Nine Circles of Hell!: Thursday, December 1 Nine Circles of Hell!

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The Nine Circles of Hell! – all the news that gives you fits in print – today’s nine most hellish news stories, including two bonus stories on Israel, for Thursday, December 1, 2011, are:

Top GOP strategist admits he’s “frightened to death” of #Occupy

Demand for free lunches in US schools explodes

For States, “not enough money for all the bills coming in”

ACLU says FBI breaking law by secretly spying on Muslims

Senate approves increased domestic military police powers

200,000+ Iraq and Afghan war vets with PTSD strain VA resources

Egyptian rights group wants teargas from US tested

More Israelis believe new laws curtail freedom than don’t

“Global climate warming is likely to be worse than expected”

Top GOP strategist admits he’s “frightened to death” of #Occupy
Yahoo! News
(12/1/11)

How Republicans are being taught to talk about Occupy Wall Street

The Republican Governors Association met this week in Florida to give GOP state executives a chance to rejuvenate, strategize and team-build. But during a plenary session on Wednesday, one question kept coming up: How can Republicans do a better job of talking about Occupy Wall Street?

“I’m so scared of this anti-Wall Street effort. I’m frightened to death,” said Frank Luntz, a Republican strategist and one of the nation’s foremost experts on crafting the perfect political message. “They’re having an impact on what the American people think of capitalism.”

Luntz offered tips on how Republicans could discuss the grievances of the Occupiers, and help the governors better handle all these new questions from constituents about “income inequality” and “paying your fair share.”

Yahoo News sat in on the session, and counted 10 do’s and don’ts from Luntz covering how Republicans should fight back by changing the way they discuss the movement.

1. Don’t say ‘capitalism’ …

2. Don’t say that the government ‘taxes the rich.’ Instead, tell them that the government ‘takes from the rich’ …

3. Republicans should forget about winning the battle over the ‘middle class.’ Call them ‘hardworking taxpayers’ …

4. Don’t talk about ‘jobs.’ Talk about ‘careers’ …

5. Don’t say ‘government spending.’ Call it ‘waste’ …

6. Don’t ever say you’re willing to ‘compromise’ …

7. The three most important words you can say to an Occupier: ‘I get it’ …

8. Out: ‘Entrepreneur.’ In: ‘Job creator’ …

9. Don’t ever ask anyone to ‘sacrifice’ …

10. Always blame Washington …

BONUS:

Don’t say ‘bonus!’

Demand for free lunches in US schools explodes
The New York Times
(11/29/11)

Lines Grow Long for Free School Meals, Thanks to Economy

Millions of American schoolchildren are receiving free or low-cost meals for the first time as their parents, many once solidly middle class, have lost jobs or homes during the economic crisis, qualifying their families for the decades-old safety-net program.

The number of students receiving subsidized lunches rose to 21 million last school year from 18 million in 2006-7, a 17 percent increase, according to an analysis by The New York Times of data from the Department of Agriculture, which administers the meals program. Eleven states, including Florida, Nevada, New Jersey and Tennessee, had four-year increases of 25 percent or more, huge shifts in a vast program long characterized by incremental growth.

The Agriculture Department has not yet released data for September and October.

“These are very large increases and a direct reflection of the hardships American families are facing,” said Benjamin Senauer, a University of Minnesota economist who studies the meals program, adding that the surge had happened so quickly “that people like myself who do research are struggling to keep up with it.”

In Sylva, N.C., layoffs at lumber and paper mills have driven hundreds of new students into the free lunch program. In Las Vegas, where the collapse of the construction industry has caused hardship, 15,000 additional students joined the subsidized lunch program this fall. In Rochester, unemployed engineers and technicians have signed up their children after the downsizing of Kodak and other companies forced them from their jobs. Many of these formerly middle-income parents have pleaded with school officials to keep their enrollment a secret.

Students in families with incomes up to 130 percent of the poverty level — or $29,055 for a family of four — are eligible for free school meals. Children in a four-member household with income up to $41,348 qualify for a subsidized lunch priced at 40 cents.

Among the first to call attention to the increases were Department of Education officials who use subsidized lunch rates as a poverty indicator in federal testing. This month, in releasing results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, they noted that the proportion of the nation’s fourth graders enrolled in the lunch program had climbed to 52 percent from 49 percent in 2009, crossing a symbolic watershed.

For States, “not enough money for all the bills coming in”
The Washington Post with Bloomberg
(11/29/11)

States face bleak economic forecast, report says

States are caught in a fiscal vise as weak economic growth, dwindling federal help and increasing appeals from hard-pressed local governments squeeze their budgets.

Things have improved since the worst of the recession, but states still face a dire fiscal situation, according to a report to be released Tuesday by the National Governors Association (NGA) and the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO).

The Fiscal Survey of States says that even as states struggle with tepid revenue growth, they will be called on to spend more because of the economic distress caused by continued high unemployment.

“State budgets are certainly improving; however, growth is weak, and there is not enough money for all the bills coming in,” said NASBO Executive Director Scott Pattison. “State officials will still be cutting some programs, and increases in funding for any program except for health care will be rare.”

The report says that Medicaid, the combined federal-state health program for the poor and the disabled, will place the biggest budgetary burden on states. Because of increasing caseloads, declining federal help and spiraling health-care costs, state Medicaid spending is growing much faster than state revenue, crowding out funding for other priorities.

The federal government had provided extra Medicaid help to states as part of the stimulus program. But that help has ended, prompting states to increase their Medicaid spending by an average of 29 percent this fiscal year, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Many states have streamlined their Medicaid programs in an effort to control costs. Still, officials in more than half of the states said in a recent survey that there is an even chance that their Medicaid programs will face a budget shortfall as enrollment continues to increase.

Officials say the fiscal pressure that Medicaid puts on states is expected to increase when the federal health-care overhaul takes effect in 2014. Although the federal government is required to pick up the costs for people newly eligible for the program, many who are now eligible but not enrolled are expected to be drawn in, and states must shoulder part of those costs.

States are also struggling to meet the needs of local governments. Many states cut aid to localities during the recession, and many of them want it restored.

ACLU says FBI breaking law by secretly spying on Muslims
The Washington Post
(12/1/11)

FBI illegally using community outreach to gather intelligence, ACLU alleges

The FBI is using its extensive community outreach to Muslims and other groups to secretly gather intelligence in violation of federal law, the American Civil Liberties Union alleged Thursday.

Citing internal bureau documents, the ACLU said agents in California are attending meetings at mosques and other events and illegally recording information about the attendees’ political and religious affiliations. FBI officials denied the allegations and said records kept from outreach sessions are not used for investigations.

The documents reveal new details of the FBI’s efforts to build a more trusting relationship with Muslims and other community groups — a major priority since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Federal officials have said the effort is aimed at protecting Muslim civil rights and smoothing lingering resentment over the law enforcement crackdown after Sept. 11, along with helping the government fight terrorism.

Some of the papers show agents speaking at career days, briefing community members on FBI programs and helping them work with police to fight drug abuse. But the files also depict agents as recording Social Security numbers and other identifying information of people after they meet, and, in at least one instance, noting their political views. It appears that the agents are conducting follow-up investigations in some instances, but heavy redactions in the documents make it impossible to determine how far any examination might have gone.

In one case, an agent wrote that he checked California motor vehicle records on someone the agent encountered at a Ramadan dinner at a San Francisco Islamic association. One attendee is described as “very progressive.” Another is called “very Western in appearance and outlook.”

At another Ramadan dinner in San Francisco, an agent recorded the names of Muslim groups listed on pamphlets distributed at the event — and appeared to note that several people associated with one of the groups were under investigation.

The FBI turned the heavily redacted documents over to the ACLU as part of a lawsuit by the civil rights group and two other organizations to uncover what it considers inappropriate or illegal FBI tactics in the fight against terrorism. The ACLU has sued the bureau in four states and is seeking FBI files nationwide under the Freedom of Information Act.

Senate approves increased domestic military police powers
The New York Times
(11/29/11)

Senate Approves Requiring Military Custody in Terror Cases

Defying the Obama administration’s threat of a veto, the Senate on Tuesday voted to increase the role of the military in imprisoning suspected members of Al Qaeda and its allies — including people arrested inside the United States.

By a vote of 61 to 37, the Senate turned back an effort to strip a major military bill of a set of disputed provisions affecting the handling of terrorism cases. While the legislation still has several steps to go, the vote makes it likely that Congress will eventually send to President Obama’s desk a bill that contains detainee-related provisions his national-security team has said are unacceptable.

The most disputed provision would require the government to place into military custody any suspected member of Al Qaeda or one of its allies connected to a plot against the United States or its allies. The provision would exempt American citizens, but would otherwise extend to arrests on United States soil. The executive branch could issue a waiver and keep such a prisoner in the civilian system.

A related provision would create a federal statute saying the government has the legal authority to keep people suspected of terrorism in military custody, indefinitely and without trial. It contains no exception for American citizens. It is intended to bolster the authorization to use military force against the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which lawmakers enacted a decade ago.

The administration has strongly opposed the mandatory military custody provision, saying it “would raise serious and unsettled legal questions and would be inconsistent with the fundamental American principle that our military does not patrol our streets.”

In recent days, several top national security officials — including the secretary of defense, Leon E. Panetta; the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper; and the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert S. Mueller III, have voiced opposition to the proposal, as have several former counterterrorism officials from the Bush administration.

But among Republican senators, there was nearly unanimous support for keeping the detainee provisions in the bill: 44 Republicans voted for them, while two — Mark Kirk of Illinois and Rand Paul of Kentucky — voted to remove them.

By contrast, members of the Democratic caucus were deeply divided: 35 wanted to strip the detainee provisions from the bill, but 17 voted to keep them in it. About half of the Democrats who supported keeping the provisions were members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, whose chairman, Carl Levin of Michigan, shaped the package with Republicans.

“We are at war with Al Qaeda, and people who are determined to be part of Al Qaeda should be treated as people who are at war with us,” Mr. Levin said in the debate leading up to the vote.

Mr. Levin also said that he supported the use of civilian trials for some terrorism cases and said that the waiver in the bill would leave that option available to the administration. And he repeatedly quoted from a 2004 Supreme Court case approving the detention without trial of an American citizen captured in Afghanistan and accused of fighting with the Taliban.

Senator Mark Udall, a Colorado Democrat and a member of the Armed Services Committee who sponsored the unsuccessful proposal to strip the detainee proposals from the bill, warned that the provisions could “destabilize” counterterrorism efforts, “open the door to domestic military police powers and possibly deny U.S. citizens their due process rights.” He argued that lawmakers should slow down and revisit the issue later.

200,000+ Iraq and Afghan war vets with PTSD strain VA resources
USA TODAY
(11/30/11)

Rise in PTSD cases from two wars strains resources

Ten thousand combat veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder flooded into VA hospitals every three months this year, pushing the number of patients ill with the disorder above 200,000 and straining resources, Department of Veterans Affairs data to be released today show.

The increase is more than 5% per quarter, according to data obtained by USA TODAY, and it occurs as the VA struggles to move veterans quickly into therapy. New mental health patients at about a third of VA hospitals wait longer than the department’s goal of 14 days or less, according to a USA TODAY analysis published this month.

“Demand for mental health care is only going to continue to grow as thousands more troops return home,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., chairwoman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “The VA still has work to do to decrease wait times, … reduce the stigma around seeking care and to provide access to care in rural areas” …

Since the Iraq and Afghanistan wars began, 211,819 combat veterans have been treated by the VA for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), about 16% of the 1.3 million who fought. But the VA says it sees only about half the veterans from the two wars, because hundreds of thousands seek care elsewhere or not at all.

PTSD is often characterized by flashbacks in the form of nightmares, a state of hypervigilance or a feeling of emotional numbness to the world. The rapid rise in PTSD could be linked to the nature of these wars, where a relatively small, volunteer force deployed multiple times over a decade, Taylor said.

Cases of depression among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have increased 6% to 7% per quarter, according to the VA, with about 9,000 new cases every three months. The total number of PTSD patients from the wars dwarfs the Pentagon tally of 47,195 physically wounded.

Egyptian rights group wants teargas from US tested
Egypt Independent
(11/30/11)

US says no evidence Egypt misused tear gas, rights group files complaint

US State Department spokesperson Mark Toner defended on Tuesday the shipment of tear gas to the Egyptian government.

Toner told reporters that Washington has not found any evidence that Egypt misused the tear gas canisters.

Security forces deployed the noxious gas in an attempt to quell protests in Tahrir Square, prompting clashes last week.

Adiba harbor authorities in Suez allowed a shipment from the US to the Interior Ministry to enter Egypt Tuesday, despite protests by the harbor’s customs workers.

Washington had earlier agreed to export the gas, which Egypt paid for, to the Interior Ministry and no US security aid was used in the purchase, Toner said.

Toner said the tear gas exported to Egypt is the same used by police in several countries, including the US.

Washington condemns any misuse of tear gas canisters anywhere that would lead to death or injury, Toner said, adding that any misuse would affect future export agreements.

The Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights said in a statement Wednesday that it has filed a report with the attorney general against Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, Interior Minister Mansour al-Essawy and the legal representative and executive director for the US manufacturer of the tear gas.

The organization is requesting laboratory tests of samples from the shipment to ensure they do not contain chemicals deemed health hazards.

The center has also filed a lawsuit with the State Council to demand that only water be used to disperse protests, according to the statement, which urged authorities to “immediately stop the use of these weapons, which subject the life of peaceful protesters to danger.”

The center rejects any action against port employees for their “patriotic and humanitarian” stance and called on the government to stop any investigations against them.

More Israelis believe new laws curtail freedom than don’t
Haaretz
(12/1/11)

Haaretz poll: Nearly 50% of Israelis see recent Knesset bills as anti-democratic

Nearly half of the Israeli public believes that a recent series of bills raised in Knesset are endangering democracy in Israel, a recent Haaretz-Dialog poll found.

The poll examined the public’s attitudes toward a series of bills recently discussed by the Knesset which critics say would undermine the Supreme Court, human rights organizations and freedom of the press.

The poll asked respondents whether they agreed with critics that the bills undermine democracy, or with proponents’ claim that the bills are worthy legislation that give the majority the ability to govern.

The critics scored a clear victory here: A plurality of 46 percent said the bills undermined democracy, compared to 37 percent who deemed them worthy legislation and 17 percent who said they didn’t know.

A similar proportion, 45 percent, said they were unhappy with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attitude toward the justice system and with the bills the coalition has proposed on this subject, compared to 39 percent who said they were satisfied with the premier’s conduct on this issue …

43 percent said they thought Netanyahu was trying to reduce freedom of the press, compared to only 38 percent who said they did not believe that to be the case.

“The fact that 43 percent of the public thinks the prime minister is trying to curtail freedom of the press ought to light a warning light for a prime minister who at least paints himself as a defender of democracy,” Fuchs said.

“Even if the prime minister isn’t actually trying to curtail freedom of the press, it’s important for him to note that this is how he is seen by the public. When democracy is under attack, how the prime minister acts is very important, but so is how the public thinks the prime minister is acting.”

  • Things aren’t going well for the Netanyahu government domestically and they don’t seem to be doing to good internationally as Reuters and The Associated Press reports, “Iceland becomes first Western European country to recognize Palestinian state:
    Iceland’s parliament voted on Tuesday in favor of recognizing the Palestinian Territories as an independent state, the first Western European country to do so according Iceland’s foreign minister. The measure passed symbolically on the United Nation’s annual day of solidarity with the Palestinian people.
    The vote paves the way for formal recognition by the small north Atlantic island, which led the way in recognizing the independence of the three Baltic states after the collapse of the former Soviet Union in 1991.
    “Iceland is the first Western European country to take this step,” Foreign Minister Ossur Skarphedinsson told Icelandic state broadcaster RUV. “I now have the formal authority to declare our recognition of Palestine.”
    Palestinian UN observer Riyad Mansour read a message from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at UN headquarters on the occasion of the day of solidarity with the Palestinian people. He reaffirmed the Palestinian’s bid for UN membership, saying it should complement peace negotiations, provided that Israel is prepared to negotiate on the basis of the 1967 borders.
    Abbas said the Palestinians are not seeking “to delegitimize Israel” by applying to join the UN “but to delegitimize its settlement activities and the seizure of our occupied lands.” He added that sanctions imposed on them by Israel because the Palestinians won membership in UNESCO are “unjust” and that Israel has no right to withhold their customs and tax revenues.
    The Icelandic parliament resolution allowing for the recognition of a Palestinian state within the pre-Six Day War borders of 1967 was decided by 38 votes in the 63-seat.
    “At the same time, parliament urges Israelis and Palestinians to seek a peace agreement on the basis of international law and UN resolutions, which include the mutual recognition of the state of Israel and the state of Palestine,” said the resolution, proposed by the Icelandic foreign minister.
  • Meanwhile, the Atlantic offers this headline that could have been in a mean-spirited version of The Onion, “Netanyahu Government Suggests Israelis Avoid Marrying American Jews“:
    The Netanyahu government’s Ministry of Immigrant Absorption is sponsoring advertisements in at least five American communities that warn Israeli expatriates that they will lose their identities if they don’t return home.
    The Ministry is also featuring on its website a series of short videos that, in an almost comically heavy-handed way, caution Israelis against raising their children in America — one scare-ad shows a pair of Israeli grandparents seated before a menorah and Skypeing with their granddaughter, who lives in America. When they ask the child to name the holiday they’re celebrating, she says “Christmas.” In another ad, an actor playing a slightly-adenoidal, goateed young man (who, to my expert Semitic eye, is meant to represent a typical young American Jew) is shown to be oblivious to the fact that his Israeli girlfriend is in mourning on Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s memorial day. The Jewish Channel, which broke the story of what it calls a “semi-covert national campaign,” suggests that the Ministry does not differentiate between the “dangers” of marrying American Jews, and American non-Jews …

“Global climate warming is likely to be worse than expected”
The Associated Press
(11/30/11)

Thawing permafrost vents gases to worsen warming

Massive amounts of greenhouse gases trapped below thawing permafrost will likely seep into the air over the next several decades, accelerating and amplifying global warming, scientists warn.

Those heat-trapping gases under the frozen Arctic ground may be a bigger factor in global warming than the cutting down of forests, and a scenario that climate scientists hadn’t quite accounted for, according to a group of permafrost experts. The gases won’t contribute as much as pollution from power plants, cars, trucks and planes, though.

The permafrost scientists predict that over the next three decades a total of about 45 billion metric tons of carbon from methane and carbon dioxide will seep into the atmosphere when permafrost thaws during summers. That’s about the same amount of heat-trapping gas the world spews during five years of burning coal, gas and other fossil fuels

And the picture is even more alarming for the end of the century. The scientists calculate that about than 300 billion metric tons of carbon will belch from the thawing Earth from now until 2100.

Adding in that gas means that warming would happen “20 to 30 percent faster than from fossil fuel emissions alone,” said Edward Schuur of the University of Florida. “You are significantly speeding things up by releasing this carbon.”

Usually the first few to several inches of permafrost thaw in the summer, but scientists are now looking at up to 10 feet of soft unfrozen ground because of warmer temperatures, he said. The gases come from decaying plants that have been stuck below frozen ground for millennia.

Schuur and 40 other scientists in the Permafrost Carbon Research Network met this summer and jointly wrote up their findings, which were published in the journal Nature on Wednesday.

“The survey provides an important warning that global climate warming is likely to be worse than expected,” said Jay Zwally, a NASA polar scientist who wasn’t part of the study. “Arctic permafrost has been like a wild card.”

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Nine Circles of Hell!: Thursday, December 1
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