Nine Circles of Hell!: Monday January 30, 2012
The Nine Circles of Hell! – all the news that gives you fits in print – today’s nine most hellish news stories, including a bonus #Occupy story and an extra article on migration, for Monday, January 30, 2012, are:
MF Global said they were in “strongest position ever” before collapse
MF Global Said ‘Never Been Stronger’ a Week Before Failure
A week before MF Global Holdings Ltd. (MF) collapsed, its chief financial officer told Standard & Poor’s in an e-mail that the futures broker had “never been stronger.”
S&P provided the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations with an excerpt of the e-mail from MF Global CFO Henri Steenkamp. S&P also informed the panel that Jon Corzine, then MF Global’s chief executive officer, met with its analysts on Oct. 20 to reassure them that his $6.3 billion bet on European sovereign debt was no threat to the firm, according to a Jan. 17 letter obtained by Bloomberg News.
U.S. lawmakers will turn their attention to the role of the ratings companies in the failure of MF Global at a Feb. 2 hearing after summoning Corzine, the former governor of New Jersey and CEO of Goldman Sachs Group Inc., to two hearings in December. S&P ranked MF Global as investment grade until its failure, while Moody’s downgraded it to junk status four days earlier.
“MF Global is in its strongest position ever,” Steenkamp told S&P on Oct. 24, according to the letter to Representative Randy Neugebauer, a Texas Republican, from Craig Parmelee, a managing director at S&P in New York.
MF Global filed for the eighth-biggest bankruptcy in U.S. history on Oct. 31 after receiving margin calls and other demands for money amid escalating concern that the brokerage wouldn’t have enough capital to cover its European bets. S&P said in the letter that it relied on MF Global’s public filings for information on the positions.
“S&P does not purport to audit the issuers it rates and does not undertake to police issuers for fraudulent activity or misconduct,” Parmelee wrote.
Moody’s analysts believed that MF Global was increasing its trading activity “for the primary purpose of facilitating customer transactions,” Steven Ross, a partner at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP who represents the firm, wrote to Neugebauer in a separate letter dated Jan. 17. The brokerage’s presentations before Oct. 21 “did not describe or reflect” the European positions, Ross wrote.
Hundreds arrested at #OccupyOakland demonstrations
Occupy Oakland demonstrations, arrests inject new life into movement
Oakland City Hall was set to reopen Monday after municipal employees worked to clean up damage they said was caused over the weekend by Occupy protesters, about 400 of whom were arrested following clashes with police in this Northern California city.
The mass arrests, described by police as the largest in city history, appear to have injected new life into the Occupy movement as protesters in a number of American and European cities took to the streets Sunday to express their solidarity with the Occupy Oakland group.
“The Occupy movement will respond, as we have always responded: With an overwhelming show of collective resistance,” Occupy Wall Street said in a statement posted on its website.
Occupy Oakland is part of a larger movement that began last year on New York’s Wall Street and quickly spread across the globe. While the protesters have highlighted a number of causes, the overarching theme remained the same: populist anger over what activists portray as an out-of-touch corporate, financial and political elite.
From Philadelphia to Des Moines, Iowa, there were reports of Occupy protesters taking to the streets in mostly non-violent demonstrations.
- The Washington Post is keeping tabs on new #OccupyDC protests in their live updates featured in, “Occupy D.C. overnight camping ban begins at noon.”
‘Baby Doc’ faces corruption charges, not human rights abuses
Exclusive: Duvalier faces trial for corruption, not abuses
Former Haitian dictator Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier will face trial for corruption during his 15-year rule, but not for human rights abuses, a senior judicial official told Reuters.
A ruling on the charges by the judge handling the case is due to be delivered to the government prosecutor’s office on Monday, the official said.
But it does not include charges for the murders, disappearances, torture and other rights abuses allegedly committed during Duvalier’s rule.
He inherited power from his father, Francois ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier in 1971 and ruled Haiti for 15 years until his overthrow in 1986. Under the father-and-son dictatorship, thousands of people were murdered, or were tortured in jails, such as the dreaded Fort Dimanche.
Duvalier, now 60, made a surprise return to his earthquake-stricken homeland in January last year after nearly 25 years exiled in France, opening himself up to possible prosecution.
“Duvalier will be tried for misappropriation of public funds, not for any other criminal charges,” the official said, adding that the former dictator would face up to five years in prison if convicted. No trial date has yet been set.
While the ruling is a setback for human rights victims and advocates, it also marks a victory for those seeking punishment for Duvalier’s alleged crimes who had feared that the judge would drop all charges. It would also appear to squash any hopes of a political comeback by the former dictator – at least for the time being – as his lawyers battle with the legal challenge.
One of his lawyers said Duvalier would appeal the decision to send him to trial.
Duvalier is alleged to have embezzled between $300 million and $800 million of assets during his presidency.
The Swiss government has sought to confiscate assets valued at 5.8 million Swiss francs ($6.7 million). It wants to return the funds to Haiti, which is the poorest country in the Americas and is struggling to recover from a devastating earthquake in 2010 which killed more than 200,000 people.
Eurozone unemployment creates ‘lost generation’
Europe’s lost generation: how it feels to be young and struggling in the EU
Maybe being young is never easy. But being a twentysomething young European has rarely been more stressful.
More than a quarter (28%) of Italians between 16 and 24 are unemployed. Others are struggling to get by on unpaid internships or poorly paid jobs with little security.
Italy’s new prime minister, Mario Monti, has vowed to help the younger generation, promising among other things to help them start businesses, but as austerity bites deep the future is uncertain, even terrifying, for many.
It’s not just Italy, of course. Eurozone unemployment is at a record. According to Eurostat, the EU’s statistical office, 16.3 million people are out of work in the 17 countries that joined the euro. The story of a lost generation is becoming the scandal of a continent. In Spain, 51.4% of those aged 16-24 are jobless. In Greece, the figure is 43%.
As the eurozone crisis worsened, I went back to my hometown of Civita Castellana, 65 kilometres north of Rome, to meet my classmates from the Giuseppe Colasanti high school. Michela, Maria, Elena, Elisa, Michele, Martina and I were in the class of 2005.
When Monti announced his €30bn austerity package, he said: “Sacrifice will be required.” In Civita, those sacrifices are being made. It is one of the largest industrial centres in the region. Since the end of the second world war, about 90% of people been employed making bathroom fittings and crockery, for which Civita is renowned. What everyone now calls “the crisis” arrived here earlier than elsewhere, as the town suffered the consequences of globalisation and competition with China, where similar products were being made more cheaply. Many factories have closed; thousands are out of work.
The debt crisis that began in 2008 means redundancy hangs over many of those who have kept jobs. Then there are the young. Getting a foot on the ladder has never been simple in Italy, where who you know is often key. But with the country facing austerity for the foreseeable future, and eurozone GDP as a whole predicted to shrink by 0.5% in 2012, the outlook is bleak.
Belgium’s first-ever general strike in decades targets EU
General strike grips Belgium as EU leaders meet
Belgium’s first general strike in almost two decades brought parts of the country to a halt on Monday in an anti-austerity protest aimed at the new government and at EU leaders meeting in Brussels.
The rail network closed, buses and trams sat in depots, schools and shops shut and production stopped at the factories of many companies including carmakers Audi (VOWG_p.DE) and Volvo, Coca Cola (KO.N) and imaging group Agfa-Gevaert (AGFB.BR).
Charleroi Airport, a hub for Ryanair (RYA.I) and other low-cost carriers, was forced to cancel all flights due to union plans to block the access road.
However, at Brussels airport most flights were running.
“Some airlines cancelled services ahead of time … but overall I think only about 10 percent of flights will be hit,” an airport spokesman said.
High-speed international trains, such as the Eurostar from London and Thalys from Paris, were not running into or out of the country as of late on Sunday.
At Europe’s second busiest port, Antwerp, all container and some bulk cargo terminals were shut, with shipping traffic suffering delays due to suspended harbour services.
Congestion on the highways was less than usual, traffic body Touring-Mobilis said, suggesting that people who had decided to work had left earlier, shared cars or chosen to work from home.
The walkout coincides with the 17th EU summit in two years as the bloc battles to resolve its sovereign debt problems. The EU leaders are expected to sign off on a permanent rescue fund for the euro zone and agree on a German-driven pact for stricter budget discipline.
Belgian union chiefs, gathered outside the meeting, urged the EU to issue joint eurobonds to ease the interest pain for weaker nations and said the rich should shoulder more of the austerity burden.
“Europe must hand out eurobonds, it must help the strikers who have bailed out banks and it must take steps for long-term growth,” said Rudy De Leeuw, president of the ABVV union group.
Zimbabwe’s cancer-causing water
9 in a 1 000 at risk of contracting cancer in Harare
Nine people in every 1 000 in Harare are at risk of developing colon or liver cancer from eating contaminated fish harvested from Lake Chivero and other water bodies around Harare, local scientific studies have indicated.
A researcher with the University of Zimbabwe’s department of biological sciences, Maxwell Barson said the city faces a major cancer outbreak if its residents are not prevented from eating heavily contaminated fish from water bodies surrounding the city.
He said Lake Chivero, Manyame and other water bodies around the city were heavily contaminated with industrial pollutants, including chemical and heavy metals that cause cancer. Findings of an earlier study produced in African Journal of Aquatic Science recently, indicated that levels of metal contamination were too high.
It said levels of zinc, iron, copper, nickel and lead in fish from Manyame, Mukuvisi and Gwebi rivers were unusually high, with zinc and iron concentrations being the highest in sharptooth catfish.
“The results of this study may have significant negative implications for aquatic organisms and human health through the consumption of fish and therefore risk assessment investigations are imperative,” noted the study carried out last year.
Harare City Council was recently fined US$15 000 by the Environmental Management Agency (EMA) for discharging raw sewage into the environment. Experts said the fine was too little to deter the local authority from doing it again.
Another study by the Department of Biological Science at the University of Zimbabwe, with chilling accuracy, accurately predicted the 2008 cholera epidemic and the latest typhoid outbreak and has painted a bleak future for the city, with the blame squarely on pollution at water sources.
The areas most affected by the typhoid outbreak, Whitecliff, Dzivaresekwa and Kuwadzana, are again most at risk of future disease outbreaks and the predicted cancer.
City of Harare has so far blamed the typhoid outbreak on the sale of fish. The council said it was embarking on a drive to alert vendors and fish mongers on the need for hygiene.
Harare mayor Muchadeyi Masunda’s phone went unanswered, when sought for comment yesterday.
Barson said Harare water was not 100% safe to drink as it contains substances that should not be there. He said at times, algae and brown sediments, are found in tap water.
“Harare water is not 100% safe to drink that is why people are encouraged to boil it or use water tablets,” he said. “At times you see algae and sediments and if it is like that it is not safe.”
Pakistan “sidelined” from US-backed Afghan-Taliban talks
Agence France Presse
Afghans ‘agree to hold Saudi talks with Taliban’
Afghan officials and representatives of the Taliban insurgents fighting the Western-backed government are to hold peace talks in Saudi Arabia, a Riyadh-based Afghan diplomat said on Monday.
“An Afghan government delegation and a Taliban delegation will hold talks in Saudi Arabia,” the diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity, but he could not give a timeframe.
He said the talks in Saudi Arabia would be separate from US-brokered meetings in Qatar and would be the first such talks to take place in the Sunni Muslim kingdom.
In Kabul, however, a government spokesman cautioned that no steps had yet been taken to start talks in Saudi Arabia.
“No practical steps have been taken to start talks in Saudi Arabia, it has only been a suggestion,” Akim Hasher, head of the Government Media and Information Centre, told AFP.
“The Afghan government is very clear on talks — we have always preferred Saudi to Qatar,” he said. “There is a possibility that the talks will take place in Saudi as well — Qatar is definitely not the only option.”
Taliban negotiators have begun preliminary discussions with the United States in Qatar on plans for peace talks aimed at ending the decade-long war in Afghanistan.
They have also announced plans to set up an office in Doha.
A member of the Taliban’s leadership council, the Pakistan-based Quetta Shura, said Sunday “the idea that the Taliban should have a point of contact in Saudi is pushed by the Pakistan and Afghan governments.”
Pakistan was feeling “sidelined” from the US-brokered talks, he said.
Japanese population to drop by a third in next 50 years
Japan population to shrink by one-third by 2060
The Japanese population is expected to shrink by one third in the next half century, a government report says.
The Health and Welfare ministry estimates that 40% of the population will be of retirement age by 2060.
It says that life expectancy – already one of the highest in the world – will continue to rise.
Correspondents say the report presents a grim picture for Japan at a time when it urgently needs to overhaul its social security and tax systems.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has pledged to push through a reform programme this year.
But his political opponents say his plan requires higher taxes than are currently proposed.
The government report says that by 2060, Japan will have 87 million people, down from today’s 128 million.
The proportion aged 65 or older is expected to double to 40%.
At the same time the national workforce – comprising people aged between 15 to 65 – will shrink to about half of the total population, estimates released by the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research say.
The research says that Japan’s population will keep declining by one million people every year in coming decades.
The research also suggests that the average life expectancy will have risen by more than four years by 2060 to 84.19 for men and 90.93 for women.
“This is the most significant wildlife event in decades”
Snowy owls soar south from Arctic in rare mass migration
Bird enthusiasts are reporting rising numbers of snowy owls from the Arctic winging into the lower 48 states this winter in a mass southern migration that a leading owl researcher called “unbelievable.”
Thousands of the snow-white birds, which stand 2 feet tall with 5-foot wingspans, have been spotted from coast to coast, feeding in farmlands in Idaho, roosting on rooftops in Montana, gliding over golf courses in Missouri and soaring over shorelines in Massachusetts.
A certain number of the iconic owls fly south from their Arctic breeding grounds each winter but rarely do so many venture so far away even amid large-scale, periodic southern migrations known as irruptions.
“What we’re seeing now — it’s unbelievable,” said Denver Holt, head of the Owl Research Institute in Montana.
“This is the most significant wildlife event in decades,” added Holt, who has studied snowy owls in their Arctic tundra ecosystem for two decades.
Holt and other owl experts say the phenomenon is likely linked to lemmings, a rodent that accounts for 90 percent of the diet of snowy owls during breeding months that stretch from May into September. The largely nocturnal birds also prey on a host of other animals, from voles to geese.
An especially plentiful supply of lemmings last season likely led to a population boom among owls that resulted in each breeding pair hatching as many as seven offspring. That compares to a typical clutch size of no more than two, Holt said.
Greater competition this year for food in the Far North by the booming bird population may have then driven mostly younger, male owls much farther south than normal.
Research on the animals is scarce because of the remoteness and extreme conditions of the terrain the owls occupy, including northern Russia and Scandinavia, he said.
The surge in snowy owl sightings has brought birders flocking from Texas, Arizona and Utah to the Northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest, pouring tourist dollars into local economies and crowding parks and wildlife areas. The irruption has triggered widespread public fascination that appears to span ages and interests.
- In other freakish migration news, Reuters reports, “The great northern migration — of U.S. cattle“:
For more than a century, through a dozen dry spells when lakes disappeared and the land died, thousands of cows from the Swenson Land & Cattle Co have roamed the fields of Texas.
Yet the drought currently ravaging the southern Plains has done what the Dust Bowl could not: chased them off this land and driven them more than 600 miles north to Nebraska.
Now, as the worst drought in a century stretches into its second year, these ranchers and many of their peers are herding their animals in record numbers to the Cornhusker State and other points north, in search of grazing land that is not parched – a shift that is fueling a dramatic economic and cultural reshaping of the U.S. livestock industry.
“If we’re going to survive, we have to go north,” says Dennis Braden, general manager of Swenson Land & Cattle Co in Stamford, Texas, about 170 miles west of Dallas. “We have to go.”
While some Texas ranchers hang on, selling off their stock at an unprecedented pace that has reduced America’s cattle herd to the smallest in 60 years, many are carving new homesteads out of some of the richest grassland in North America, a bid for survival that falls somewhere between surrender and hope.
In cattle-car convoys that wind along routes cowboys used in the 1800s, this migration is also a stark illustration of the myriad threats facing the world’s future food supply: intense competition for land; increasing demands on limited water resources; and the growing threat of volatile weather.
The size and speed of the shrinkage in the U.S. cattle herd has left the industry reeling. As the national cattle and calf inventory fell 2 percent from a year ago to its smallest since 1952, the herd in Texas dropped 11 percent or 1.4 million head, the biggest decline in nearly 150 years of recorded data.
But Nebraska’s herd increased 4 percent or 250,000 head in the year to January 1, the most of any state, placing it ahead of Kansas as the country’s second-largest cattle producer, according to the Department of Agriculture’s bi-annual survey released on Friday.
Today, 7.1 percent of the country’s cattle is in Nebraska – the state’s largest share of the national herd since the federal government began collecting data in 1867. At 13 percent, Texas now has the smallest share since 1986.
The shrinking supply has extended a two-year rally in Chicago futures prices, raising costs for companies like Tyson Foods Inc and McDonald’s Corp. Retail prices are up 20 percent since 2009, with choice beef topping $5 per pound for the first time ever in November, USDA data show. But slack demand and soaring feed costs have kept margins tight.
It seems set to get worse before it gets better.