil wealth is already on. Libyan production has been largely shut down during the long conflict between rebel forces and troops loyal to Libya’s leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi.

Eni, as well as BP of Britain, Total of France and OMV of Austria, were all big producers before the fighting and stand to gain the most once the conflict ends. American companies like Hess, ConocoPhillips and Marathon also made deals with the Qaddafi regime, although the United States relies on Libya for less than 1 percent of its imports.

But it’s unclear whether a rebel government would honor the contracts struck by the Qaddafi regime.

Even before taking power, the rebels were suggesting that they would remember their friends and foes, and negotiate deals accordingly.

“We don’t have a problem with Western countries like Italians, French and U.K. companies,” Abdeljalil Mayouf, a spokesman for the Libyan rebel oil company Agoco, was quoted as saying by Reuters. “But we may have some political issues with Russia, China and Brazil.”

Russia, China and Brazil did not back strong sanctions on the Qaddafi regime, and they generally supported a negotiated settlement to the fighting. All three countries have large oil companies that are seeking deals in Africa for oil reserves.

Before fighting broke out in February, Libya exported 1.3 million barrels of oil a day. While that is less than 2 percent of world supplies, only Nigeria, Algeria and a few other countries can supply equivalent grades of sweet crude that many refineries around the world depend on.

The European benchmark price for oil fell moderately on Monday morning on speculation that Libyan oil production would quickly begin ramping up again. Brent crude oil prices initially dropped more than 3 percent, but in midafternoon trading in New York, Brent was at $107.60 a barrel, down $1.02. The American benchmark crude, which is less sensitive to events in the Middle East, was up slightly to $83.36.

Hamas claims Israel, Gaza factions have ceasefire as shells fall
Al Jazeera

Hamas says Gaza ceasefire agreed

Palestinian fighters in the Gaza Strip fired several rockets into southern Israel overnight, according to Israeli police, as a Hamas official said Palestinian factions and Israel had agreed to observe a ceasefire after three days of border unrest.

The number of rockets and mortars fired overnight ranged from five to 15, news agencies reported, saying most of the projectiles fell in open fields and caused no injuries.

Israel has launched a series of air strikes against Gaza since Thursday after an attack by gunmen in southern Israel left eight Israelis dead.

At least nine Palestinians, including a 13-year-old boy, were wounded on Sunday from Israeli drones and F-16 fighter jet attacks, Al Jazeera’s producer reported from Gaza City. The AFP news agency also published pictures of a man it said was wounded following an Israeli attack in Gaza on Monday.

At least 15 Palestinians have been killed in air strikes since Thursday.

Ghazi Hamad, Hamas’ deputy foreign minister, told Al Jazeera on Monday that both sides had reached an informal ceasefire through Egyptian and UN mediation.

Gaza’s Popular Resistance Committees, which have claimed responsibility for many of the rocket attacks, said on Monday it would abide by the temporary agreement.

“We have temporarily stopped firing rockets at Israel according to the national consensus,” the group said at a press conference in Gaza City, the AFP reported.

Mark Regev, the spokesman for the Israeli prime minister, told Al Jazeera that the Israeli government was not commenting on reports of a ceasefire.

Bahrain crackdown probe shut down by angry mob fearing whitewash
Agence France Presse

Bahrain probe shuts office due to angry mob

A commission probing Bahrain’s crackdown on Shiite-led protests said Tuesday it has closed its office after being stormed by people angered by media claims it has cleared authorities of crimes against humanity.

The Bahrain Commission of Inquiry said in an emailed statement that it will continue its investigation from outside the office, insisting that claims in the media were unfounded.

BICI “would like to clarify that it has not made any such determination,” it said, insisting that its “investigation is ongoing and will continue until all relevant evidence has been gathered.”

The panel of foreign experts which was set up by King Hamad in June was responding to claims in press that its head, Cherif Bassiouni, has said that the commission found the government of Bahrain committed no crimes against humanity in its crackdown on demonstrations.

The commission said that it will continue to accept statements by alleged victims through email after hundreds of people angered by the claims in the media stormed its premises on Monday.

“The commission remains committed to its mission to investigate the events in February and March,” when the Shiite majority led pro-democracy protests against the regime of Sunni Al-Khalifa ruling family, before authorities staged a heavyhanded clampdown on protests in mid-March.

“We would like to assure the public that none of its staff have resigned as a result of recent events. Though our office is temporarily closed, the work will continue,” the commission said.

“Our staff will continue its investigation and will issue a report with recommendations as scheduled, as per our mandate,” it added.

Obama New York AG pressures to drop foreclosure settlement opposition
The New York Times

Attorney General of N.Y. Is Said to Face Pressure on Bank Foreclosure Deal

Eric T. Schneiderman, the attorney general of New York, has come under increasing pressure from the Obama administration to drop his opposition to a wide-ranging state settlement with banks over dubious foreclosure practices, according to people briefed on discussions about the deal.

In recent weeks, Shaun Donovan, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and high-level Justice Department officials have been waging an intensifying campaign to try to persuade the attorney general to support the settlement, said the people briefed on the talks.

Mr. Schneiderman and top prosecutors in some other states have objected to the proposed settlement with major banks, saying it would restrict their ability to investigate and prosecute wrongdoing in a variety of areas, including the bundling of loans in mortgage securities.

But Mr. Donovan and others in the administration have been contacting not only Mr. Schneiderman but his allies, including consumer groups and advocates for borrowers, seeking help to secure the attorney general’s participation in the deal, these people said. One recipient described the calls from Mr. Donovan, but asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation.

Not surprising, the large banks, which are eager to reach a settlement, have grown increasingly frustrated with Mr. Schneiderman. Bank officials recently discussed asking Mr. Donovan for help in changing the attorney general’s mind, according to a person briefed on those talks.

In an interview on Friday, Mr. Donovan defended his discussions with the attorney general, saying they were motivated by a desire to speed up help for troubled homeowners. But he said he had not spoken to bank officials or their representatives about trying to persuade Mr. Schneiderman to get on board with the deal.

“Eric and I agree on a tremendous amount here,” Mr. Donovan said. “The disagreement is around whether we should wait to settle and resolve the issues around the servicing practices for him — and potentially other A.G.’s and other federal agencies — to complete investigations on the securitization side. He might argue that he has more leverage that way, but our view is we have the immediate opportunity to help a huge number of borrowers to stay in their homes, to help their neighborhoods and the housing market.”

And Alisa Finelli, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department. said: “The Justice Department, along with our federal agency partners and state attorneys general, are committed to achieving a resolution that will hold servicers accountable for the harm they have done consumers and bring billions of dollars of relief to struggling homeowners — and bring relief swiftly because homeowners continue to suffer more each day that these issues are not resolved.”

Terms of the possible settlement under consideration center on foreclosure improprieties like so-called robo-signing and submitting apparently forged documents to the courts to speed up the process of removing troubled borrowers from homes. Negotiations on this deal have been led by Thomas J. Perrelli, associate attorney general of the United States, and Tom Miller, the attorney general of Iowa.

An initial term sheet outlining a possible settlement emerged in March, with institutions including Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo being asked to pay about $20 billion that would go toward loan modifications and possibly counseling for homeowners.

In exchange, the attorneys general participating in the deal would have agreed to sign broad releases preventing them from bringing further litigation on matters relating to the improper bank practices.

The banks balked at the $20 billion figure. And the talks seemed to stall over the summer, as Mr. Schneiderman and a few other attorneys general — Beau Biden of Delaware and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, for example — questioned aspects of the deal.

Mr. Schneiderman began objecting a few months ago to the proposed releases barring future litigation, declining to participate as long as they were included.

Last year, judges found federal prosecutors violated laws, ethics rules

Special report: Did prosecutors taint Memphis murder trial?

All the police ever found of Ricci Ellsworth was her blood.

Detectives found puddles of it in the office of the run-down motel where she worked the overnight shift, checking in guests and keeping the books. They found droplets and smudges leading through the office and out the door to the parking lot. There, the trail — and Ellsworth — disappeared.

Even so, authorities here say they have no doubt about what happened to Ellsworth: She was attacked in the office bathroom one night in February 1997. And they have no doubt who killed her: her former boyfriend, Michael Rimmer, an ex-con who had threatened her before. The police found her blood in his car, and their case proved so powerful that jurors convicted Rimmer in a few hours. He was sentenced to die.

What those jurors never learned — and what Rimmer’s attorneys say they were never told — was that a witness saw a different man in the motel office about the time Ellsworth disappeared. The man seen in the office already was wanted in connection with a stabbing and, the witness said, literally had blood on his hands.

Now, 14 years after Ellsworth vanished, Rimmer’s attorneys are pursuing an extraordinary strategy to try to save his life. They want a Tennessee appeals court to find that misconduct by prosecutors and police here was so pervasive that the entire Shelby County District Attorney General’s Office should be disqualified from the case, and that a new prosecutor should be brought in to review the evidence.

An investigation last year by USA TODAY documented 201 cases in which judges found that federal prosecutors violated laws or ethics rules. Those violations put innocent people in jail and set guilty people free, and Attorney General Eric Holder subsequently announced a new office to punish wrongdoing by federal prosecutors.

The effort in Tennessee involves local — not federal — prosecutors, but it has opened a window into the nation’s justice system and its bedrock promise of ensuring a fair trial.

In Shelby County, prosecutors have sent three times as many people to death row as prosecutors in any other county in the state. And already, the judge in charge of Rimmer’s case has found that the lead detective “provided false testimony” that may have misled jurors — a ruling that raises new questions about the conduct of prosecutors in one of the nation’s most violent big cities.

Such criticisms aren’t new. In 2008, a federal appeals court judge blasted the office in another death penalty case for a “set of falsehoods” that was “typical of the conduct of the Memphis district attorney’s office.” The next year, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a federal court to take a new look at another death penalty case the office prosecuted — 27 years after that trial ended.

Cases handled by the attorney who prosecuted Rimmer also have faced scrutiny, court records show. Four years ago, another death penalty case led by prosecutor Thomas Henderson— who now supervises all criminal cases in Memphis — ended in a mistrial after a judge concluded the prosecution had failed to turn over evidence to the defense. The retrial ended in an acquittal. Years before that, in another case Henderson helped handle, a judge faulted prosecutors for not turning over statements by a shooting victim that contradicted the victim’s trial testimony.