Nine Circles of Hell!: Monday, November 28
The Nine Circles of Hell! – all the news that gives you fits in print – today’s nine most hellish news stories, including an extra story on speculation in our vanishing farmland and a bonus protest, for Monday, November 28, 2011, are:
Secret no-strings-attached big bank bailout by Fed, largest in US history
Secret Fed Loans Gave Banks $13 Billion
The Federal Reserve and the big banks fought for more than two years to keep details of the largest bailout in U.S. history a secret. Now, the rest of the world can see what it was missing.
The Fed didn’t tell anyone which banks were in trouble so deep they required a combined $1.2 trillion on Dec. 5, 2008, their single neediest day. Bankers didn’t mention that they took tens of billions of dollars in emergency loans at the same time they were assuring investors their firms were healthy. And no one calculated until now that banks reaped an estimated $13 billion of income by taking advantage of the Fed’s below-market rates, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its January issue.
Saved by the bailout, bankers lobbied against government regulations, a job made easier by the Fed, which never disclosed the details of the rescue to lawmakers even as Congress doled out more money and debated new rules aimed at preventing the next collapse.
A fresh narrative of the financial crisis of 2007 to 2009 emerges from 29,000 pages of Fed documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and central bank records of more than 21,000 transactions. While Fed officials say that almost all of the loans were repaid and there have been no losses, details suggest taxpayers paid a price beyond dollars as the secret funding helped preserve a broken status quo and enabled the biggest banks to grow even bigger.
“When you see the dollars the banks got, it’s hard to make the case these were successful institutions,” says Sherrod Brown, a Democratic Senator from Ohio who in 2010 introduced an unsuccessful bill to limit bank size. “This is an issue that can unite the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street. There are lawmakers in both parties who would change their votes now.”
The size of the bailout came to light after Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News, won a court case against the Fed and a group of the biggest U.S. banks called Clearing House Association LLC to force lending details into the open.
The Fed, headed by Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, argued that revealing borrower details would create a stigma — investors and counterparties would shun firms that used the central bank as lender of last resort — and that needy institutions would be reluctant to borrow in the next crisis. Clearing House Association fought Bloomberg’s lawsuit up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear the banks’ appeal in March 2011.
The amount of money the central bank parceled out was surprising even to Gary H. Stern, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis from 1985 to 2009, who says he “wasn’t aware of the magnitude.” It dwarfed the Treasury Department’s better-known $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP. Add up guarantees and lending limits, and the Fed had committed $7.77 trillion as of March 2009 to rescuing the financial system, more than half the value of everything produced in the U.S. that year.
“TARP at least had some strings attached,” says Brad Miller, a North Carolina Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, referring to the program’s executive-pay ceiling. “With the Fed programs, there was nothing.”
Law says Britain must go ‘green,’ but how ‘green’ will Britain go?
The New York Times
Crunch Time Is Coming for U.K.’s Green Commitment
Britain has some big decisions to make on energy, and environmentalists say the answers that politicians come up with in the next few months will determine whether the country follows through on its promises of strong action against global warming.
A series of important questions about investment in renewable energy, efficiency and nuclear generation are up for discussion as the government and energy companies plan how to replace a generation of power plants that are nearing retirement.
Britain put itself out in front of the effort to slow climate change by legally binding itself to strict carbon reduction targets in the Climate Change Act, passed in 2008 with support from all three major political parties.
Prime Minister David Cameron took office last year promising to lead the “greenest government ever.” Still, with the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition giving priority to budget cuts and the economy flat-lining, the powerful Treasury department appears unenthusiastic. George Osborne, who as chancellor of the Exchequer, or finance minister, controls the country’s purse strings, has hinted that he sees aggressive carbon-cutting as a luxury that Britain may not now be able to afford.
There has been little backtracking from efforts to reduce climate-warming emissions, environmentalists say, but many proposals have yet to be written into law or regulation. A host of hard choices are in the pipeline, and some observers fear that a government divided over the importance of confronting rising temperatures will ultimately balk at them.
Next year will be the crunch time for the government to show that it actually intends to deliver a green economic structure, said Nick Mabey, head of the environmental group E3G.
He said his group would be scrutinizing decisions on things like incentives for green retrofits of millions of homes and carbon reduction targets for the power sector.
“There’s a lot of detail, but the critical thing is the politics, particularly whether Mr. Cameron throws his weight behind strong measures,” Mr. Mabey said. “In the end what matters is, is this on the top of their political agenda? Because the decisions we’ve got to take are tough political decisions.”
Energy experts say the regulatory and financial framework Britain creates now will have repercussions for several decades, locking in an energy infrastructure that moves it toward meeting its target of an 80 percent carbon reduction by 2050 or pushing emissions ever higher.
Europe “arm wrestling” over new pact to save Euro
The Wall Street Journal
Europe’s Leaders Pursue New Pact
Euro-zone leaders are negotiating a potentially groundbreaking fiscal pact aimed at preventing the currency bloc from fracturing by tethering its members even closer together.
The proposal, which hasn’t yet been agreed to, would make budget discipline legally binding and enforceable by European authorities. Officials regard the moves as a first step toward closer fiscal and economic coordination within the currency area. That would mark a seminal shift in the governance of the 17-nation euro zone.
European officials hope a new agreement, which would aim to shrink the excessive public debt that helped spark the crisis, would persuade the European Central Bank to undertake more drastic action to reverse the recent selloff in euro-zone debt markets.
The proposed pact represents the boldest attempt by Europe’s leaders to halt the spread of the crisis since they agreed in July to offer Greece a new bailout and to bolster the region’s bailout fund. Those steps, initially hailed as a breakthrough, quickly proved insufficient.
Two years into a crisis that has posed the biggest challenge to European integration since World War II, the Continent’s leaders now appear to be pursing a path that officials have long regarded as economically necessary but politically untenable—fiscal union.
As recently as this summer, measures such as a centralized fiscal-enforcement authority with power to seize control of national budgets would have been viewed in most capitals as an unacceptable invasion of sovereignty. That such steps are now under serious consideration reflects the perilous turn the crisis has taken in recent months.
The turmoil recently has encroached into the core of the euro zone, fueling fears that the currency bloc could collapse. Thus far, the ECB has refused to intervene more aggressively, demanding that the region’s governments pursue fiscal and economic reforms.
Germany and France are leading the negotiations on the possible new pact among the euro zone’s 17 members. One European official said there remains “a lot of arm wrestling” over its precise contents.
Pakistan pissed over another deadly airstrike, US apologizes again
The Christian Science Monitor
Pakistan scoffs at US apologies after NATO strike
As further details about the NATO strike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers continue to trickle out, Pakistan has scoffed at US attempts to apologize and repair damage done to the US-Pakistan partnership and hinted that the Saturday attack could mark a point of no return. However, the two countries are still heavily dependent on one another, which could be enough to prevent a break.
In an interview with CNN Monday, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said “Pakistan was re-evaluating its relationship with the United States,” noting that Pakistan wanted to continue its relationship “as long as there was mutual respect and respect for Pakistan’s sovereignty.” The most recent attack was a violation of sovereignty, Mr. Gilani said.
The Washington Post reports that, according to Pakistan Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, the NATO attack at two border outposts lasted for almost two hours and Pakistani Army requests to NATO to bring an end to the fire were ignored. Mr. Abbas rejected Afghan claims that the Pakistani soldiers fired first and said that NATO and Afghanistan knew the exact border outpost locations, provided by Pakistan, and that the area had recently been cleared of militants.
NATO pledged to conduct a full investigation into the strike on the soldiers, which it said was “tragic and unintended,” according to the Washington Post.
He also said that the US failed to follow procedure and inform the Pakistani Army that they were receiving fire from the Pakistani side of the border. The Washington Post reports that US troops have repeatedly come under attack from the Pakistani side of the border, often within sight of Pakistani border posts and military bases, and that the proximity of Pakistani military positions does not necessarily mean that there are not militants operating in the area.
In a joint statement late Saturday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta offered their “deepest condolences.” However, Pakistani newspapers, including The Nation, reported today that Abbas said, “NATO regret over the killing of Pakistani soldier is not enough. … We think this is not enough and we do not accept it. Such raids have also been conducted in the past. Such attacks are unacceptable.”
The New York Times notes that the cycle of American apologies and initial righteous anger from Pakistan is one that has played out before – but it becomes harder to return to normal relations each time.
Drone aircraft to increasingly become a part of American life
Los Angeles Times
Idea of civilians using drone aircraft may soon fly with FAA
Drone aircraft, best known for their role in hunting and destroying terrorist hide-outs in Afghanistan, may soon be coming to the skies near you.
Police agencies want drones for air support to spot runaway criminals. Utility companies believe they can help monitor oil, gas and water pipelines. Farmers think drones could aid in spraying their crops with pesticides.
“It’s going to happen,” said Dan Elwell, vice president of civil aviation at the Aerospace Industries Assn. “Now it’s about figuring out how to safely assimilate the technology into national airspace.”
That’s the job of the Federal Aviation Administration, which plans to propose new rules for the use of small drones in January, a first step toward integrating robotic aircraft into the nation’s skyways.
The agency has issued 266 active testing permits for civilian drone applications but hasn’t permitted drones in national airspace on a wide scale out of concern that the pilotless craft don’t have an adequate “detect, sense and avoid” technology to prevent midair collisions.
Other concerns include privacy — imagine a camera-equipped drone buzzing above your backyard pool party — and the creative ways in which criminals and terrorists might use the machines.
“By definition, small drones are easy to conceal and fly without getting a lot of attention,” said John Villasenor, a UCLA professor and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Center for Technology Innovation. “Bad guys know this.”
The aerospace industry insists these concerns can be addressed. It also believes that the good guys — the nation’s law enforcement agencies — are probably the biggest commercial market for domestic drones, at least initially.
Police departments in Texas, Florida and Minnesota have expressed interest in the technology’s potential to spot runaway criminals on rooftops or to track them at night by using the robotic aircraft’s heat-seeking cameras.
“Most Americans still see drone aircraft in the realm of science fiction,” said Peter W. Singer, author of “Wired for War,” a book about robotic warfare. “But the technology is here. And it isn’t going away. It will increasingly play a role in our lives. The real question is: How do we deal with it?”
World re-thinks nuclear power and nuclear waste after Fukushima
The New York Times
A New Urgency to the Problem of Storing Nuclear Waste
The nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, earlier this year caused many countries to rethink their appetite for nuclear power. It is also, in subtler ways, altering the fraught discussion of what to do with nuclear plants’ wastes.
A prime example is Germany, which decided to shut down all its nuclear power plants by 2022 after the partial reactor meltdowns at Fukushima. That decision is making it easier for Germans to have a calm and focused discussion about a permanent disposal site for the plants’ wastes, analysts say.
Previously, opponents of nuclear power worried that backing a permanent solution for the wastes would make it easier for nuclear power plants to continue to exist, according to Michael Sailer, the chief executive at the Öko-Institut in Berlin, a research and consulting group focused on sustainability.
Anti-nuclear politicians, he said, felt that if they came out in favor of a permanent disposal site, “they support pro-nuclear people because they solve the waste problem.”.
Protests over waste storage are a long tradition for Germany, and they continue. In recent days, anti-nuclear activists in both France and Germany clashed with the police as a train carrying waste made its way toward a facility in Germany. The waste had originated in Germany and been reprocessed in France and was returning to Germany for storage.
Even so, Germany is now moving forward on the waste issue. Earlier this month, leaders from around Germany met to discuss a permanent disposal solution. They agreed to study a number of potential sites around the country, according to Mr. Sailer, and eventually to make a scientifically based decision about which sites to proceed with.
This development, Mr. Sailer said, represents a “huge” advance over earlier efforts.
Other countries are also looking at waste in new ways in the post-Fukushima world. Right now, worldwide, most spent fuel waste is stored on the site of the facility that produced it, in spent-fuel pools and, after it eventually cools, dry casks. Experts say dispersed storage is expensive and that central storage would be more secure.
Few countries, apart from Sweden and Finland, have moved forward on centralized disposal sites, deep in the earth, designed to hold the waste permanently.
France is evaluating a permanent disposal site for spent fuel, near the remote northeastern village of Bure. The country gets roughly three-quarters of its power from nuclear plants and reprocesses its fuel, a technique that reduces the quantity of waste but is expensive and also creates plutonium, which can be used in nuclear weapons.
Japan also hopes to choose a site and build a geological disposal facility in the coming decades.
Meanwhile, every aspect of nuclear power in Japan — including waste storage — has been turned upside down by the Fukushima disaster in March, which followed a giant earthquake and tsunami. As a result of the accident, Japan has “doubled or tripled” the amount of non-spent fuel and high-level waste, according to Murray Jennex, a nuclear expert at San Diego State University. Even things like the building that houses the turbine are contaminated, he noted.
“So that’s really increased their demand for storage, and I’m not sure what they’re going to do with it,” Dr. Jennex said.
Japan is also considering what to do with the contaminated soil in the area affected by the plant.
Experts say the post-Fukushima spotlight on all aspects of nuclear safety will affect discussions of how, as well as where, to store waste.
Most farmland already farmed with wasteful, destructive practices
The Associated Press
A quarter of world’s farmlands highly degraded, says UN
The United Nations has completed the first-ever global assessment of the state of the planet’s land resources, finding in a report today that a quarter of all farmland is highly degraded and warning the trend must be reversed if the world’s growing population is to be fed.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that farmers will have to produce 70 per cent more food by 2050 to meet the needs of the world’s expected nine billion-strong population.
That amounts to 1 billion tonnes more wheat, rice and other cereals and 200 million more tons of cow and other livestock.
But as it is, most available farmland is already being farmed, and in ways that actually decrease its productivity through practices that lead to soil erosion and wasting of water.
That means that to meet the world’s future food needs, a major “sustainable intensification” of agricultural productivity on existing farmland will be necessary, the FAO said in “State of the World’s Land and Water Resources for Food and Agriculture”.
The report was released today, as delegates from around the world meet in Durban, South Africa, for a two-week UN climate change conference aimed at breaking the deadlock on how to curb emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants.
The report found that climate change coupled with poor farming practices had contributed to a decrease in productivity of the world’s farmland following the boon years of the Green Revolution, when crop yields soared thanks to new technologies, pesticides and the introduction of high-yield crops.
Thanks to the green revolution, the world’s cropland grew by just 12 per cent but food productivity increased by 150 per cent between 1961 and 2009.
But the UN report found that rates of growth have been slowing down in many areas and today are only half of what they were at the peak of the Green Revolution.
- Our farmlands are used up, they’re eroding, and we’re farming in a way that wastes another valuable resource, water. Farmland is also being threatened by speculators. Last week, Reuters ran the story, “Farmland Boom: Investors Buy As Families Sell Farms“:
It took 31 minutes for Donald Ellingson’s family to end a tradition of more than a half-century, by auctioning off 153 acres of rich Iowa farmland.
Five years after their father’s death, his three children had grown weary of running a farm. Their tenant farmer had retired. And at age 60 and up, none wanted to return to a life of risky finances and long days.
Combines and corn were not part of the lives of Ellingson’s eight grandchildren or 14 great-grandchildren. They live far away. And with today’s land prices, the family agreed it was time to let the past go.
“I think dad would be fine with us selling the land,” said Diane Guerrttman, 60, who lives in Wyoming and works with at-risk children.
Across the Midwest, the dizzying surge in rural land prices is boosting a reshaping of the farm sector in the world’s top food exporter. Instead of digging in to benefit from booming grain prices, the next generation is cashing out of small family farms.
Bidding wars are now common in auctions and attorney offices. They led to a 25% land value jump in Q3 …
On the other side are often investors who view U.S. farmland as the latest hot commodity, with prices soaring at a rate not seen since the 1970s, in some cases to record highs.
In the Hawkeye State, the nation’s leading corn producer, prices have risen by nearly a third, as many bet that China’s expanding wealth, the increased use of biofuels and a growing global population that has just passed 7 billion will put a premium on fertile soil for decades to come.
Large-scale farmers and wealthy outside investors — who are weary of Wall Street’s roller coaster — are lining up to plow their money into the perceived stability of farmland. Large parcels of good land can be difficult to find in the U.S., and what is out there doesn’t tend to come up for sale very often.
Killing of Iraq war vet in heavily armed police raid a “horrible tragedy”
The Associated Press
SWAT team’s shooting of Marine causes outrage
Jose Guerena Ortiz was sleeping after an exhausting 12-hour night shift at a copper mine. His wife, Vanessa, had begun breakfast. Their 4-year-old son, Joel, asked to watch cartoons.
An ordinary morning was unfolding in the middle-class Tucson neighborhood — until an armored vehicle pulled into the family’s driveway and men wearing heavy body armor and helmets climbed out, weapons ready.
They were a sheriff’s department SWAT team who had come to execute a search warrant. But Vanessa Guerena insisted she had no idea, when she heard a “boom” and saw a dark-suited man pass by a window, that it was police outside her home. She shook her husband awake and told him someone was firing a gun outside.
A U.S. Marine veteran of the Iraq war, he was only trying to defend his family, she said, when he grabbed his own gun — an AR-15 assault rifle.
What happened next was captured on video after a member of the SWAT team activated a helmet-mounted camera.
The officers — four of whom carried .40-caliber handguns while another had an AR-15 — moved to the door, briefly sounding a siren, then shouting “Police!” in English and Spanish. With a thrust of a battering ram, they broke the door open. Eight seconds passed before they opened fire into the house.
And 10 seconds later, Guerena lay dying in a hallway 20-feet from the front door. The SWAT team fired 71 rounds, riddling his body 22 times, while his wife and child cowered in a closet.
“Hurry up, he’s bleeding,” Vanessa Guerena pleaded with a 911 operator. “I don’t know why they shoot him. They open the door and shoot him. Please get me an ambulance.”
When she emerged from the home minutes later, officers hustled her to a police van, even as she cried that her husband was unresponsive and bleeding, and that her young son was still inside. She begged them to get Joel out of the house before he saw his father in a puddle of blood on the floor.
But soon afterward, the boy appeared in the front doorway in Spider-Man pajamas, crying.
The Pima County Sheriff’s Department said its SWAT team was at the home because Guerena was suspected of being involved in a drug-trafficking organization and that the shooting happened because he arrived at the door brandishing a gun. The county prosecutor’s office says the shooting was justified.
But six months after the May 5 police gunfire shattered a peaceful morning and a family’s life, investigators have made no arrests in the case that led to the raid. Outraged friends, co-workers and fellow Marines have called the shooting an injustice and demanded further investigation. A family lawyer has filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the sheriff’s office. And amid the outcry in online forums and social media outlets, the sheriff’s 54-second video, which found its way to YouTube, has drawn more than 275,000 views.
The many questions swirling around the incident all boil down to one, repeated by Vanessa Guerena, as quoted in the 1,000-page police report on the case:
“Why, why, why was he killed?” …
An independent expert, Chuck Drago, a former longtime SWAT officer for Fort Lauderdale, Fla., police who now does consulting on use of force and other law enforcement issues, said that the shooting itself appeared justified.
“It’s a horrible, horrible tragedy, but if they walked in the door and somebody came at them with an assault rifle, that would be a justifiable response,” said Drago. “It doesn’t matter whether he’s innocent or not.”
But after examining elements of the search affidavit, Drago questioned whether the sheriff’s office truly had probable cause.
“When you back up and look at why they’re there in the first place and whether the search warrant was proper, my mind starts struggling,” Drago said. “There are a lot of things that don’t make a lot of sense.”
#Occupy makes a stand after deadlines pass across US
The Associated Press
Occupy protests heat up; 4 arrested in L.A.
Occupy Wall Street protesters around the nation continued to press their case Monday amid arrests, by rejecting heated up across the nation Monday with arrests, missed deadlines and refusals to move in Philadelphia and Augusta, Maine, and a call for strikes across the University of California’s 10 campuses.
In Los Angeles, protesters defied the mayor’s early Monday deadline to vacate their encampment near City Hall. Police moved in about five hours later when the protest spilled onto a street, arresting four people. But police Cmdr. Andy Smith said the camp won’t be raided anytime soon.
In Philadelphia, protesters said they planned to try to hold down their encampment outside City Hall on Monday, a day after a city-imposed deadline passed for them to leave to make way for a $50 million renovation project. The city has asked the protesters to move to another site across the street, but said they won’t be able to camp there.
In Augusta, Maine, Capitol Police had set a Monday deadline for Occupy Augusta protesters to apply for a permit. Nine people arrested Sunday had been released on bail by early Monday.
In Davis, protesters called for a strike of the entire 10-campus University of California system timed for a University of California Board of Regents meeting.
The strike failed to materialize early Monday, but more than 50 students did sign up to give public comment at the meeting. They sat quietly in a ballroom in the university’s student union, listening to the regents speak about the $500 million decrease in state funding to the University system this year …
In Los Angeles, protesters had faced a deadline of 12:01 a.m. Monday to abandon their weeks-long encampment. But Police Chief Charlie Beck said Monday it remained unclear when the nearly 2-month-old Occupy LA camp would be cleared.
Protesters chanted “we won, we won” as riot-clad officers left the scene. “I’m pretty much speechless,” said Clark Davis, media coordinator for Occupy LA.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had warned Friday that the city would no longer tolerate a “long-term encampment” because of concerns about public safety. A “free speech” area on the City Hall steps will be open during regular park hours, he said.
Villaraigosa urged the demonstrators to direct their efforts at “spreading the message of economic equality” rather than “to defend a particular patch of earth.”
“In seven short weeks, you have awakened the country’s conscience,” Villaraigosa wrote in an open letter to the protesters. “You have given voice to those who have not been heard.”
The group, in a letter to the mayor, rejected his request to move.
Occupy Philadelphia protesters began demonstrating in Dilworth Plaza in early October. Mayor Michael Nutter said the group has faced “growing public-health and public-safety issues” and knew months ago they would have to leave the space when construction began.
- In other protest news, the New York Daily News story, “Baruch College cancels Monday classes to keep out students before vote on tuition spike,” reports on a great way to avoid dissent:
Baruch College, fearing a repeat clash between students and baton-wielding campus cops, has canceled classes coinciding with the time of Monday’s controversial vote to raise CUNY tuition.
Baruch President Mitchel Wallerstein said all classes scheduled after 3 p.m. at the Flatiron District’s Newman Vertical Campus will be rescheduled.
Last week, 15 students were arrested in the lobby of the E. 25th St. school when they tried to crash a CUNY Board of Trustees public hearing on raising tuition $300 a year for the next four years.
“We are determined to avoid any repetition of the regrettable events that occurred in the narrow confines of the NVC lobby during the CUNY Board’s public hearing last Monday,” Wallerstein said in a letter to students.
He said students will only be granted access to the building for “urgent and legitimate needs” while the vote is taking place.