Nine Circles of Hell!: Friday, September 23
The Nine Circles of Hell! – all the news that gives you fits in print – the nine most hellish news stories, including a bonus link on the secret sale to Israel, and an extra article on Iran, for Friday, September 23, 2011, are:
Poverty rocks unprepared US suburbs
Poverty pervades the suburbs
Guess where most people in poverty live? Hint: It’s not in the inner cities or rural America.
It’s in the idyllic suburbs.
A record 15.4 million suburban residents lived below the poverty line last year, up 11.5% from the year before, according to a Brookings Institution analysis of Census data released Thursday. That’s one-third of the nation’s poor.
And their ranks are swelling fast, as jobs disappear and incomes decline amid the continued weak economy.
Since 2000, the number of suburban poor has skyrocketed by 53%, battered by the two recessions that wiped out many manufacturing jobs early on, and low-wage construction and retail positions more recently.
America’s cities, meanwhile, had 12.7 million people in poverty last year, up about 5% from the year before and 23% since 2000. The remaining 18 million poor folks in the U.S. are roughly split between smaller metro areas and rural communities.
“We think of poverty as a really urban or ultra-rural phenomenon, but it’s not,” said Elizabeth Kneebone, senior research associate at Brookings. “It’s increasingly a suburban issue.”
Suburbia’s population has boomed among all classes in recent decades as job growth shifted from central cities to their outskirts. Low-wage workers were needed to service this burgeoning number of residents and companies.
Suburbia became home to the greatest concentration of impoverished residents by 2005, Kneebone said. That stemmed in part from the collapse of the manufacturing industry based outside Midwestern cities. The loss of those jobs contributed to pushing many into poverty.
The Great Recession, however, accelerated the rise of the suburban poor, as it did the overall poverty rate.
The downturn also shifted where in suburbia poverty was intensifying. The collapse of the housing market caused the ranks of the poor to spike in Sun Belt communities, such as those surrounding Lakeland, Fla., and Riverside, Calif. Many low-income people had moved there during the boom to make money building and caring for homes or working in the retailers and restaurants that cropped up to service the new residents …
Once they fall into poverty, suburbanites often have a harder time accessing services that can aid them because many of these areas aren’t equipped to handle the growing numbers, especially amid government budget cuts.
“It can be difficult to find help in many suburban communities,” said Scott Allard, associate professor at the University of Chicago who has studied the issue. “Providers are overwhelmed with demand or there are not that many providers to begin with.”
Nearly three-quarters of suburban non-profit agencies said they are seeing more clients who had never accessed aid, according to a report Allard published last year. A growing number of requests were for help with food or housing.
Many agencies told Allard they had to put newcomers on waiting lists or refer them to other organizations. But these groups are often far apart and difficult to access, especially for those without cars.
Also, many suburban poor don’t know where to turn when they are in dire straits. Or they fear the stigma of having to ask for government assistance, not wanting to let their neighbors know they’re in trouble.
“By and large, if you drive through the suburbs, it looks like the American dream is still healthy and real,” said Donna Cooper, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning policy group. “But behind closed doors, there are increasing numbers of people who don’t have jobs, their retirement nest eggs are gone and they can’t meet their mortgage payments.”
Medicaid cuts could shift burden to seniors, disabled, poor
The New York Times
In Cuts to Health Programs, Experts See Difficult Task in Protecting Patients
President Obama and some members of Congress assert that, in cutting Medicare and Medicaid, they can whack health care providers while protecting beneficiaries. But experts say it is not so simple.
Experience, they say, shows that some cuts in payments to providers hurt beneficiaries, as more doctors refuse to take Medicaid patients or limit the number of new Medicare patients they will accept. Hospitals curtail services. Beneficiaries may have more difficulty getting therapy services after a stroke, traumatic brain injury or hip fracture.
By contrast, the experts say, other cuts force health care providers to become more efficient, saving money for beneficiaries, taxpayers and the government.
Marilyn Moon, a health economist and former trustee of the Medicare program, said that “you have to be vigilant” in cutting Medicare payments to health care providers because “there is no bright line” between cuts that affect beneficiaries and those that affect only providers.
The need to make such distinctions came into sharp focus this week as Mr. Obama and a bipartisan special Congressional committee intensified their search for ways to squeeze hundreds of billions of dollars out of federal health spending.
In his recommendations to Congress on Monday, Mr. Obama proposed cutting health spending by $320 billion over 10 years: $248 billion from the projected growth of Medicare and $72 billion from Medicaid and other programs.
The Congressional panel is expected to seek similar savings in health programs, or more, as it looks for ways to reduce federal budget deficits by a total of $1.5 trillion over 10 years.
Even some of Mr. Obama’s allies said his Medicaid proposals could harm beneficiaries.
“The Medicaid cuts in the president’s proposal shift the burden to states and ultimately onto the shoulders of seniors, people with disabilities and low-income families who depend on the program as their lifeline,” said Ronald F. Pollack, executive director of Families USA, a liberal-leaning consumer group.
Matt D. Salo, executive director of the National Association of Medicaid Directors, representing state officials, said, “You would have a hard time cutting significant amounts from Medicaid payments to states without hurting beneficiaries.”
States claiming, “big banks took pension funds for a ride”
Florida pension funds take $30 million hit as big banks profit
Florida’s giant pension fund took a $30 million hit from 2001-2010 because of lax oversight by a state agency and questionable trading practices by two large banks hired to safeguard the fund, records show.
A Florida lawsuit accusing one of the banks of shortchanging the state’s pension fund was filed last month, and similar cases have been filed in California and Virginia.
“What we are seeing across the country is evidence that these big banks took pension funds for a ride, hiding exorbitant markups from them and pocketing billions of dollars in unearned profits in the process,” said financial fraud investigator Harry Markopolos, who is helping to build the case against the banks.
Hundreds of pages of documents, obtained by the St. Petersburg Times through a public records request, raise questions about the high price of some foreign trading activities. But they also point to inadequate monitoring by the State Board of Administration, which oversees $145 billion in Florida pensions and public funds.
Bank of New York Mellon Corp. and Boston-based State Street Corp. deny wrongdoing and say the new reports are flawed.
But Markopolos, who helped expose Bernard Madoff’s financial scheme, sees banks handling billions of dollars in retirement money as the next big scam.
“At a time when pension funds are losing billions of dollars in value for their retirees because of the staggering economy . . . the banks they put their trust in cost them billions more through their deceptive acts,” Markopolos said in an e-mail to the Times.
Soros says US is already in a double-dip recession
Wall Street suffering worst week in THREE YEARS as protest occupation hots up and Soros warns U.S. already back in recession
Wall Street was heading for its worst week in three years today, with stocks falling for the fifth straight day and plunging to new year lows – before some recovered slightly by lunchtime.
It comes as hundreds of ‘Occupy Wall Street’ demonstrators continue an Egyptian-style protest in Manhattan, New York, forcing police to close streets and disrupting financial workers’ commute.
The further falls this morning are despite finance ministers from the world’s leading economies pledging to take whatever steps are necessary to calm the markets.
Billionaire investor George Soros claims the U.S. is already into a double-dip recession and this is down to political squabbling and GOP opposition to President Obama’s stimulus proposals.
‘There was a deal in the making which would have balanced the budget over the long term, but would have allowed short-term fiscal stimulus, which would have been the right policy,’ Mr Soros told CNBC.
He echoed comments from World Bank President Robert Zoellick by saying the situation in Europe is ‘more dangerous’ to the global economy than when Lehman Brothers went down in 2008.
Markets in Asia and Europe also fell and Moody’s downgraded eight Greek banks over rising concerns about a possible Greek default, which would threaten banks holding billions in Greek debt.
US secretly sold ‘bunker busters’ to Israel
‘Obama sold special bombs to Israel’
The upcoming issue of Newsweek, which is set to hit newsstands on Monday, claims that two years ago US President Barack Obama secretly approved the transfer of 55 “bunker-busters”, a form of deep-penetrating bombs, to Israel. The country had been requesting the bombs since the time of the Bush administration, the Daily Beast website reported on Friday.
According to the report, US and Israeli officials told Newsweek that the GBU-28 type bombs, which could be potentially be used in an attack on Iran’s nuclear sites, were transferred to Israel in 2009, just several months after Obama came into office.
Israel had asked the US for “bunker-busters” in 2005, but the Bush administration refused the request. At the time, the report noted, the Pentagon had frozen nearly all joint Israel-US defense plans over fears that Israel was transferring advanced technological intel to China.
In 2007 Bush told then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that he would order the bomb transfer in 2009 or 2010. Now the report reveals that Obama had already approved the transfer of the advanced weapons two years ago.
The report said that James Cartwright, the Marine Corps general who served until August as the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noted that the military chiefs had no objections to the sale.
Cartwright said, there was a concern about “how the Iranians would perceive it,” and “how the Israelis might perceive it.” It was feared that the move would be seen as if the US was giving Israel a green light to attack Iran.
US and Israeli officials told Newsweek that Israel had developed its own bunker-buster technology between 2005 and 2009, but the purchase from the US was cheaper.
- The israel Today article, “US changes mind, will sell bunker busters to Israel,” points out that this sale was approved by President Bush:
In an apparent about-face, the Bush Administration announced on Friday that it has decided to approve the sale of 1,000 advanced bunker-buster bombs to Israel.
The US Department of Defense announced the planned sale, which will significantly improve Israel’s strike capability, despite reservations that Jerusalem is planning to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.
The particular bomb approved for the sale is the Guided Bomb Unit-39 (GBU-39), which despite weighing only 250 pounds carries the destructive power of a one-ton bomb.
Earlier in the month, Washington reportedly denied a request by Israel for bunker-buster bombs and a flight corridor through Iraqi airspace.
Stuxnet creator says “any dumb hacker” can build, sell cyberweapons
The Christian Science Monitor
From the man who discovered Stuxnet, dire warnings one year later
One year ago a malicious software program called Stuxnet exploded onto the world stage as the first publicly confirmed cyber superweapon – a digital guided missile that could emerge from cyber space to destroy a physical target in the real world.
It took Ralph Langner about a month to figure that out.
While Symantec, the big antivirus company, and other experts pored over Stuxnet’s inner workings, it was Mr. Langner, a industrial control systems security expert in Hamburg, who deciphered and tested pieces of Stuxnet’s “payload” code in his lab and declared it a military-grade cyberweapon aimed at Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Days later, he and other experts refined that assessment, agreeing Stuxnet was specifically after Iran’s gas centrifuge nuclear fuel-enrichment program at Natanz.
After infiltrating Natanz’s industrial-control systems, Stuxnet automatically ordered subsystems operating the centrifuge motors to spin too fast and make them fly apart, Langner says. At the same time, Stuxnet made it appear random breakdowns were responsible so plant operators would not realize a nasty software weapon was behind it.
In the end, Stuxnet may have set back Iran’s nuclear ambitions by years. But it also could prove a Pyrrhic victory for its still-unknown creator – a sophisticated cyberweapons nation state that Langner argues could be the US or Israel. Like the Hiroshima bomb, Stuxnet demonstrated for the first time a dangerous capability – in this case to hackers, cybercrime gangs, and new cyberweapons states, he says in an interview.
With Stuxnet as a “blueprint” downloadable from the Internet, he says, “any dumb hacker” can now figure out how to build and sell cyberweapons to any hacktivist or terrorist who wants “to put the lights out” in a US city or “release a toxic gas cloud.”
- In other Iran news, a past guest gives his take on the release of another past This is Hell guest in the San Jose Mercury News story, “Politics in Iran and abroad factor into timing of American hikers’ release“:
From the day they were detained to the day they were released from a Tehran prison, two American hikers remained trapped in a high-stakes drama playing out between Iranian leaders and the world beyond.
The timing of their release Wednesday, Iran scholars noted, was further proof: It was the day before Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was scheduled to address the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
“These … young Americans were not only a political football between the United States and Iran, but a political football within Iran, as well,” said (past This is Hell! guest) Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council.
One year ago, Ahmadinejad’s U.N. appearance amplified his reputation as an international pariah who called the Holocaust “a myth” and could not satisfy probes into his country’s nuclear ambitions. This year, the Iranian president can use his media appearances to trumpet the freedom of Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, friends from their time at UC Berkeley.
Senegalese government stops opposition protest
The Associated Press
Senegal ruling party cancels opposition protest
Senegal’s ruling party said Thursday that it is canceling all political demonstrations, an announcement that comes a day before the nation’s opposition planned to hold a rally to call for regime change.
In a fax sent to reporters on Thursday, the ruling Senegalese Democratic Party, or PDS, said that the No. 2 of the National Assembly Diawar Toure had died in Paris on Wednesday.
“Due to the period of mourning that has hit the entire political class,” the statement said, “the director’s committee of the PDS … is canceling all political demonstrations in its calendar until further notice, especially the one foreseen for Sept. 23, 2011.”
The timing of the announcement struck members of the opposition as suspicious, and Moustapha Niasse told The Associated Press that he and other opposition leaders were in a meeting to decide how to proceed.
President Abdoulaye Wade, who has been in power for a decade, has been in New York this week to attend the opening of the United Nations General Assembly.
Apollo astronauts blast moth-balling of shuttle
Agence France Presse
Armstrong to NASA: You’re Embarrassing
Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, told lawmakers Thursday that the end of the space shuttle era has left the American human spaceflight program in an “embarrassing” state.
“We will have no American access to, and return from, low Earth orbit and the International Space Station for an unpredictable length of time in the future,” Armstrong told the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.
“For a country that has invested so much for so long to achieve a leadership position in space exploration and exploitation, this condition is viewed by many as lamentably embarrassing and unacceptable.”
Armstrong was part of a four-member panel of space experts who told lawmakers that NASA needs a stronger vision for the future and should focus on returning humans to the moon and to the International Space Station.
“A lead, however earnestly and expensively won, once lost, is nearly impossible to regain,” said the US astronaut, now 81, who was commander of Apollo 11 and walked on the moon in 1969.
President Barack Obama canceled the Constellation program that would have returned humans to the Moon and called on NASA to instead focus on new, deep-space capabilities to tote people to an asteroid by 2025 and Mars by 2030.
The retirement in July of the three-decade-old space shuttle program brought an end to the US capability to send humans to space until private industry can come up with a new commercial space capsule to the ISS, maybe by 2015.
In the meantime, Russia’s Soyuz capsules are the only taxis for the world’s astronauts heading to low-Earth orbit, and each ticket to the ISS costs global space agencies between 50 and 60 million dollars each.
“Get the shuttle out of the garage down there at Kennedy (Space Center), crank up the motors and put it back in service,” said Eugene Cernan, who commanded the Apollo 17 flight and was the last man to walk on the Moon in 1972.
“You want a launch vehicle today that will service the ISS? We’ve got it sitting down there. So before we put it in a museum, let’s make use of it. It’s in the prime of its life, how could we just put it away?”
Faster than speed-of-light finding may “rock the foundation of physics”
Dimension-hop may allow neutrinos to cheat light speed
A CERN experiment claims to have caught neutrinos breaking the universe’s most fundamental speed limit. The ghostly subatomic particles seem to have zipped faster than light from the particle physics laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland, to a detector in Italy.
Fish that physics textbook back out of the wastebasket, though: the new result contradicts previous measurements of neutrino speed that were based on a supernova explosion. What’s more, there is still room for error in the departure time of the supposed speedsters. And even if the result is correct, thanks to theories that posit extra dimensions, it does not necessarily mean that the speed of light has been beaten.
“If it’s true, it’s fantastic. It will rock the foundation of physics,” says Stephen Parke of Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois. “But we still have to confirm it.”
Neutrinos are nearly massless subatomic particles that are notoriously shy of interacting with other forms of matter. An experiment called OPERA (Oscillation Project with Emusion tRacking Apparatus) sent beams of neutrinos from a particle accelerator at CERN to a detector in the Gran Sasso cavern in Italy, 730 kilometres away.
The neutrinos arrived 60 nanoseconds sooner than they would have if they had been travelling at the speed of light, the team says.
If real, the finding will force a rewrite of Einstein’s theory of special relativity, one of the cornerstones of modern physics (and a theory whose predictions are incorporated into the design of the accelerators at CERN). “It’s not reasonable,” says theorist Marc Sher of the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.
One problem is that the CERN result busts the apparent speed limit of neutrinos seen when radiation from a supernova explosion reached Earth in February 1987.