3 days ago
Nine Circles of Hell!: Thursday, February 9, 2012 Nine Circles of Hell!
The Nine Circles of Hell! – all the news that gives you fits in print – today’s nine most hellish news stories, including some background on the ‘rock star’ judge, a bonus story on white supremacy and another on high-tech corporations’ political money, for Thursday, February 9, 2012, are:
$25 bn bank foreclosure settlement means more home seizures
Foreclosure Deal to Spur U.S. Home Seizures
The $25 billion settlement with banks over foreclosure abuses may trigger a wave of home seizures, inflicting short-term pain on delinquent U.S. borrowers while making a long-term housing recovery more likely.
Lenders slowed the pace of foreclosures as they negotiated with attorneys general in all 50 states for more than a year over allegations of faulty and fraudulent paperwork used to repossess homes. With today’s agreement, banks are likely to resume property seizures.
“The best thing about the settlement, frankly, is that it will be done,” said Stan Humphries, chief economist for Seattle-based Zillow Inc. (Z), a provider of home-sales data. “The shadow of the settlement hung over the market for a year now.”
The backlog of foreclosures has trapped homeowners in properties they can no longer afford, depressed prices by increasing the number of abandoned properties and led banks to tighten mortgage credit standards because of uncertainty about their potential obligations. New foreclosures fell 46 percent in December from October 2010, when the investigation into the so- called robo-signing of mortgage documentation began, according to Irvine, California-based RealtyTrac Inc.
The agreement will direct $17 billion to writing down debt to buffer some homeowners from foreclosure. About 11 million U.S. homeowners owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth, according to CoreLogic Inc. (CLGX), a Santa Ana, California- based real estate data provider. That has limited their ability to sell or refinance and reduced the incentive to keep paying.
Hundreds claimed killed in ongoing six days of Syrian violence
Agence France Presse
Syria’s Homs under new deadly blitz
More than 80 people were killed in Syria Thursday, most of them in a new regime blitz on the city of Homs, an attack US President Barack Obama decried as “outrageous bloodshed”.
Shelling erupted at daybreak, killing more than 50 civilians in the besieged central city and burning several bodies beyond recognition, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Troops trying to crush opponents of President Bashar al-Assad have killed at least 400 people in a relentless six-day onslaught on Homs, opposition activists say.
“The shells are raining down on us and regime forces are using heavy artillery,” said Ali Hazuri, a doctor in the Baba Amr district reached by telephone from Beirut.
Omar Shaker, an activist in Baba Amr also reached by phone, said residents were hiding on ground floors as there were no underground shelters.
“When you venture outside, you can see craters every 10 metres (yards),” he said.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said Assad’s regime appeared determined to kill its own people.
“It’s quite clear that this is a regime that is hell-bent on killing, murdering and maiming its own citizens,” Cameron told reporters in Stockholm. “It really is appalling, the scenes of destruction in Homs.”
He called for “transition and change in Syria.”
Foreign Secretary William Hague stressed that Britain has no plans to help arm Syria’s opposition.
Obama, in comments after White House talks with Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti, condemned “the outrageous bloodshed that we’ve seen”, and urged “a transition from the current government that has been assaulting its people.”
The Observatory said 11 people died when a shell hit their house in the Homs neighbourhood of Inshaat, while six were killed in Rastan in the same province.
Elsewhere, rebels killed seven security forces when they ambushed two buses near the southern town of Daraa, the cradle of the revolt, said the Observatory.
Human rights ‘rock star’ judge busted in corruption probe
The Press Association
Spain judge guilty in wiretap probe
The Spanish judge famed for pursuing international human rights cases has been convicted of overstepping his jurisdiction in a domestic corruption probe.
It is the culmination of a spectacular fall from grace of one of Spain’s most prominent people.
A seven-judge panel of the Supreme Court unanimously convicted Baltasar Garzon, 56, and barred him from the bench for 11 years.
Garzon had enjoyed rock star status among human rights groups but made a lot of enemies at home, in particular among judicial colleagues uncomfortable with his celebrity.
He is still awaiting a verdict in a separate trial on the same charge – knowingly overstepping the bounds of his jurisdiction – for launching a probe in 2008 of right-wing atrocities during and after the Spanish civil war even though the crimes were covered by an amnesty.
That trial concluded on Wednesday but the verdict is expected to take weeks …
The conviction relates to Garzon’s decision in 2009 to order wiretaps of jailhouse conversations between detainees and their lawyers. The detainees are accused of paying off politicians to obtain lucrative government contracts.
Such wiretaps are expressly allowed in terrorism cases, but Spanish law is more vague on non-terror cases.
Garzon argued during the trial that he had ordered the wiretaps because he thought the lawyers were being given instructions by the detainees to launder money.
- If you want a real brief backgrounder, try this one from The Christian Science Monitor,”Who is Spain’s Judge Baltasar Garzón? Five key questions answered.”
Europe freeze continues
Unprecedented cold paralyses life in Europe
Europe continues to battle severe freezing weather that has killed hundreds of people, with transport and navigation services badly hit across the continent cutting off tens of thousands of people.
Thick ice has closed hundreds of kilometres of the Danube river in half-a-dozen countries and confined scores of ships to port on the busiest European waterway, officials said on Thursday.
The 2,860km-river, which flows through nine countries and is vital for transport, power, irrigation, industry and fishing, was wholly or partially blocked from Austria to its mouth on the Black Sea.
With ice floes in the river around Belgrade up to half a metre thick, the Belgrade port authority said that all vessels on the 600km stretch through Serbia were safely in port.
A government ban on navigation on all the country’s waterways was expected to remain in place for about 10 days, Pavle Galic, the deputy infrastructure minister, told the Beta news agency.
Bulgarian authorities, who have also banned all navigation on the river, reported tthat 50-90 per cent the Danube was frozen.
Britain is also expecting heavy snow, up to 8cm on Thursday, while flooding in Greece has left dozens of homes under water after the Evros river burst its banks.
Italy braced for another wave of freezing weather on Thursday, even as soldiers worked to free villages trapped in three metres of snow, with the death toll from the cold snap already at 43.
Local authorities in Rome have begun distributing 4,000 spades for local residents. They have boosted the city’s stocks of salt to 1,000 tonnes and have dozens of snow ploughs at the ready after criticism of previous preparations.
Forecasts said freezing winds were set to pick up later on Thursday and bring more snow on Friday and Saturday to Rome.
Germany has been forced to call upon its reserves for producing electricity for the second time this winter as Europe is gripped by a severe cold snap, officials said.
The country’s four main power operators requested that the reserve generator at a coal-powered plant in southern Germany and two plants in Austria be activated, the regional environment ministry in the southern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg said.
The Balkan nation, Serbia, one of the countries that has banned navigation on all of the Danube’s waterways, is also struggling to maintain its power system amid record low temperatures.
- Back in the States, there’s a new study reported in The Washington Post under the headline, “GOP votes drive public opinion on climate change“:
You might think opinions on climate change are driven by news stories, or extreme weather events, or, if you’re really optimistic, publicly available scientific research. But it turns out that politicians affect the way that Americans view the issue more than almost anything else, according to a new paper in the journal Climatic Change.
The researchers behind the study created a “Climate Change Threat Index” to gauge how the public views the impact of climate change over a nine-year period, and they conclude that GOP votes on environmental legislation have a particularly outsized effect. “In an extremely partisan environment, Republican votes against environmental bills legitimate public opinion opposed to action on climate change,” the authors write. “When the Republicans increase voting support for environmental bills, it reduces partisanship and increases public support for actions to address climate change.”
Honduras: Murder Capital of the World
Instability in Honduras
Honduras has become the murder capital of the world. In the last six years, its homicide rate increased 250 per cent, but what is behind the violence? In 2011 alone, nearly 7,000 homicides were recorded.
Some argue it is a spillover effect from Mexico’s drug war. Others accuse the state security forces of being heavily involved in the killings …
With a murder rate of 82.1 per 100,000, Honduras now holds the title of highest homicide rate in the world …
Honduran human rights group COFADEH (Committee of Family Members of the Detained and Disappeared of Honduras) reports more than 300 people have been killed by state security forces since the 2009 coup …
The role of the Honduran police force, comprised of roughly 14,500 officers, in crime has increasingly garnered public attention. Police forces have been accused of complicity in drug-trafficking, targeted killings and corruption …
Prosecution cases against police officers have been few despite receiving 1,000 complaints as of November 2011. Only 28 per cent of these cases were reviewed by prosecutors. Most were eventually dropped …
Critics allege that prison guards are also involved in the web of corruption, even offering leniency to prominent drug dealers. There are reports that infamous drug dealer Celin Pinot Hernandez was allowed to carry a weapon and leave the jail on drug and leisure runs. Minutes after his prison release last October, Pinot was killed. The picture below, circulated after his death, shows Hernandez wearing a police uniform.
UK cops may get OK to use would-be-banned nerve agents
Government ‘may sanction nerve-agent use on rioters’, scientists fear
Leading neuroscientists believe that the UK Government may be about to sanction the development of nerve agents for British police that would be banned in warfare under an international treaty on chemical weapons.
A high-level group of experts has asked the Government to clarify its position on whether it intends to develop “incapacitating chemical agents” for a range of domestic uses that go beyond the limited use of chemical irritants such as CS gas for riot control.
The experts were commissioned by the Royal Society, the UK’s national academy of sciences, to investigate new developments in neuroscience that could be of use to the military. They concluded that the Government may be preparing to exploit a loophole in the Chemical Weapons Convention allowing the use of incapacitating chemical agents for domestic law enforcement.
The 1993 convention bans the development, stockpiling and use of nerve agents and other toxic chemicals by the military but there is an exemption for certain chemical agents that could be used for “peaceful” domestic purposes such as policing and riot control.
The British Government has traditionally taken the view that only a relatively mild class of irritant chemical agents that affect the eyes and respiratory tissues, such as CS gas, are exempt from the treaty, and then only strictly for use in riot control.
But the Royal Society working group says the Government shifted its position to allow the development of more severe chemical agents, such as the type of potentially dangerous nerve gases used by Russian security forces to end hostage sieges. “The development of incapacitating chemical agents, ostensibly for law-enforcement purposes, raises a number of concerns in the context of humanitarian and human-rights law, as well as the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC),” the report says.
“The UK Government should publish a statement on the reasons for its apparent recent shift in position on the interpretation of the CWC’s law enforcement position.” The Royal Society group points to a 1992 statement by Douglas Hogg, the then Foreign Office Minister, who indicated that riot-control agents were the only toxic chemicals that the UK considered to be permitted for law-enforcement purposes. But in 2009 ministers gave a less-restrictive definition suggesting the use of “incapacitating” chemical agents would be permitted for law-enforcement purposes as long as they were in the categories and quantities consistent with that permitted purpose.
Professor Rod Flower, a biochemical pharmacologist at Queen Mary University of London, said the latest scientific insights into human brain is leading to novel ways of degrading human performance using chemicals.
Daley loses demo case, costs Chicago taxpayers $6.2M
Chicago settles with war protesters for $6M
Attorneys representing the City of Chicago told a federal judge Thursday they have reached a settlement with nearly 700 people detained by police during a raucous 2003 anti-war protest.
The city has agreed to pay members of the class-action lawsuit a total of $6.2 million.
Attorneys representing the City of Chicago told a federal judge Thursday they have reached a settlement with nearly 700 people detained by police during a raucous 2003 anti-war protest. The city has agreed to pay members of the class action lawsuit a total of $6.2 million.
“I hope it sends a message that they need to treat us like citizens and not combatants,” said Cheryl Angelaccio, one of the protestors arrested near Chicago and Michigan avenues a day after the start of the Iraq war in March of 2003.
The settlement has drawn extra attention ahead of the G8 and NATO meetings scheduled for Chicago in May. The event is expected to draw world leaders as well as demonstrators.
Attorneys for the protesters say their lawsuit sends a message that police must allow demonstrators to exercise their constitutional rights and notify the crowd before mass arrests begin.
White supremacists echo “new round of antigovernment stirrings”
Los Angeles Times
White supremacists revive dream of a homeland in Northwest
Three sanitation workers found it along the route of a Martin Luther King Jr. Day march: a nest of wires in a backpack.
The homemade bomb was equipped with an unusual remote-controlled trigger and stuffed with more than 100 heavy fishing weights coated in rat poison. The Spokane County bomb squad disarmed it hours before the route would have been flooded with marchers last year.
If the device had detonated and the weights had torn into the intended victims, the poison would have prevented their blood from coagulating, all but ensuring their deaths, lab analysts concluded.
The intense manhunt that ensued led authorities to a remote cabin in the pine-shrouded hills north of Spokane. In it lived Kevin W. Harpham, an Army veteran who had posted venomously for years on a white supremacist website, the Vanguard News Network.
“Those who say you can’t win a war by bombing have never tried,” he wrote. “I can’t wait till the day I snap.”
At the conclusion of a hurried, tense investigation, Harpham pleaded guilty to attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and a hate crime and was sentenced in December to 32 years in prison.
A decade after the dissolution of the Aryan Nations compound in northern Idaho and the arrest of the Montana Freemen, white supremacists, far-right militias and radical patriots have revived their dream of a homeland in the Northwest.
In 2010, residents in several parts of Idaho woke to find Easter eggs tossed on their lawns — courtesy of the not-dead-yet Aryan Nations. The eggs contained jelly beans and solicitations to “take back our country and make it great, clean, decent and beautiful once again.”
In October, a federal jury convicted Spokane-area resident Wayde Kurt of firearms violations in a case prosecutors said stemmed from Kurt’s membership in the white supremacist group Vanguard Kindred.
In a sentencing memorandum, federal prosecutors said Kurt discussed with an FBI informant a plan for what he called an act of terrorism “of the worst kind,” comparable to the Oklahoma City federal building bombing, that “would mean a death sentence if he is caught.”
“The defendant stated that he needed to make sure that everyone is fed up with [President] Obama,” the memo says.
Meanwhile, prominent white nationalists, radical constitutionalists and other apostles of the far right have established beachheads in northwestern Montana. They include April Gaede, who is appealing to white “refugees” to establish a Pioneer Little Europe; Karl Gharst, a former member of the Aryan Nations who has been screening Holocaust denial films at the local library; and Ronald Davenport, a Washington man who was convicted in November of filing more than $20 billion in false liens against government officials seeking to collect $250,000 in unpaid taxes.
Conservative preacher and radio host Chuck Baldwin, the 2008 presidential candidate of the Constitution Party, moved to Montana from Florida in 2010 to help establish an “American redoubt” for “liberty-loving brethren,” and is now running as a Republican for lieutenant governor.
“We know there’s a fight coming. We know there is a line being drawn in the sand, and we want to be in the right place. The good ground is right here in Montana,” Baldwin told supporters last year.
In a recent report, the Southern Poverty Law Center said “a new round of antigovernment stirrings” was evident in northwestern Montana, especially around Kalispell.
- In other white supremacist news, The Associated Press reports, “Marines posed with Nazi SS symbol in Afghanistan“:
A Marine Corps scout sniper team in Afghanistan posed for a photograph in front of a flag with a logo resembling that of the notorious Nazi SS, a military official said Thursday.
Use of the SS symbol is not acceptable, and the Marine Corps has addressed the issue, Marine Corps Lt. Col. Stewart Upton said in a statement. However, he did not specify what action was taken.
It’s the second time this year the Marine Corps has had to do damage control for actions of its troops.
The Marine Corps is currently investigating a group of Marines recorded on video urinating on the dead bodies of Taliban fighters. Those Marines were based at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
The picture resembling the SS symbol was taken in September 2010 in Sangin province, Afghanistan. Upton said the Marines in the photograph on an Internet blog are no longer with the unit they were assigned to at the time.
The image shows a flag containing what appear to be the letters “SS” in the shape of jagged lightning bolts.
The symbol resembles that used by SS units in World War II.
The SS, or Schutzstaffel, was the police and military force of the Nazi Party, which viewed it as an elite force. Its various branches were distinct from the general army, although units saw frontline action.
Members, including draftees, pledged an oath of loyalty to Adolf Hitler. SS units were held responsible for many war crimes and played an integral role in the extermination of millions of Jews along with gypsies and other people classed as undesirables.
The SS was declared to be a criminal organization at the Nuremberg war crime trials.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation in Washington said it was outraged by the photograph involving the Marines and wants a full investigation.
Mikey Weinstein of the foundation said he has been flooded with calls from former Marines offended by the photo and from one member of his organization who is an Auschwitz survivor.
“This is a complete and total outrage,” he said.
Weinstein said his organization was sending a letter to the head of the Marine Corps and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
“Very polite” Apple protesters deliver petition to iStore
Agence France Presse
Petitions protest Apple working conditions in China
Petitions denouncing working conditions at Chinese factories making Apple gadgets were delivered to the California firm’s new Grand Central Station store on Thursday.
“Our goal is to create a dialogue with Apple,” said Sarah Ryan of the activist organization Change.org, which along with other groups called for protests Thursday at Apple stores in New York, London and other major cities.
“We want to work with them to improve their working conditions,” Ryan said.
A Change.org petition attracted 200,000 signatures while another from SumOfUs.org gathered 57,000.
They were delivered to employees of Apple’s Grand Central Store, which opened on December 9. “They were very polite,” Ryan said. “They accepted the box. Everything went well.”
The New York Times reported last month that workers assembling iPhones, iPads and other devices at factories in China “often labor in harsh conditions” and work “excessive overtime.”
The newspaper said two explosions at iPad factories last year killed four people and injured 77.
- In other high tech company news, Bloomberg reports, “Google Sponsors Conservative Conference Co-Hosted by Tea Party“:
Google Inc., whose chairman has served as an adviser to President Barack Obama, is a sponsor of this month’s Conservative Political Action Conference, co-hosted by the Tea Party.
Google is one of nine main sponsors, alongside the National Rifle Association and the Heritage Foundation, according to the conference’s website. Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich are slated to speak at the three-day event, which starts in Washington on Feb. 9. Google is the only business listed among the primary sponsors.
The company says it will have a presence at both Republican and Democratic events during this year’s election season, including each party’s convention. Google also had a role in the Iowa caucus last month. The CPAC event was attractive because half the attendees are under 25 and heavy users of technology, Google said yesterday in an e-mailed statement.
“This event is a great opportunity for us to showcase Google.com/elections and tools like Google+, which we hope will be used by every candidate and campaign,” the Mountain View, California-based company said.
The event features speakers on the other side of the political aisle from Obama, who is running for re-election this year. Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, then the company’s chief executive officer, served as an economic adviser to Obama in 2008 and urged lawmakers to approve the president’s jobs bill last year. Google’s workforce is the third-biggest corporate source of Obama’s campaign cash, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.