Nine Circles of Hell!: Thursday, September 29 Nine Circles of Hell!


The Nine Circles of Hell! – all the news that gives you fits in print – the nine most hellish news stories, plus a bonus link on the #OccupyWallStreet actions, for Thursday, September 29, 2011, are:

Republican cuts target schools, healthcare, low-income students

Unions, community groups join growing Occupy Wall Street protests

‘US economy is barely keeping its head above water’

“We’re entering into a recession again in most advanced economies”

Security companies make a killing off immigration crackdowns

CNBC news program allegedly took money for coverage

Native Americans working to evict mercenary group from their land

Iran Navy vessels will patrol near marine border off US coast

Bahraini doctors, nurses who treated protesters get 15 years in prison

Republican cuts target schools, healthcare, low-income students
The Associated Press

House GOP to cut Pell Grants, heating subsidies

House Republicans have announced plans to cut heating subsidies for the poor, job training and President Barack Obama’s “Race to the Top” program providing grants to better-performing schools, as they unveil a massive spending bill for labor, health and education programs.

The controversial GOP measure also seeks to block implementation of Obama’s signature health care law, cut off National Public Radio from federal grants and reduce eligibility for Pell Grants to low-income college students.

Unions, community groups join growing Occupy Wall Street protests
Crain’s New York Business

Veteran agitators flock to Occupy Wall Street

The city’s most experienced agitators—the labor and community groups that typically organize local marches, rallies and sit-ins—have been largely missing from the Occupy Wall Street protest that is in its 13th day at Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan.

But that’s about to change.

A loose coalition of labor and community groups said Thursday that they would join the protest next week. They are organizing a solidarity march scheduled for Wednesday that is expected to start at City Hall and finish a few blocks south at Zuccotti Park.

“It’s a responsibility for the progressive organizations in town to show their support and connect Occupy Wall Street to some of the struggles that are real in the city today,” said Jon Kest, executive director of New York Communities for Change, which is helping to organize the march. “They’re speaking about issues we’re trying to speak about.”

Despite the common cause, the city’s established left did not initially embrace the protest, which began Sept. 17 and has been made up mostly of young people angry about the widening income chasm in the country, the growing influence of money on politics and police brutality, among other issues.

But as the action nears the start of its third week, unions and community groups are eager to jump on board. They are motivated perhaps by a sense of solidarity and a desire to tap into its growing success, but undoubtedly by something else too—embarrassment that a group of young people using Twitter and Facebook have been able to draw attention to progressive causes in a way they haven’t been able to in years.

The protestors have transformed the park into a village of sorts, complete with a community kitchen, a library, a concert stage, an arts and crafts center and a media hub. All of that has enabled them not just to sustain the action but to build momentum. And as celebrities like Michael Moore, Susan Sarandon, Russell Simmons and Cornel West have joined in, the city’s traditional activists have been forced to jump into the fray.

The protestors have transformed the park into a village of sorts, complete with a community kitchen, a library, a concert stage, an arts and crafts center and a media hub.

“It’s become too big to ignore,” said one political consultant.

Some of the biggest players in organized labor are actively involved in planning for Wednesday’s demonstration, either directly or through coalitions that they are a part of. The United Federation of Teachers, 32BJ SEIU, 1199 SEIU, Workers United and Transport Workers Union Local 100 are all expected to participate. The Working Families Party is helping to organize the protest and is expected to mobilize its extensive online regional networks to drum up support for the effort.

“We’re getting involved because the crisis was caused by the excesses of Wall Street and the consequences have fallen hardest on workers,” a spokesman for TWU Local 100 said.

Community groups like Make the Road New York, the Coalition for the Homeless, the Alliance for Quality Education and Community Voices Heard are also organizing for Wednesday’s action, and the labor/community coalitions United New York and Strong Economy For All are pitching in as well.

  • In other Occupy Wall Street news, the Guardian follows up on the abuse committed by NYPD cop Tony Baloney in, “Occupy Wall Street: inquiries launched as new pepper-spray video emerges”:
    The senior New York police officer at the centre of the Occupy Wall Street pepper spray controversy fired the gas at protesters a second time just moments later.
    After new video emerged on Wednesday showing the second incident, New York police commissioner Ray Kelly told reporters that the Civilian Complaint Review Board would investigate the officer, deputy inspector Anthony Bologna.
    The New York Police Department’s own internal affairs bureau also plans to open an investigation, the New York Times reports.
    The investigations were announced after bloggers and activists drew attention to video posted online which showed that Bologna fired pepper spray on two occasions last Saturday as officers broke up a protest march through Greenwich Village.
    The first footage shows him targeting a group of female protesters who were being penned in by officers on East 12th Street. The latest video shows another incident on the same street, shortly after the first, when he fired more pepper spray towards at least one of the same women, after they were recovering from the first incident.
    On both occasions, the officer appears to have violated New York Police Department guidance on how the gas should be used.

‘US economy is barely keeping its head above water’

US job machine remains badly broken

Fresh data from the government Thursday showed the U.S. economy is barely keeping its head above water, with a growth rate that’s just too weak to help the 14 million American workers who can’t find a job.

The Commerce Department said the economy grew at a 1.3 percent pace in the spring, up from the previous estimate of a 1.0 percent growth rate. That’s the government’s third and final revision for the snapshot of gross domestic product, the total output of goods and services produced by businesses and property in the U.S.

More recent data on weekly unemployment insurance claims offered a somewhat more upbeat picture. The number of workers who filed their first claim – an indication of the pace of recent layoffs – fell to 391,000 in the latest week, from 428,000 the prior week, the government said. After weeks of rising fears that the financial turmoil in Europe threatened to snuff out global economic growth, investors breathed a sigh of relief after seeing Thursday’s data.

“The larger-than-expected decline in jobless claims again cast[s] doubt on the likelihood of the economy tipping back into recession,” said Joe Manimbo, a market analyst at Travelex Global Payments.

But some analysts caution that the jobless claims data may have been skewed by seasonal adjustments. The so-called “moving average,” which many economists say paints a truer picture of the job market, is running at more than 410,000 new insurance claims a month.

Though the numbers suggest positive growth is still under way, the recovery remains very fragile. The fear is that with so little momentum, it wouldn’t take much to send the U.S. back into a recession that could be worse than the one which officially ended in 2009.

Faced with the threat of ongoing layoffs and a tough time finding work, consumers are holding back on spending and cutting back on debt – a process economist call “deleveraging.” Those who have a job aren’t getting raises. Many households are struggling to make their monthly mortgage payment or fill up their car’s gas tank.

With few signs that the economy and job market are improving, consumer confidence last month plunged to recessionary levels. That survey followed a depressing display of government dysfunction as Congress and the White House deadlocked over a plan to balance the budget. The standoff cost the Treasury its AAA credit rating and sent the stock market tumbling.

“We’re entering into a recession again in most advanced economies”
The Telegraph

US and UK already in recession, warns Nouriel Roubini

Most advanced economies are lapsing back into recession, while the US is already in the throes of an economic contraction, according to Nouriel Roubini, co-founder and chairman of Roubini Global Economics LLC.

“The way I see the global economy, I think we’re entering into a recession again in most advanced economies,” Roubini said in a panel discussion at the Bloomberg Dealmakers Summit in New York. “I think we’re already into one in the US based on the hard and soft data – same with most of the eurozone, same with the UK.”

The Conference Board said on Tuesday that confidence among US consumers stagnated in September near a two-year low, as the share of households saying it was difficult to find a job climbed to the highest level in almost three decades. European leaders over the weekend faced pressure at the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund to solve a debt crisis already spilling over into other parts of the world.

“At this point, the issue is not whether there is going to be a recession or a double-dip but whether it’s going to be relatively mild or whether it’s going to be a severe recession and a global financial crisis,” Roubini said. “The answer to that question depends on what’s going to happen in the eurozone and whether they can get their act together.”

“We are running out of policy bullets,” said Roubini, a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business. The debt crisis in Europe could have consequences that are “worse” than the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008.

Security companies make a killing off immigration crackdowns
The New York Times

Companies Use Immigration Crackdown to Turn a Profit

The men showed up in a small town in Australia’s outback early last year, offering top dollar for all available lodgings. Within days, their company, Serco, was flying in recruits from as far away as London, and busing them from trailers to work 12-hour shifts as guards in a remote camp where immigrants seeking asylum are indefinitely detained.

It was just a small part of a pattern on three continents where a handful of multinational security companies have been turning crackdowns on immigration into a growing global industry.

Especially in Britain, the United States and Australia, governments of different stripes have increasingly looked to such companies to expand detention and show voters they are enforcing tougher immigration laws.

Some of the companies are huge — one is among the largest private employers in the world — and they say they are meeting demand faster and less expensively than the public sector could.

But the ballooning of privatized detention has been accompanied by scathing inspection reports, lawsuits and the documentation of widespread abuse and neglect, sometimes lethal. Human rights groups say detention has neither worked as a deterrent nor speeded deportation, as governments contend, and some worry about the creation of a “detention-industrial complex” with a momentum of its own.

“They’re very good at the glossy brochure,” said Kaye Bernard, general secretary of the union of detention workers on the Australian territory of Christmas Island, where riots erupted this year between asylum seekers and guards. “On the ground, it’s almost laughable, the chaos and the inability to function.”

Private prisons in the United States have long stirred controversy. But while there have been conflicting studies about their costs and benefits, no systematic comparisons exist for immigration detention, say scholars like Matthew J. Gibney, a political scientist at the University of Oxford who tracks immigration systems.

Still, Mr. Gibney and others say the pitfalls of outsourcing immigration enforcement have become evident in the past 15 years. “When something goes wrong — a death, an escape — the government can blame it on a kind of market failure instead of an accountability failure,” he said.

In the United States — with almost 400,000 annual detentions in 2010, up from 280,000 in 2005 — private companies now control nearly half of all detention beds, compared with only 8 percent in state and federal prisons, according to government figures. In Britain, 7 of 11 detention centers and most short-term holding places for immigrants are run by for-profit contractors.

No country has more completely outsourced immigration enforcement, with more troubled results, than Australia. Under unusually severe mandatory detention laws, the system has been run by a succession of three publicly traded companies since 1998. All three are now major players in the international business of locking up and transporting unwanted foreigners.

The first, the Florida-based prison company GEO Group, lost its Australia contract in 2003 amid a commission’s findings that detained children were subjected to cruel treatment. An Australian government audit reported that the contract had not delivered “value-for-money.” In the United States, GEO controls 7,000 of 32,000 detention beds.

The second company, G4S, an Anglo-Danish security conglomerate with more than 600,000 employees in 125 countries, was faulted for lethal neglect and abusive use of solitary confinement in Australia. By the middle of the past decade, after refugee children had sewed their lips together during hunger strikes in camps like Woomera and Curtin, and government commissions discovered that Australian citizens and legal residents were being wrongly detained and deported, protests pushed the Liberal Party government to dismantle some aspects of the system.

But after promising to return the work to the public sector, a Labor government awarded a five-year, $370 million contract to Serco in 2009. The value of the contract has since soared beyond $756 million as detention sites quadrupled, to 24, and the number of detainees ballooned to 6,700 from 1,000.

CNBC news program allegedly took money for coverage
The Independent

Microsoft, Red Cross and UN sucked into global news fixing row

Microsoft has been sucked into the row surrounding a London-based media company currently under investigation by broadcasters for making editorial programmes without declaring it had a commercial relationship with some of those it featured.

Both the BBC and the US-owned broadcaster CNBC are investigating FBC Media following an investigation by The Independent which showed it had made numerous factual programmes about Malaysia after being allocated millions of pounds by the country’s government to promote it.

This newspaper has evidence that Microsoft was “guaranteed” coverage on a flagship programme which FBC was commissioned to make for CNBC – which is screened in Britain – for a major launch that the global technology company was planning in Europe. CNBC recently suspended the show, World Business, pending the outcome of its investigation.

The Independent has seen a nine-page letter written to Microsoft’s senior communications managers, in which FBC promised coverage of its opening of the European Microsoft Innovation Center in Aachen, Germany, and a second project in St Petersburg, Russia.

The document referred to World Business under the heading “FBC Guaranteed Distribution Placement”. It told Microsoft: “Our flagship programme, World Business, is a weekly half-hour business news magazine, which covers the trends shaping business, particularly from a European perspective.

“We can foresee placing coverage of the Aachen opening within the programme the weekend of May 1&2, which means guaranteed placement on CNBC Europe, PBS-TV in the US, Star World Asia and 12 national broadcast markets in Western and Eastern Europe.” PBS is America’s public service broadcaster and Star World is part of Rupert Murdoch’s global News Corp media empire.

In its letter to the Microsoft PR chiefs, FBC pointed out: “Due to our distribution agreements with each of the broadcasters, FBC maintains final editorial control over the reports featured within any of its broadcast programmes.”

Last night CNBC said: “We have suspended all broadcasts of the World Business programme indefinitely. We cannot comment further for legal reasons.”

FBC, which ran a hybrid business combining public relations work with factual programmes, featured the Microsoft founder Bill Gates in its publicity material. Alongside his picture, FBC said “clients include heads of state, governments and ministries, special economic zones and property projects, companies and international organisations”.

Native Americans working to evict mercenary group from their land
San Diego City Beat

Tribe attempts to evict private military contractor

An American Indian tribe in San Diego County has been engaged in a four-month standoff with a military contractor that refuses to leave its reservation, according to documents recently filed in U.S. District Court.

The story begins in 2010, when the Eagle Rock Training Center (ERTC), a private military training facility established by a former Blackwater executive, signed a 25-year lease agreement to conduct high-level combat training on land near Warner Springs owned by the Los Coyotes Band of Cahuilla and Cupeño Indians. The land approximated the terrain of Afghanistan, and ERTC hoped to train soldiers and law-enforcement officers in everything from explosives to combat-driving techniques. The camp would also function as a location for film and television productions.

But since June, Los Coyotes—a tribe of about 300 members—has been trying to boot the company off its land, claiming the lease was never valid. The conflict has since escalated to a series of showdowns, which ERTC alleges led to the arson that caused the 14,000-acre Eagle fire in July.

During the last two weeks, the dispute has come to a head, with tribal police informing ERTC that its employees, customers and equipment would be ejected from the reservation. In response, ERTC filed a federal lawsuit on Sept. 16, asking for a temporary restraining order. The request was withdrawn when the tribe temporarily agreed to allow a military training event scheduled for Sept. 21 to go ahead. The overall dispute has not been resolved.

In filing the suit, ERTC released dozens of pages of records, including contracts, plans and correspondence that shine a light on how the military contractor attempted to bypass state and county regulations by building on Indian land.

As early as 2006, former Blackwater Vice President Brian Bonfiglio wanted to build a training facility in San Diego County. The initial plans were abandoned in 2008, following significant community outcry (though Bonfiglio asserted the activism had no impact on the decision). Around the same time, he approached the Los Coyotes tribe, an impoverished community that had long struggled to find a way to capitalize on land that was otherwise unsuitable for commercial development.

In March 2010, Bonfiglio struck a six-year deal with the tribe’s chairperson, Francine Kupsch, under which the facility would be built on the reservation and the tribe would receive a 10-percent slice of the profits. In November 2010, Kupsch authorized an extension of the lease until 2035, with the added requirement that ERTC build a children’s playground and a 1,250-square-foot tribal office and hall. Two tribal members who owned part of the land that would become an asphalt driving track would receive $500 in monthly rent. The agreement also included a waiver of the tribe’s right to sovereign immunity from the U.S. court system.

What the document does not contain was the tribe’s official seal of approval, even though there’s a place for it on the agreement.

Kupsch was replaced as chairperson on Jan. 1 by Shane Chapparosa, under whose watch the tribe developed concerns with the 25-year agreement. The tribe’s attorney, Mark Radoff, declined to address what transpired between Kupsch and Chapparosa’s stewardships to instigate the change in position. ERTC met with the tribe to discuss playground and office options and granted tours of the training facility. The tribe was not satisfied, and it concluded that the lease agreement was void because it hadn’t been approved by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

“Long story short, there is a dispute as to the validity of the lease because it was not approved by the Bureau of Indian Affairs as an encumbrance on Tribal lands and/or a lease on Tribal reservation land,” Radoff tells CityBeat via email. “The Tribe intends to raise all of its defenses and does have significant disagreements with the factual assertions made by ERTC as well as their legal validity.”

An outside expert believes the tribe’s on solid ground, since part of the point of the BIA’s involvement in trust land leases is to make sure tribes aren’t bamboozled.

“That seems like a slam dunk,” says Thomas Weathers, a Berkeley-based tribal attorney and appellate judge in the Northwest Intertribal Court System. “The tribe can’t waive BIA approval.”

On June 16, Los Coyotes took the first major move to evict ERTC when Radoff sent the company a 30-day notice to leave the reservation. ERTC responded with a point-by-point reminder of everything it had contributed to the tribe, including $25,000 in revenue, a trip to Disneyland for tribal children, iPods for teen members at Christmas and employment for 17 tribal members. The firm also took credit for introducing an aspiring tribal filmmaker to Discovery Channel producers. In total, ERTC says it’s invested $327,000 in new facilities and another $101,000 in the promised children’s park.

Iran Navy vessels will patrol near marine border off US coast
ABC News

Iran to Send Navy Ships Near U.S. Coast: Commander

Iran plans to send Navy vessels steaming across the Atlantic and towards the U.S. to build up an open sea presence along the marine border with the east coast, according to the Iranian Navy’s top commander.

“Just like the global hegemony that is present near our marine borders, we … also plan to establish a strong presence near U.S. marine borders,” Iranian Navy Commander Habibollah Sayyari said Tuesday, according to Iran’s state news agency.

A spokesperson for the Department of Defense said that Iran is “obviously” free to take their ships into international waters halfway around the world but questioned the country’s ability or willingness to do so.

“There is freedom of the high seas,” Pentagon Press Secretary George Little told reporters today. “Now whether they can truly project naval power beyond the region is another question in and of itself… I wouldn’t read too much into what came out of Iran today.”

“What is said and what is actually done can be two different things,” he said.

White House spokesman Jay Carney was even more blunt in his assessment, saying, “We don’t take these statements seriously.”

The Iranian commander made the comments at the same Tehran ceremony where another top naval commander reportedly said the country had denied a recent request from the U.S. to establish a direct “hotline” between the two countries.

“We would establish direct contact with the United States if we would ever go to the Gulf of Mexico,” Ali Fadavi, Commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps Navy, said.

Reports emerged earlier this month that some U.S. officials were considering establishing a hotline between the U.S. and Iranian navies after a series of incidents in the Persian Gulf that could potentially have led to a greater conflict. A senior defense official told ABC News, however, that any discussion of such a hotline was “premature”.

Bahraini doctors, nurses who treated protesters get 15 years in prison
Al Jazeera

Bahrain medical staff sentenced over protests

Thirteen doctors and nurses who treated anti-government protesters during demonstrations in Bahrain earlier this year have been jailed for 15 years for crimes against the state.

Seven other medical professionals were given sentences of between five and 10 years by a special tribunal on Thursday that was set up during the emergency rule that followed the demonstrations.

The doctors’ trial has been closely watched and criticised by rights groups for Bahrain’s use of the security court, which has military prosecutors and both civilian and military judges, in prosecuting civilians.

Most of the medics worked at the Salmaniya Medical Centre in Manama, which was stormed by security forces after they drove protesters on March 16 out of the nearby Pearl Square – the focal point of Bahrain’s protest movement.

The Bahrain News Agency said that the medics were tried for “forcefully occupying Salmaniya Medical Centre… possessing unlicensed arms (AK-47s) and knives, incitement to overthrow the regime, seizing medical equipment, detaining policemen, and spreading false news”.

They were also accused of “inciting hatred to the regime and insulting it, instigating hatred against another sect and obstructing the implementation of law, destroying public property and taking part in gatherings aimed at jeopardising the general security and committing crimes,” BNA said.

“All these acts were done with a terrorist aim.”

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Sheikh Mubarak bin Abdulaziz al Khalifa, a top member of Bahrain’s information affairs authority, said that the medics were not “practising their profession in the manner that all doctors and nurses should have been abiding to”.