4 days ago
Nine Circles of Hell!: Friday, January 6, 2012 Nine Circles of Hell!
The Nine Circles of Hell! – all the news that gives you fits in print – the nine most hellish news stories for Friday, January 6, 2011, including a bonus story on New York City poverty, are:
New York City’s welfare offices overflowing
The Wall Street Journal
Welfare Lines Overflow
Growing numbers of New Yorkers seeking food stamps have created an unwelcome spillover effect at some of New York City’s job centers: overcrowding that in some cases has grown so severe, benefits were jeopardized.
The crush of people grew so large at one Brooklyn center in November that the Fire Department intervened and prevented anyone from entering the building.
That was an extreme example of the problem. But clients at many of the city’s 29 job centers—which manage public-assistance benefits, including food stamps—regularly arrive long before the doors open to wait in line. Advocates said people miss mandatory appointments, leading to a bureaucratic battle to reopen their cases, or abandon the process after growing discouraged.
“It’s outrageous,” said Charles Leonard, a disabled 50-year-old who complained to 311 recently about a long wait and confusion at a center on Northern Boulevard in Queens. “It’s like everybody is running around with their head cut off, and no one cares.”
Officials at the city’s Human Resources Administration, which runs the centers, acknowledged that serious overcrowding is a problem at five facilities. Advocates believe the problem is broader, affecting roughly 10 centers.
“At best it’s benign neglect,” said Steven Banks, attorney-in-chief at the Legal Aid Society, which provides legal services to low-income New Yorkers. “At worst, it’s like the English poor laws, in which the aim was to make the seeking of assistance so miserable that people wouldn’t seek it.”
HRA spokeswoman Connie Ress blamed the overflow crowds on rising numbers of people seeking food stamps. The number of New Yorkers getting the benefit has increased by 200,000 in the past two years, jumping to 1.8 million from 1.6 million in late 2009. At the same time, the agency has consolidated some facilities, Ms. Ress said.
“We know that there are issues in a few of our centers throughout the city,” Ms. Ress said. “We are actively addressing it.”
Because Mondays and Tuesdays are the busiest days of the week, the city plans to stop scheduling mandatory appointments at centers on these days, the agency’s general counsel, Ray Esnard, wrote in a Dec. 20 letter to the Legal Aid Society.
In Brooklyn and the Bronx, Ms. Ress said, the agency is “moving into new facilities with better space.” In the past few years, she said, people can recertify for food stamps over the phone. “We’ve made things so much easier,” she said.
Still, clients often need to visit the centers to submit documents and deal with complications. Ms. Ress said in-person appointments are necessary to avoid fraud and abuse.
- The New York Times story, “Holding a Spot for Stigma in the City’s Food Stamp Lines,” gives you one reason that lines are long:
As the city’s main relief agency groans under the loads of people who are looking for help, the mayor and his administration want to cling to a time-consuming custom from another era: the finger-imaging of everyone who applies for food stamps. Every other state, except for Arizona, has either dropped finger-imaging — the digital descendant of fingerprinting — for food stamp applicants, or never had it.
This week, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said that he would end the practice in New York, saying it was an unnecessary stigma for working people who needed a hand during hard times.
Other technology has made it unnecessary: when fingerprinting was started in New York nearly 20 years ago, food stamps were pieces of paper easily traded, and digital networks were in embryonic states. Now the food aid is distributed on ATM-type cards that are electronically refilled. And it is a simple matter to check multiple databases to see if duplicate applications have been filed by a person using the same Social Security numbers.
But Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said on Thursday that finger-imaging was no big deal, and he appeared to betray some contempt for food stamp recipients in terms that seemed to contradict the realities of the modern food stamp program.
Food stamps are now geared largely to the working poor — not to people getting cash welfare benefits, a point repeatedly made by Mr. Bloomberg’s own commissioners.
Nevertheless, in his comments on Thursday, the mayor characterized food stamps as a handout being sought by people who were not working to improve the city, and compared them with city workers.
Almost every city employee has to go through the finger-imaging procedure, Mr. Bloomberg said, so to ask that of “people who are receiving things, rather than dedicating their lives to make it better, is hardly something that’s a great imposition or that anybody should feel stigmatized about.”
This is not a fight that is going to last long. Mr. Cuomo can change the rules without going to the Legislature. When Eliot Spitzer was governor, he banned finger-imaging for food stamps but granted an exemption to New York City and a few other counties upstate. Mr. Cuomo intends to withdraw that waiver, his aides say.
The city reports that more than twice as many people are getting food stamps as when Mr. Bloomberg came into office, and that the procedures are much simpler. So there is no proof that the finger-imaging process is a barrier to people who legitimately need the assistance, said Robert Doar, the commissioner of the city’s Human Resources Administration. However, a study by the Urban Institute suggested that tens of thousands of eligible people were discouraged by the procedure.
The finger-imaging discovered 1,900 duplicate applications last year, Mr. Bloomberg said, down from about 35,000 in the early 1990s. The city does not claim that all or even most of those were examples of fraud; Mr. Doar said that administrative errors were responsible for some.
Maggie Dickinson, who works at the Greenpoint Reformed Church Pantry in Brooklyn, said she had no doubt that the finger-imaging was stopping eligible people from trying to obtain food stamps.
Big Oil lobbying group launches tarsands oil pipeline campaign
Keystone XL pipeline: Oil chief issues threat to Obama over decision
The head of the US’s biggest oil and gas lobbying group said on Wednesday that the Obama administration will face serious political consequences if it rejects a Canada-to-Texas oil sands pipeline that has been opposed by environmental groups.
Jack Gerard, the president of the American Petroleum Institute, said TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline would definitely play a role in this year’s national elections.
“This issue is very simple and straightforward, it’s about jobs and national security,” Gerard told reporters after giving a speech on the state of US energy.
“Anything less than approval or acquiescence in allowing the pipeline to go forward would be inconsistent with the vast majority of Americans,” Gerard said.
The oil and gas industry says the country needs the 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport 700,000 barrels per day or more of Canadian oil sands crude to US Gulf coast refineries.
But the decision on the pipeline is a difficult one for President Barack Obama. Approval would upset environmentalists – an important part of his voter base – while axing the project would upset some workers’ unions, another part of his base.
With environmental groups concerned about carbon emissions from oil sands production, the administration had delayed a decision on a presidential permit for the project until 2013.
The administration says it needs more time to consider alternative routes for the pipeline, which was originally planned to traverse sensitive habitats and a crucial water source in Nebraska. Obama has until February 21 to make his decision on the project.
API is launching an advertising campaign aimed at getting Americans to consider candidates’ stances on energy issues, including the Keystone project, before they cast their ballots in November.
China buys into franking America
China Set To Frack America In Shale Deal With Devon
Showing that it isn’t worried about the upswell of angst over hydraulic fracking technology, the Chinese government, through state-controlled Sinopec, today struck a deal with Devon Energy to buy into five prospective new exploration areas in the U.S.
The deal, which includes $900 million in cash upfront and a promise of $1.6 billion in the years ahead to cover drilling and development, gives the Chinese a 33% stake in five of Devon’s fields, and a front row seat to what is effectively the second wave of development of U.S. shale assets. The areas in question include the Tuscaloosa in Louisiana, the Niobrara in Colorado, the Mississippian in Devon’s home state of Oklahoma, the Utica in Ohio and the Michigan basin.
This isn’t the first time a Chinese company has bitten off a piece of shale — Cnooc has partnered with Chesapeake Energy in the Eagle Ford and Niobrara in recent years — but it is the first onshore U.S. foray for Sinopec.
Foreigners have been hot for shale in recent months, with Chesapeake also today unveiling its Utica JV partner as Total. Last week SandRidge Energy, run by Chesapeake co-founder Tom Ward, sold a $1 billion worth of its acreage in the Mississippian to Spain’s Repsol. A few months back Aussie mining giant BHP Billiton continued its shale gobble with the $15 billion pick-up of Petrohawk, following its earlier $5 billion buy of Chesapeake’s Fayetteville shale acreage. India’s Reliance Industries, though a JV with Atlas, controls some 350,000 acres in the Marcellus shale.
Sinopec’s deal makes sense — it’s buying promising acreage in the U.S. at a time when the price of natural gas is low ($3 per mcf) and the value of the dollar as a reserve currency is high.
US to hold joint maneuvers in Israel while Iran stages their own
Israel, U.S. to hold major missile defense exercise
The Israeli military says it will soon hold a major missile defense exercise with U.S. -forces. It follows a 10-day Iranian naval exercise near the strategic Strait of Hormuz.
Israel’s military says the drill with the U.S. was planned long ago and is not tied to recent events.
The drill is called “Austere Challenge 12″ and is designed to improve defense systems. No date for the drill was given by the military on Thursday. Israel has deployed the “Arrow” system, jointly developed and funded with the U.S., designed to intercept Iranian missiles.
The West is adopting new sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, charging that Iran is making weapons. Iran insists its program is peaceful. Israel considers Iran a strategic threat because of its nuclear and missile programs.
On Wednesday, Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi said that Iran planned to hold more military exercises after a 10-day drill in the Persian Gulf raised tensions with the United States.
“The maneuver of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards would be held soon,” the ISNA news agency quoted Vahidi as saying after the weekly cabinet meeting. He gave no further details.
The Iranian navy carried out drills near the Strait of Hormuz last week after it threatened to block the strait, where some 35 per cent of the world’s seaborne oil passes, if the West imposed new sanctions over its disputed nuclear program.
The United States has dismissed a warning by Iran not to return a US aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf. The aircraft carrier USS John C Stennis left the Gulf on December 27 and a Pentagon spokesman said it would return.
Fallujah’s growing number of birth defects
Fallujah babies: Under a new kind of siege
Past This is Hell! guest Dahr Jamail writes …
While the US military has formally withdrawn from Iraq, doctors and residents of Fallujah are blaming weapons like depleted uranium and white phosphorous used during two devastating US attacks on Fallujah in 2004 for what are being described as “catastrophic” levels of birth defects and abnormalities.
Dr Samira Alani, a paediatric specialist at Fallujah General Hospital, has taken a personal interest in investigating an explosion of congenital abnormalities that have mushroomed in the wake of the US sieges since 2005.
“We have all kinds of defects now, ranging from congenital heart disease to severe physical abnormalities, both in numbers you cannot imagine,” Alani told Al Jazeera at her office in the hospital, while showing countless photos of shocking birth defects.
As of December 21, Alani, who has worked at the hospital since 1997, told Al Jazeera she had personally logged 677 cases of birth defects since October 2009. Just eight days later when Al Jazeera visited the city on December 29, that number had already risen to 699.
“There are not even medical terms to describe some of these conditions because we’ve never seen them until now,” she said. “So when I describe it all I can do is describe the physical defects, but I’m unable to provide a medical term.”
Most of these babies in Fallujah die within 20 to 30 minutes after being born, but not all.
Abdul has trouble controlling his muscles, struggles to walk, cannot control his bladder, and weakens easily. Doctors told his father, Mohamed Jaleel Abdul Rahim, that his son has severe nervous system problems, and could develop fluid build-up in his brain as he ages, which could prove fatal.
“This is the first instance of something like this in all our family,” Rahim told Al Jazeera. “We lived in an area that was heavily bombed by the Americans in 2004, and a missile landed right in front of our home. What else could cause these health problems besides this?”
Dr Alani told Al Jazeera that in the vast majority of cases she has documented, the family had no prior history of congenital abnormalities.
Alani showed Al Jazeera hundreds of photos of babies born with cleft palates, elongated heads, a baby born with one eye in the centre of its face, overgrown limbs, short limbs, and malformed ears, noses and spines.
Kuwait’s stateless take to the streets for citizenship
More than 4,000 stateless in Kuwait protest for citizenship
More than 4,000 stateless people in Kuwait demonstrated on Friday for the fourth week, insisting that the only solution to their plight is by getting Kuwaiti citizenship and other human rights.
“There is no solution without citizenship,” read one banner carried by the protesters in Jahra, northwest of the capital Kuwait City, who rallied peacefully as riot police looked on.
The crowd, which was the largest so far, carried hundreds of Kuwaiti flags and pictures of Kuwait’s ruler, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, insisting that they are Kuwaitis and should be granted citizenship.
Last week Interior Minister Sheikh Ahmad al-Humud al-Sabah announced that the oil-rich Gulf state was preparing legislation to grant citizenship to stateless individuals who fulfilled certain criteria.
The stateless, locally known as bidoons, claim the right to Kuwaiti nationality, saying that their ancestors failed to register for citizenship when the government began registration five decades ago.
Kuwait has long said that most of the 105,000 bidoons or their forefathers destroyed their original passports to claim the right to citizenship in order to gain access to the services and generous benefits provided to citizens.
In a bid to force them to produce their original nationality papers, Kuwait has denied them essential documentation, including birth, marriage and death certificates, according to a report in June by Human Rights Watch.
Everyone’s condemning Canadian mosque attacks
Harper condemns Gatineau mosque attack
A mosque in Gatineau, Que., that has been a target of vandalism was spray-painted with graffiti overnight Thursday, prompting a condemnation from Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Workers at the Outaouais Islamic Centre awoke Thursday to discover swear words and derogatory references to Arabs and Allah spray-painted in white.
The vandals painted messages on the front doors, across the building’s side and on two other entrances to the building.
The mosque had earlier been vandalized Monday morning when someone smashed the windows of two cars and attempted to set fire to them in the parking lot.
This latest incident prompted Harper to speak on this specific attack, which he did in a French statement Thursday.
“Our government strongly condemns these heinous attacks that have been terrorizing the whole community,” the statement said.
“Members of the mosque have asked for help in funding infrastructure and security projects and have received funding from our government.”
Mosque secretary general Amadou Thiam urged police to do their utmost to find the perpetrators. The mosque has turned over security video footage to police.
Gatineau police said they believe a lone man in his 20s caught on camera in the latest incident was also responsible for the earlier vandalism.
Police said it was the fourth incident in the last six months. Graffiti was spray-painted on the front door and two back doors of the mosque.
Thiam said the vandalism was a “provocation” and called on members of the mosque to remain calm. Thiam also urged Gatineau city officials to show their support for the mosque.
The Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-CAN) condemned the vandalism Thursday and said authorities should investigate the incident as a hate crime.
“The repeated vandalism, within days of the previous attack, of this specific mosque is deeply troubling. Attacks on all our nation’s houses of worship must be condemned by all Canadians and should be investigated and prosecuted using all available law enforcement resources,” said Ihsaan Gardee, CAIR-CAN executive director. National Muslim and Jewish groups have condemned the vandalism.National Muslim and Jewish groups have condemned the vandalism. (CBC)
Jewish Stars of David were also spray-painted on the walls.
Shimon Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, also condemned the attacks.
“We unequivocally condemn all acts of vandalism committed against any place of worship,” Fogel said in a statement.
Anonymous takes on neo-fascists with ‘Nazileaks’
Hacker group Anonymous reveals names of hundreds of German neo-Nazis on ‘Nazileaks’ site
Computer hackers from the Anonymous ‘hacktivist’ group have attacked German neo-Nazi groups, crippling a reported 15 websites and exposing the names of hundreds of extreme right wing supporters.
A Tweet sent to everyone trying to log onto one Nazi website said: ‘We wish all Nazis a good start to the New Year.’
They have been joined by hackers in Spain, who posted a list of 1,000 alleged customers from a far-right shop.
Anonymous’s leaks site is called ‘NaziLeaks’.
Information on the operation – dubbed Operation Blitzkrieg – is circulating on Twitter tagged ‘OpBlitzkrieg’ and ‘NaziLeaks’.
At present the Nazi-Leaks website says that its account has been suspended.
As usual with Anonymous’s more public attacks, such as their Operation Darknet attack on paedophiles, information has been ‘mirrored’ on other sites to make it harder for ‘victims’ to get rid of.
In Germany, the Nazi-Leaks website listed the names and personal details of people who Anonymous claims are account customers at far-right shops as well as contributors to the country’s Junge Freiheit newspaper, which specialises in extreme right wing rants.
It’s not the first high profile hacker attack on German far right supporters – an attack in May 2011 targeted many of the same sites as ‘Operation Blitzkrieg’.
Some of the information released in this attack appears to date from earlier hacker attacks on far right sites.
The attack – dubbed Operation Blitzkrieg by the hackers – claims to have shut down 15 websites linked to Germany’s neo-Nazi National Democratic Party, including one far right platform called Altermedia.
Parents are kids top obstacle to going outside and playing
The Washington Post
Parents are the biggest obstacle to letting kids play, says study in Pediatrics
A new report on why children in day care are sedentary suggests that it’s not the care providers, but the parents, who are mostly to blame.
The study, “Societal Values and Policies May Curtail Preschool Children’s Physical Activity in Child Care Centers,” will be published in the February issue of Pediatricsand was published online today.
It focused on childcare centers where, according to previous research, close to three-fourths of pre-school-aged America children are enrolled and where they spend only 2 to 3 percent of their time playing vigorously.
Researchers set out to find out why so little time was spent playing. They studied 34 racially and demographically diverse Cincinnati-area child-care centers and found three consistent obstacles to exercise.
Providers told researchers that they felt pressure from parents to keep children from vigorous play that might lead to injury and also pressure to focus instead on academics.
The third consistent barrier was financial, as some providers said their funds were too limited to purchase up-to-code safe, outdoor equipment. (An ironic twist in this finding is that providers told researchers repeatedly that these “safer” playgrounds were oftentimes the least interesting to children.)
“We were surprised to hear that parents — both low-income and upper-income — were focusing on traditional ‘academics’ (letters, numbers, colors) instead of outdoor play, even for children as young as 3 years old,” lead author Kristen Copeland of the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center wrote to me in an e-mail conversation about the report.
“At this age, many children don’t know how to skip, and are still learning how to share, and how to negotiate peer relationships. Yet teachers told us that many parents wanted to know what their child ‘learned’ that day, but were not interested in whether they had gone outside, or had mastered fundamental gross motor skills,” she said …
“Children learn through play — through puzzles, games, and questions and answers. They also learn on the playground — they learn about nature, weather and the seasons, motion, concepts of distance and speed, and cause and effect. They learn how to negotiate and talk with their peers.
And, they learn fundamental gross motor skills, like how to throw and catch a ball, and how to skip. They don’t teach these in school. But children who have mastered these fundamental skills are more confident, and interact better with their peers later on in school.
Lastly, research has shown that children can concentrate and learn better after brief periods of vigorous activity. So ‘active time’ does not need to come at the expense of time dedicated to ‘academics’ and ‘learning.’”