Nine Circles of Hell!: Monday, September 26
The Nine Circles of Hell! – all the news that gives you fits in print – the nine most hellish news stories for Monday, September 26, 2011, are:
Texas job creation fund helped companies in which Perry held stock
Has “crony capitalism” tainted Perry’s campaign for president?
In 2008, Larry Soward, one of three commissioners on Texas’ environmental regulatory agency, cast the lone dissenting vote against licensing a controversial low-level nuclear disposal site in far West Texas.
Looking back now, Soward says, “it didn’t take too much of a rocket-scientist” to conclude that the project — pushed by one of Gov. Rick Perry’s biggest political donors — would ultimately be approved.
Dallas multibillionaire Harold Simmons’ successful quest to build the Andrews County facility is encountering renewed scrutiny now that his political beneficiary is a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.
Simmons has donated $1.2 million to Perry’s gubernatorial campaigns since 2001 to become Perry’s second-largest individual contributor, according to Texans for Public Justice, a state watchdog organization. He also has donated $100,000 to an independent political action committee that sought to wage a write-in candidacy for Perry in the Iowa straw poll this year.
Perry’s connections with powerful Texas business interests during his nearly 11 years as governor have emerged as an issue in his presidential race, drawing charges from opponents that Perry’s time as Texas governor has been marked by a pattern of “crony capitalism.”
The release of Perry’s financial statement last week continued that storyline after Texans for Public Justice reported that three of the 37 companies in which Perry has stock holdings received taxpayer money from the governor’s job-creating Texas Enterprise Fund.
Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, a leading opponent of Simmons’ nuclear waste application, also uses the term “crony capitalism” to describe the years-long regulatory and legislative effort that ultimately gave Simmons a monopoly over low-level nuclear waste disposal in Texas. Legislation passed this year allows up to 36 states, including Texas, to dump their nuclear refuse in a red-clay landfill at the 1,388-acre site just inside the Texas-New Mexico state line.
The successful outcome of the licensing effort — the nation’s first nuclear waste site to be approved in three decades — marks another stunning business coup for Simmons, an 80-year-old investor whose net worth was $9.3 billion as of September. He is one of Dallas’ leading philanthropists and, according to Forbes magazine, is an avid Dallas Cowboys fan who is a close friend of team owner Jerry Jones. He rarely gives interviews and was not available for this story.
Like Houston homebuilder Bob Perry, the governor’s largest individual contributor, Simmons is also a big-money donor in races outside of Texas, contributing more than $4 million over the past decade, according to press accounts. He and his wife, Annette, were jointly ranked as the 76th biggest donors in the country in the 2010 election cycle with $224,000 in donations, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Simmons also donated $2,500 to Perry’s rival Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, before Perry entered the race in mid-August.
But Simmons’ political influence is most apparent in his home state. Since the mid-1990s, Simmons’ Waste Control Specialists has successfully lobbied the legislature to privatize nuclear waste disposal — once a function of state government — and ultimately prevailed in the long regulatory battle to license the West Texas facility. In the 150-member state House of Representatives, 77 of those who voted in May to allow additional states to use the facility received Simmons’ donations totaling $138,350, according to Texans for Public Justice.
The watchdog group also reported that five political committees and executives affiliated with Simmons’ two main holding companies also donated $379,000 to state politicians in 21 other states that possibly could ship nuclear refuse to Texas. Texans for Public Justice based its findings on a review by the Montana-based National Institute on Money in State Politics.
States profit from calls to prison that can cost five times normal rate
The Associated Press
Talking to inmates costly for families, attorneys
Kimberly Scardina-Gomez has pawned jewelry and even skipped paying the electric bill so she can afford for her 16-year-old son to talk on the phone with his father, who is serving a robbery sentence at a state prison in Illinois.
What really irks her is that phone companies are giving a chunk of the revenue they make from handling calls for families like hers — 42 percent is typical, according to an analysis finished this year— back to jail and prison operators in exchange for the business.
Prison Legal News, a West Brattleboro, Vt.-based publication that advocates for the rights of inmates, found that among state prison systems, commissions cost prisoners’ families, friends and attorneys more than $152 million in 2008, the year studied. A report released this month by the Government Accountability Office found that of the $74 million in revenue generated in 2010 by the Bureau of Prisons’ inmate telephone system, about $34 million was profit.
Under pressure, states such as Kansas and Florida have reduced commissions while others such as Nebraska and New York have stopped accepting commissions. In California, which ended commissions earlier this year, phone rates declined by 61 percent, Prison Legal News found. Advocacy groups want more prison and jail operators to follow suit or persuade the Federal Communications Commission to establish caps on inmate phone rates.
“It’s not fair,” said Scardina-Gomez, a 35-year-old laid off paralegal and second-year law student from Chicago. “You see all kinds of studies talking about how to reduce recidivism, how to stop repeat offenders. Things of that nature all start with family structure. They all start with positive reinforcement, yet they don’t try to reinforce that at all.”
Because of the commissions, receiving calls from inmates cost as much as $15 to $25 for a 15-minute conversation — often five times as high as ordinary collect call rates.
“Whenever you’ve got money in the mix, it’s hard to get away from it,” said Paul Wright, editor of Prison Legal News. “It’s like telling a crack addict to lay off the dope. Even if they know they should, it’s hard to get them to do it.”
The GAO, which studied phone rates as part of a larger report on contraband cell phones being snuck into federal prisons, said lowering rates could increase communication between inmates and their families, helping the inmates reintegrate when they got out of prison. But it said there would be less money available for things like paying wages for inmate labor and offering education and recreational activities.
Bureau of Prison officials told the GAO that the programs were important because “inmate idleness increases the risk of violence, escapes and other disruptions” but noted that Congress would be unlikely to chip in the money. Even critics of the commissions acknowledge it’s tough to generate sympathy for inmates, and Wright said their families are “right up there with single welfare moms and illegal immigrants as far as bashable, disenfranchised constituencies that no one gets too concerned about.”
And the expense isn’t just borne by the families of the 2.3 million people incarcerated in U.S. jails and prisons but often by the attorneys who represent them — a practice that some groups allege discourages attorneys from talking to their clients.
The phone companies defend the rates in briefs filed with the FCC, saying their phone systems require costly security devices to keep inmates from harassing potential witnesses or orchestrating crimes from behind bars.
Plus, states and counties — many of them facing deficits because of the recession — have become dependent on the money they earn from the commissions.
Poor countries to suffer far more from climate change than rich
The Washington Post
Which countries will get hit hardest by climate change?
The Global Adaptation Institute has put out its annual index showing which countries will likely suffer most from global warming. Light-blue countries, like Canada and Denmark, are relatively well-positioned to adapt to a hotter climate (though the key word there is “relatively”). Nations in red and purple, like Bangladesh or Mali, don’t fare so well. Countries in gray, like Russia and China, fall somewhere in the middle:
In constructing the index, GAI looked at two factors. First, there’s vulnerability. How much will a country be materially affected by sharp shifts in precipitation, by droughts, by heat waves, by rising sea levels, and so forth? The second factor is adaptability: Does the country have the resources to deal with adverse consequences? Not surprisingly, richer countries do much better on this score. Heat waves, for instance, kill fewer people when there’s modern public-health infrastructure in place.
More broadly, the map underscores one big hurdle for any coordinated world effort on climate change. The countries likely to get smacked the hardest aren’t, by and large, the countries currently pumping out the most greenhouse gases. One big exception is China, which scores dismally on GAI’s “readiness” index. That may explain why leaders in Beijing are taking increasingly ambitious steps to rein in carbon pollution. (Whether they’ll actually succeed is a different question, but a sense of urgency does seem to have taken hold there.)
One quick caveat: this map could be misread as suggesting that global warming poses few problems for countries like the United States. But there’s little reason to think that’s true. Take sea-level rise. Just fortifying the lower 48 states against a three-foot hike in ocean levels by century’s end could cost more than $1 trillion, according to the EPA’s sea-level experts (and that doesn’t include the indirect costs of destroying huge swathes of U.S. coastal wetlands with concrete sea barriers). Meanwhile, increased droughts, wildfires, and heat waves are all expected to wreak havoc on significant chunks of the United States.
It’s true, as the GAI map shows, that America can likely survive these things — in much the same way the world survived the 1918 flu pandemic and kept growing anyway — but that’s very different from saying it won’t be costly.
World economy’s future frightens IMF
The Associated Press
IMF says global economy entering dangerous phase
Top global finance officials are pledging to work decisively and in a coordinated way to deal with a European debt crisis and other dangers confronting the global economy.
The International Monetary Fund’s policy-setting committee says the economy has entered a dangerous new phase. The panel says close watching of the situation and a willingness to take bold actions quickly are crucial.
Officials say they’re encouraged by the willingness of the 17 nations that share the euro currency to do what’s needed to resolve Europe’s debt crisis.
They say the IMF stands ready to strongly support further efforts. The IMF is already providing bailout support to three heavily indebted European countries – Greece, Portugal and Ireland.
British military hosts ‘Kill TV nights’ featuring ‘war snuff films’
British soldiers in Afghanistan shown ‘war snuff movies’
Disturbing footage of Apache attack helicopters killing people in Afghanistan is being shown to frontline British soldiers in “Kill TV nights” designed to boost morale, a television documentary will reveal.
The discovery of the practice comes in the wake of the damning verdict of the Baha Mousa inquiry into the conduct of some in the military. It casts fresh questions over the conduct of soldiers deployed abroad and has provoked a furious response from peace campaigners.
Andrew Burgin from Stop the War last night described it as the “ultimate degradation of British troops”, comparing it to the desensitisation to death of US soldiers in the final stages of the Vietnam War.
The footage, seen by The Independent on Sunday, shows ground troops at the British headquarters in Helmand province, Camp Bastion, gathered for a get-together said to be called “Kill TV night”.
Described as an effort to boost morale among soldiers, it shows an Apache helicopter commander admitting possible errors of judgement and warning colleagues not to disclose what they have seen. “This is not for discussion with anybody else; keep it quiet about what you see up here,” he says in the film. “It’s not because we’ve done anything wrong. But we might have done.”
Last night, the MoD confirmed the speaker to be Warrant Officer Class 2 Andy Farmer, who is based with the Apache squadron in Wattisham, Suffolk.
Much of the footage is along the lines of the now infamous video of a US Apache helicopter strike on civilians in Baghdad in 2007, first released on WikiLeaks last year. In one clip an Afghan woman is targeted after a radio dialogue between pilots refers to her as a “snake with tits”.
Another clip from a recent “Kill TV” night shows the cross-hair of an Apache helicopter taking aim at an insurgent. WOII Farmer gives a running commentary: “OK, so he’s walking along… then thinks… I’m gonna go off and get my 70 vessel [sic] virgins ’cause daylight’s coming quite quick.”
As the missile hits the target and kills the person, he says “Goodnight princess”, adding “this is where you see he’s actually had the clothes ripped off him by the blast”.
He defends the decision to celebrate the deaths of Afghans. “People look at it and say you know… young lads are laughing at the enemy being killed,” he says. “Well, I don’t know if the Taliban do something similar but I’m sure they rejoice when they kill one of us.”
When asked by the interviewer in the film what he thinks goes through the head of a Taliban fighter when they see an Apache coming, WOII Farmer replies: “Hopefully a 30mm bullet”.
Later in the film, he is defiant about the moral consequences of war: “We’re out there do to a job. We’re not there to tickle the Taliban, we’re out there to hurt them because they have no qualms about hurting us.
“Of the engagements that I’ve taken part in… I have absolutely no dramas with it. None at all. I don’t really care whether they think it’s a fair fight. If they’re [the Taliban] gonna pick up a weapon and take us on, then best of luck to them.”
But peace campaigners have a different view. Mr Burgin said: “The fact that British soldiers are reduced to watching what are effectively snuff movies shows the complete failure of the project in Afghanistan. It’s nothing to do with democracy, but a failure of war that is trickling down and resulting in a mental degradation among ground troops.
“Violent extremist” group seeking recruits to fight for Israeli settlers
Foreign fighters support Israel’s settlements
Two weeks ago, an announcement appeared on a French website, calling for “militants with military experience” to participate in a solidarity trip to Israel between September 19 and 25. “The aim of this expedition is to lend a hand to our brothers facing aggression from the Palestinian occupiers, and to enhance the security of Jewish towns in Judea and Samaria,” it explained. The dates of the trip coincide with the Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations.
As of yesterday, in response to this call, there were 55 French citizens, both men and women, with military experience, stationed inside the illegal Israeli settlements up and down the West Bank. Organised into five separate groups of 11, their mandate is to “defend the settlements against any attack from Palestinians”, and to “aid” in areas where they feel there is a lack of Israeli army personnel or police forces.
The website belongs to the French chapter of the Jewish Defence League (JDL), a far-right Jewish group founded by Rabbi Meir Kahane in the United States in 1968. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has refered to the JDL as a “violent extremist organisation”.
“In France, it is a movement made up of French citizens who defend the Jewish community when faced with aggression, and also defends Israel in a more general manner,” said Amnon Cohen, a spokesperson for the group. “In terms of ideology, we are Zionists, pro-Israeli, and we share similar ideologies to that of the Ichud Leumi ["National Union"] party in Israel.” The National Union advocates the settlement of Jewish people in the entirety of the occupied West Bank, which it calls by its biblical name of Judea and Samaria.
“People say we are extreme because we believe in Judea and Samaria, and that this belongs to the Israelis, the Jews, but I don’t consider this to be extreme,” he told Al Jazeera.
Cohen was quick to point out that the JDL, contrary to recent media reports, is not banned in Israel or the US, but in fact, has active chapters across the world, including the US, Canada, the UK and France.
“We are active, the authorities are aware of us, and we maintain good relations with them,” he said.
Numerous examples of targeted attacks on pro-Palestinian entities, movements, and demonstrations across France by individuals associating with the JDL validate Cohen’s statements …
Sammy Ghozlan, a former police officer and president of the Bureau Nationnal de Vigilance Contre le Anti-semitisme (BNVCA), told Al Jazeera that they too “have no particular relationship with the JDL”, although he was more understanding to the motives behind such actions.
“While the JDL are an extremist group, and not very well tolerated, their actions are a result of the discontent that exists, and this is continuing to grow,” said Ghozlan. “Furthermore, the violence from the pro-Palestinian side is increasing, and the Jewish people are in despair.”
Palestinian statehood would “tough repercussions” from Israel
The Daily Star
Israel foreign minister sees ‘tough’ reaction to Palestine vote
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Sunday there would be “tough repercussions” if the United Nations approved a Palestinian application for statehood.
Lieberman did not spell out what action Israel would take if the world body backed the application made on Friday by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the U.N. General Assembly.
In the past Lieberman has suggested severing ties with Abbas’s Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, if it wins recognition without a peace deal with Israel.
Israel’s closest ally, the United States, has said it would block the resolution, which means a Palestinian state would fall short of achieving full U.N. membership.
But Israel is concerned that, even if Washington vetoes the motion in the Security Council, it could still win more limited approval in the General Assembly, where any vote can pass by a simple majority.
“If the Palestinians will indeed pass a one-sided resolution if not in the Security Council then the General Assembly, that would bring us to an altogether new situation and this would have repercussions, tough repercussions,” Lieberman said in an interview on Israel Radio.
“Any unilateral step will without a doubt bring an Israeli reaction,” Lieberman added.
Libyan rebels find mass grave from slaughter that ignited protests
Libya finds mass grave from 1996 massacre
Fighters backing Libya’s interim rulers prepared to renew their advance into the coastal city of Sirte on Monday after NATO aircraft bombed targets in Muammar Gaddafi’s home town to sap the resistance of the deposed leader’s troops.
Anti-Gaddafi forces had pushed to within a few hundred metres of the centre of Sirte, one of the last bastions of pro-Gaddafi resistance in Libya, but drew back on Sunday while NATO aircraft launched their attacks.
Sirte lies between the capital Tripoli and the eastern city of Benghazi, both now held by the National Transitional Council, whose fighters toppled Gaddafi last month, six months into a campaign that is not yet over.
Taking Sirte would be a huge boost for the NTC as it tries to establish credibility as a government able to unite Libya’s fractious tribes and regions, and a blow for Gaddafi, widely believed to be on the run inside Libya.
Gaddafi loyalists showed they were still a threat by launching an attack on Sunday on the desert oasis town of Ghadames, on the border with Algeria, NTC officials said.
The NTC said on Sunday its followers had found a mass grave containing the bodies of 1,270 people killed by Gaddafi’s security forces in a 1996 massacre of prison inmates in southern Tripoli.
The mass grave was the first physical evidence found so far of the Abu Salim prison massacre, an event that was covered up for years but created simmering anger that ultimately helped bring about Gaddafi’s downfall.
Survivors have told human rights groups that guards lined up inmates in the courtyards of the Abu Salim prison at dawn on June 29, 1996, and security men standing on the prison rooftops shot them down.
The uprising that toppled Gaddafi was ignited by protests linked to the Abu Salim massacre. In February, families of inmates killed there demonstrated in Benghazi to demand the release of their lawyer.
BP wants to return to drilling for oil in Gulf of Mexico
BP seeks permission for new Gulf drilling
The British oil company BP has asked the US government for permission to begin drilling for new oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico.
It is the first application since the company’s 2010 Macondo well blowout that caused the Deepwater Horizon explosion that killed 11 workers and spilled nearly 800,000 cubic metres of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
BP said in the application that it wants to sink four wells in nearly 6,000 feet of water about 300km off the Louisiana coast.