Nine Circles of Hell! for Wednesday, August 24, 2011 Nine Circles of Hell!


The Nine Circles of Hell! – all the news that gives you fits in print – for Wednesday, August 24, 2011, including a bonus link on Egypt-Israel tension, are:

Lowest share ever of 16- to 24-year-old Americans had jobs this summer

Nearly one in ten midsized, big US employers to end health coverage

US slashes shale gas estimates at controversial fracking site

Chile faces nationwide shutdown over dictatorship-era constitution

Egyptian protesters turn attention toward Israel

West’s spy tech behind Bahrain crackdown on dissidents

Thousands of Kashmir graves could include disappeared civilians

“Nobody seems to give a s**t” US dumped Agent Orange in South Korea

Environmentalists join conservatives fighting against energy subsidies

Lowest share ever of 16- to 24-year-old Americans had jobs this summer
The Kansas City Star

Worst-ever summer for young people’s employment

The lowest share ever of 16- to 24-year-olds had jobs this summer.

Only 48.8 percent of that age group was employed in July 2011. That was the lowest employed share on record since 1948, when the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking the seasonal youth job market.

The labor force participation rate — the proportion of the 16- to 24-year-old population that was working or looking for work — slumped to 59.5 percent in July, also the lowest on record.

The bureau’s annual report on summer employment, released this morning, said the top year for youth participation in the labor force was 1989. At 77.5 percent, that was 18 percentage points higher than this year’s rate.

Nearly one in ten midsized, big US employers to end health coverage
The Associated Press

Survey: Employers consider ending health coverage

Nearly one of every 10 midsized or big employers expects to stop offering health coverage to workers once federal insurance exchanges start in 2014, according to a new survey from a large benefits consultant.

Towers Watson also found in a survey completed last month that an additional 20 percent of the companies are unsure about what they will do.

Another big benefits consultant, Mercer, found in a June survey of large and smaller employers that 8 percent are either “likely” or “very likely” to end health benefits once the exchanges start.

Employer-sponsored health insurance has long been the backbone of the nation’s health insurance system. But the studies suggest that some employers, especially retailers or those offering low wages, feel they will be better off paying fines and taxes than continuing to provide benefits that eat up a growing portion of their budget every year.

The exchanges, which were devised under the health care overhaul, may offer an alternative for their workers. These exchanges aim to provide a marketplace for people to buy insurance that can be subsidized by the government based on income levels.

A large majority of employers in both studies said they expect to continue offering benefits once the exchanges start. But former insurance executive Bob Laszewski said he was surprised that as many as 8 or 9 percent of companies already expect to drop coverage a couple of years before the exchanges start.

Such a move comes with potential payroll-tax headaches and could subject firms to fines. It also would give their employees a steep compensation cut if companies don’t raise pay in exchange for ending coverage.

US slashes shale gas estimates at controversial fracking site

U.S. to Slash Marcellus Shale Gas Estimate 80%

The U.S. will slash its estimate of undiscovered Marcellus Shale natural gas by as much as 80 percent after a updated assessment by government geologists.

The formation, which stretches from New York to Tennessee, contains about 84 trillion cubic feet of gas, the U.S. Geological Survey said today in its first update in nine years. That supersedes an Energy Department projection of 410 trillion cubic feet, said Philip Budzik, an operations research analyst with the Energy Information Administration.

“We consider the USGS to be the experts in this matter,” Budzik said in an interview. “They’re geologists, we’re not. We’re going to be taking this number and using it in our model.”

The revised estimates, posted on the agency’s website, are likely to spur a debate over industry projections of the potential value of shale gas.

Last week, Range Resources Corp. (RRC), Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. (COG) and Goodrich Petroleum Corp. (GDP) were subpoenaed by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman over whether they accurately represented the profitability of their natural-gas wells in the region, according to a person familiar with the matter. The subpoenas, sent Aug. 8, requested documents on formulas used to project how long the wells can produce gas without additional drilling using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

The previous Geological Survey estimate in 2002 said the Marcellus Shale contained about 2 trillion cubic feet of gas. The 42-fold increase is the result of “new geologic information and engineering data,” the agency said. The Marcellus formation may hold from 43 to 144.1 trillion cubic feet, the agency said.

Chile faces nationwide shutdown over dictatorship-era constitution
The Associated Press

Chile faces 2-day shutdown over ‘utopian’ demands

Chile is bracing for a nationwide, two-day shutdown as unions, students and center-left political parties demand fundamental changes in society.

They want to replace Chile’s dictatorship-era constitution, which concentrates vast power in the presidency, with a new charter enabling popular referendums and making free quality education a right for all citizens. They also want pension reforms, a new labor code and more health care spending.

Chile’s largest union coalition called the strike for Wednesday and Thursday to join forces with the high school and university students boycotting classes for three months now. They have support from the center-left coalition that governed Chile for 20 years before President Sebastian Pinera brought the right wing back into the presidential palace last year.

Transportation workers and day-care providers also plan to strike, stranding millions of other Chileans.

Egyptian protesters turn attention toward Israel

Egyptians plan million-man rally against Israel

Egyptian daily al-Youm al-Saba’a reported Wednesday that Egyptian citizens have created groups on Facebook and other social networks calling for “a million-man protest” outside the Israeli embassy in Cairo on Friday.

The protesters say the focus of the demonstration will be the demand to have the Israeli ambassador expelled from Egypt and Israel’s embassy in the capital closed.

Meanwhile, protesters continue to demonstrate outside the embassy for the fifth day in a row. They called out “Expel the ambassador immediately”. Others gathered outside the ambassador’s Cairo residence and called fellow citizens to join them in order to “force the ambassador to leave Egypt”.

The anti-Israel protests erupted in Cairo last weekend following reports that six Egyptian security officers were killed by the IDF during fire exchanges with the terrorists who carried out the terror attack near Eilat last Thursday. The demonstrations were further inflamed by Israel Air Force strikes in Gaza.

  • In The New York Times story, “Egypt Disavows Threat to Recall Envoy to Israel,” cautious, maybe even fragile, leadership on both sides are reported to be very unhappy about the tension’s timing:
    Egypt’s foreign minister, Mohammed Amr, said Monday that the plan to recall the nation’s ambassador to Israel “was never on the table,” confirming the government’s decision to disavow a threat that generated widespread popular support at home but brought the government under intense diplomatic pressure to back off.
    The call to withdraw the ambassador, initially announced on state television and posted briefly on the cabinet’s Web site, was issued Saturday after three Egyptian security officers were inadvertently killed by Israeli forces chasing down militants who staged a cross-border attack and then fled into Egypt. The killings set off the most serious diplomatic crisis between Egypt and Israel since the historic Camp David peace accords three decades ago, prompting diplomats from other nations to scramble to persuade both sides to cool tensions.
    By Monday, officials in both countries were trying to absorb the lessons of a political landscape reordered by a postrevolutionary Egypt. For Egypt, the response suggested the path its new government may take in an effort to balance anti-Israel public sentiment with a desire to preserve credibility with the West and peace on its border: an awkward, and in this case incoherent, effort to satisfy both interests.
    For many in Israel, it underscored new constraints on Israel’s ability to maneuver and its growing regional isolation. “We see a worsening of Israel’s strategic balance, mostly as a result of what has happened in Egypt,” said Oden Eran, director of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University and a former ambassador to Jordan.

West’s spy tech behind Bahrain crackdown on dissidents

Torture in Bahrain Becomes Routine With Help From Nokia Siemens

The interrogation of Abdul Ghani Al Khanjar followed a pattern.

First, Bahraini jailers armed with stiff rubber hoses beat the 39-year-old school administrator and human rights activist in a windowless room two stories below ground in the Persian Gulf kingdom’s National Security Apparatus building. Then, they dragged him upstairs for questioning by a uniformed officer armed with another kind of weapon: transcripts of his text messages and details from personal mobile phone conversations, he says.

If he refused to sufficiently explain his communications, he was sent back for more beatings, says Al Khanjar, who was detained from August 2010 to February.

“It was amazing,” he says of the messages they obtained. “How did they know about these?”

The answer: Computers loaded with Western-made surveillance software generated the transcripts wielded in the interrogations described by Al Khanjar and scores of other detainees whose similar treatment was tracked by rights activists, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its October issue.

The spy gear in Bahrain was sold by Siemens AG (SIE), and maintained by Nokia Siemens Networks and NSN’s divested unit, Trovicor GmbH, according to two people whose positions at the companies gave them direct knowledge of the installations. Both requested anonymity because they have signed nondisclosure agreements. The sale and maintenance contracts were also confirmed by Ben Roome, a Nokia Siemens spokesman based in Farnborough, England.

The only way officers could have obtained messages was through the interception program, says Ahmed Aldoseri, director of information and communications technologies at Bahrain’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority. While he won’t disclose details about the program, he says, “If they have a transcript of an SMS message, it’s because the security organ was monitoring the user at their monitoring center.”

The use of the system for interrogation in Bahrain illustrates how Western-produced surveillance technology sold to one authoritarian government became an investigative tool of choice to gather information about political dissidents — and silence them.

Companies are free to sell such equipment almost anywhere. For the most part, the U.S. and European countries lack export controls to deter the use of such systems for repression.

“The technology is becoming very sophisticated, and the only thing limiting it is how deeply governments want to snoop into lives,” says Rob Faris, research director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “Surveillance is typically a state secret, and we only get bits and pieces that leak out.”

Thousands of Kashmir graves could include disappeared civilians
The New York Times

Mass Graves Hold Thousands, Kashmir Inquiry Finds

Thousands of bullet-riddled bodies are buried in dozens of unmarked graves across Kashmir, a state human rights commission inquiry has concluded, many of them likely to be those of civilians who disappeared more than a decade ago in a brutal insurgency.

The inquiry, the result of three years of investigative work by senior police officers working for the Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission, brings the first official acknowledgment that civilians might have been buried in mass graves in Kashmir, a region claimed by both India and Pakistan where insurgents waged a bloody battle for independence in the early 1990s.

The report sheds new light on a grim chapter in the history of the troubled region and confirms a 2008 report by a Kashmiri human rights organization that found hundreds of bodies buried in the Kashmir Valley.

Tens of thousands of people died in the insurgency, which began in 1989 and was partly fueled by weapons, cash and training from Pakistan.

According to the report, the bodies of hundreds of men described as unidentified militants were buried in unmarked graves. But of the more than 2,000 bodies, 574 were identified as local residents.

“There is every probability that these unidentified dead bodies buried in various unmarked graves at 38 places of North Kashmir may contain the dead bodies of enforced disappearances,” the report said.

“Nobody seems to give a s**t” US dumped Agent Orange in South Korea

Covert mission was burying Agent Orange in S. Korea, veterans say

This story begins in a tiny, ramshackle trailer in Apache Junction with one man. A self-proclaimed outcast, a biker more comfortable on society’s fringe. A U.S. Army veteran who has been living with a dark secret for more than 30 years.

“Why am I like I am?” asks Steve House. “Because I couldn’t live with what I had done.”

House can no longer bury his secret.

“Nobody seems to give a s**t,” House says. “Excuse my French. Nobody seems to care. I’ve told Senator (John) McCain’s office about it. I’ve told the VA about it. Yeah, it haunts me.”

In 1978, House was stationed at Camp Carroll Army Base in Daegu City, South Korea. He was just 22 years old, but was soon entrusted with a covert assignment.

“They hand-picked us,” he says.

He was among six soldiers ordered to wear gas masks on this mission. But they shed their masks after several of them suffered heat exhaustion. House – a heavy-machinery operator – says he dug a ditch nearly the length of a city block. And what happened next changed these men forever.

“They started bringing us truckloads of 55-gallon drums, four to a skid,” House says. “OD (live drab) army green. Fifty-five gallon drums with bright yellow. Some of them had bright orange writing on them and some of the cans say ‘Province of Vietnam, Compound Orange.’”

A chilling confession, considering the toxic defoliant was used during the Vietnam War to wipe out entire jungles. It was also sprayed in Korea along the Demilitarized Zone – which divides the North from the South. The herbicide was so harmful that the U.S. government says the excess Agent Orange was incinerated at sea.

“There was a smell,” says fellow soldier Robert Travis. “I couldn’t even describe it; just sickly sweet.”

CBS 5 Investigates traveled across the U.S. to track down other soldiers involved with the alleged burial, and to investigate whether a deadly toxin the U.S. government says was burned at sea, could have secretly ended up buried on a U.S. military base in Korea.

Environmentalists join conservatives fighting against energy subsidies
The Hill

Groups call on supercommittee to cut energy subsidies

A major environmental group has teamed up with a conservative think tank and others to urge the congressional supercommittee to slash oil, coal, ethanol and nuclear subsidies — a move the groups say would save $380 billion over the next five years.

Friends of the Earth, the Heartland Institute, Public Citizen and Taxpayers for Common Sense released a report Wednesday, dubbed “Green Scissors 2011,” that casts the cuts as benefiting both the environment and the economy.

“While all four groups have different missions, histories, goals and ideas about the role of government, we all agree that we can begin to overcome our nation’s budgetary and environmental woes by tackling spending that is not only wasteful but environmentally harmful,” the groups said in the report.

The groups noted that the report’s cuts amount to about one-fourth of the $1.5 trillion in debt reduction the supercommittee, which was formed as part of a deal to raise the debt ceiling, is charged with finding. The 12-member panel has until Nov. 23 to come up with a proposal.

While some Democrats have said they will push for the supercommittee to eliminate oil industry tax breaks, the move faces resistance from Republicans, who have taken tax increases off the table.