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Nine Circles of Hell!: Tuesday, February 21, 2012 Nine Circles of Hell!
Today’s Nine Circles of Hell! – all the news that gives you fits in print – the nine most hellish news stories for Tuesday, February 21, 2012, are:
Corporate profits up as worker wages continue to stagnate
Margins Widen at U.S. Companies
Companies are improving margins and generating profits as wage growth for the American worker lags behind the prices of goods and services.
The year-over-year change in the so-called core consumer price index, which excludes volatile food and fuel, has outpaced hourly earnings for the last four months. In January, average hourly earnings climbed 1.5 percent from a year earlier, while core inflation was up 2.3 percent.
“A lot of the outperformance of profits has been due to the fact that margins are expanding,” said Michael Feroli, chief U.S. economist at JPMorgan Chase & Co. in New York. “Firms have been able to keep prices intact even though labor costs have been declining.”
While benefiting the bottom line for businesses, the decline in inflation-adjusted wages bodes ill for the sustainability of economic growth as consumers may eventually be forced to cut back, Feroli said. Businesses have also been slow to redeploy their profits into new hiring.
“So far what you’ve had is the government has been able to step in and prop up household purchasing power by various cuts in payroll taxes, various increases in social benefits,” said Feroli. “That has sort of kept the whole thing going, but you might worry with real wages being hit spending is going to decline.”
Of the 394 companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index that have reported since Jan. 9, earnings for the quarter ended Dec. 31 increased 5.1 percent on average and beat analyst estimates by 3.2 percent. Some 70 percent of the companies have posted better-than-projected results.
As winter thaws, Occupy is back with a vengeance
The Washington Post
Occupy is back? Movement gets a TV show, issues concrete demands, begins new protests
If you thought Occupy was over, you may want to think again.
Over the last several months, much of the media has reported that the movement had run its course. “Today it looks like a lot of Occupiers have decided that two months is enough,” wrote CNBC from New York in November “Occupy movement is dead as a skunk,” conservative blog the Gateway Pundit cheered the following month. “Occupy protesters lose steam,” Christian Broadcasting Network wrote in January, as the last protesters in Washington’s McPherson Square were evicted. And last week, a question was posed on Yahoo Answers: “When did Occupy Wall Street lose its credibility?” That question has now been deleted.
But as the first signs of spring appear, Occupy Wall Street seems to be alive and kicking once again. Or at least starting to get there. Here’s a short of what’s been “occupied,” in the last two weeks alone.
— Prison: Hundreds of Occupy protesters, some of whom had once been imprisoned themselves, rallied outside the gates of San Quentin prison in California on Monday to protest high incarceration rates and harsh living conditions, RawStory.com reports.
— The SEC: Last week a group calling itself “Occupy the SEC” submitted a 325-page letter to federal regulators, in which it laid out concrete criticisms and proposals, Time Magazine reports. The letter was an answer to criticisms that the protesters have not been able to produce a single concrete demand.
— The University of Rhode Island: A tent has been erected on campus, a “teach-in” has been scheduled, and a rally is scheduled for March, Boston.com reports. Some protesters have suggested that if public parks are off-limits, the occupations should be moved to college campuses.
— Maine television: Occupy Maine’s television show is now gaining steam, with its newest episode focusing on the Occupy movement’s actions post-eviction, AP reports. TV shows may represent a new way for Occupy to organize.
— Corporate interest groups: Protests are currently being planned in some 60 cities against right-wing corporate interest group American Legislative Exchange Council for Feb. 29, the Guardian reports. The organizing group “Shut Down the Corporations” has other protests in the works.
Army doctors investigated for un-doing PTSD diagnoses
Madigan chief placed on leave amid investigations into PTSD diagnoses
The head of Madigan Army Medical Center has been removed from command while the Western Region Medical Command concludes its investigation into a psychiatry team that adjusted diagnoses of certain soldiers who were seeking medical retirements.
Col. Dallas Homas’ leave was announced Monday evening by Maj. Gen. Phillip Volpe, who leads the Western Region Medical Command. Col. Mike Heimall, commander of Irwin Army Community Hospital, Fort Riley, Kan., is taking Homas’ place as interim commander.
Meanwhile, the Army Surgeon General this week is contacting the families of 14 soldiers whose diagnoses for post-traumatic stress disorder were adjusted by the Madigan forensic psychiatry team in such a way that the former soldiers did not receive full disability pensions. The soldiers’ cases were reviewed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center over the past few weeks.
Last fall, memos show that members of the forensic psychiatry team urged behavioral health professionals to consider the long-term costs of a PTSD diagnosis on taxpayers. One memo said a PTSD diagnosis for a veteran could cost up to $1.5 million over time. Those documents have lawmakers asking whether the psychiatrists changed diagnoses to reduce expenses.
“This is an investigation that has only just begun,” Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said Monday night in a written statement. “The most important thing is that these service members and their families are provided with answers on why cost was a factor in the treatment they sought for the invisible wounds of war, and that the Army takes the right steps to fix it.”
Madigan is the only Army hospital with a forensic psychiatry team that reviews behavioral health diagnoses of soldiers receiving medical retirements. The team was created in October 2008. The Army has not said how many diagnoses the team adjusted.
The forensic psychiatry chief, Dr. William Keppler, has been assigned to non-clinical duties because of the investigations.
FBI purges anti-Muslim training documents that were in “poor taste”
FBI removes hundreds of training documents after probe on treatment of Islam
The FBI has removed hundreds of counterterrorism training documents after a months-long review found inaccuracies and other problems in their description of Muslims.
The review was triggered after a September blog in Wired magazine revealed training documents that reportedly called the Prophet Muhammad a “cult leader,” claimed “devout” Muslims have been generally violent for hundreds of years and made other controversial statements.
The FBI did not get into details about which documents were taken out, but a law enforcement source confirmed to Fox News on Tuesday that hundreds were removed because they were deemed “not consistent with the highest professional standards and the FBI’s core values.”
The results of the review were announced during a meeting earlier this month that included FBI Director Robert Mueller.
The pages which were removed fell into at least one of four categories — “poor taste,” using Arab or Muslim “stereotypes,” information missing “precision,” and “factual errors” …
The Wired article detailed, among other materials, a presentation that included a graph that tracked followers of the Bible, Torah and Koran over hundreds of years. It showed “devout” followers of the Torah and the Bible becoming less violent over time, while “devout” followers of the Koran remaining as violent in 2010 as they were hundreds of years ago.
One concern was that the documents played into al Qaeda propaganda that America was battling Islam as a whole, and not just radical Muslim extremists.
“It’s counterproductive to our counterterrorism work,” Salam al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, told FoxNews.com. “It’s not effective counterterrorism policy to be at war with the whole religion or any religion.”
Al-Marayati, whose group attended the most recent meeting with Mueller, urged the bureau to seek more “feedback” in the future when developing its training guidelines on any group.
Afghan protests NATO’s Quran burning
‘Quran burning’ triggers Afghan protests
Hundreds of Afghans have staged angry protests at two sites in and around the capital Kabul, angered by reports that NATO troops had set fire to copies of the Quran, the Muslim holy book.
General John Allen, the American commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, offered his apology and ordered an investigation into the incident as protesters shouting “Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar” [God is great] besieged the US-run airbase in Bagram on Tuesday, firing slingshots and petrol bombs.
Guards at the base, about 60Km north of Kabul, responded by firing rubber bullets from a watchtower, an AFP news agency photographer said.
Another protest by about 500 people broke out in the Pul-e-Charkhi district of Kabul, not far from major NATO bases on the Jalalabad road, Ashamat Estanakzai, an Afghan police spokesman, told AFP.
Al Jazeera’s Bernard Smith, reporting from the city of Herat, said: “We don’t know if the religious literature was burned, but we know that it was due to be burned because waste at the base is burned generally.
“We do know it was being thrown out. That is what’s caused the protests outside Bagram, about 800-1,000 people were protesting there.
Carsten Jacobson, a spokesman for the NATO-led international force in Afghanistan, said an investigation had been launched into the issue and preliminary information showed that Quran copies had not been burned.
“What actually happened was that in the course of last night, considerable amount of religious material, including Qurans, was set for disposal by ISAF personel,” he told Al Jazeera from Kabul.
“Fortunately for all of us, local workers recognised the type of material and intervened. Actually the disposal process was stopped in time but it led to protests over the day. As far as we know, and the investigations are ongoing, they were not burned. But we have to wait for the results.”
Inmates take over at another prison overcrowded with drug offenders
Inmates take control as riot erupts at Bali’s Kerobokan prison
Rioting prisoners have taken over Kerobokan jail in Bali, hurling stones at police and setting fires as authorities struggled overnight to regain control.
Prison staff last night abandoned the desperately overcrowded facility, home to Australian inmates Schapelle Corby and the Bali Nine drug traffickers, leaving the jail under the control of more than 1000 inmates.
The riot began at about 11pm and may be related to a smaller incident on Sunday afternoon which flared after one inmate was stabbed and three others arrested.
There is no news yet of any injuries from inside the prison, nor of who is taking part in the riot.
Tensions are high within Bali’s only jail, which was built to accommodate 323 inmates, but which now houses well over three times that number, many of whom are serving long sentences for drug offences.
Amilia Rosa, who is outside the prison, said firefighters were trying to control blazes inside the prison, but so far only furniture, equipment and window frames appeared to have been burned, not the prison building itself.
Armed police reinforcements have arrived at the prison and Ms Rosa said they were on high alert for potential escapes. However, they will not go into the prison until the fires are extinguished.
Ms Rosa had overheard police discussing storming the prison after the sun rose, she said.
EU-IMF report says Greek bailout could derail, lead to rocketing debt
Greek debt deal could easily derail again: EU-IMF report
Greece’s second bailout program could easily go off the rails and send the nation’s debt rocketing back to today’s unmanageable levels, a confidential study by its international lenders shows.
The nine-page debt sustainability analysis, on which euro zone finance ministers based their decision on Tuesday to approve a €130-billion ($170-billion U.S.) rescue program, is anything but a vote of confidence in Athens’ ability to put its public finances back on a sound footing.
Indeed the report, dated Feb. 15 and first obtained by Reuters on Monday, describes in the disembodied prose of economic bureaucrats how uncertain Greece’s recovery will remain for many years, and how Athens will likely need international aid for an indefinite period.
Experts from the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund highlighted the risks and questioned the assumption that Greece will be able to return to capital markets in the coming years.
“There is a fundamental tension between the program objectives of reducing debt and improving competitiveness, in that the internal devaluation needed to restore Greece’s competitiveness will inevitably lead to a higher debt to GDP ratio in the near term,” the analysis said.
“Given the risks, the Greek program may thus remain accident-prone, with questions about sustainability hanging over it.”
The authors voiced particular concern that continued delays in unpopular structural economic reforms and privatizations could further deepen a recession now in its fifth year.
“This would result in a much higher debt trajectory, leaving debt as high as 160 per cent of GDP in 2020.” That is roughly the current level, before an agreed writedown of about 53.5 per cent of the face value of bonds held by private investors, which with other measures is due to cut the debt to 120.5 per cent in 2020.
Oilsands spark EU-Canada trade war
EU oilsands policy could spark trade complaint
Canada has threatened the European Union with action at the World Trade Organization if the bloc’s plan to classify oilsands crude as more harmful to the environment than other fuels goes ahead.
David Plunkett, the ambassador to the EU, wrote in a December letter to the bloc’s commissioner for climate action that “Canada would not accept oilsands crude being singled out.”
“Canada will explore every avenue at its disposal to defend its interests, including at the World Trade Organization,” Plunkett wrote in the letter to Connie Hedegaard, dated Dec. 8, 2011.
The letter was obtained by the Friends of the Earth Europe, a non-profit think-tank based in Brussels, through freedom of information laws and given to CBC News.
Darek Urbaniak, extractives industries spokesperson for the think-tank, said he was concerned that Canada was targeting Europe’s efforts to cut its emissions in a “manner that is unacceptable.”
“It’s using the language that is threatening, and instead of cleaning house inside Canada to limit your emissions it’s trying to undermine the policy,” he told CBC News.
Plunkett’s comments are the latest in the battle over the EU’s fuel quality directive, a proposal that ranks fuels based on their carbon footprint. It calculates a fuel’s entire life cycle of emissions, then assigns it a number.
Under the directive, Canadian oil derived from oilsands would get a higher number than conventional oil because it uses more energy to extract and refine. The directive is part of Europe’s attempts to reduce CO2 emissions by encouraging the use of cleaner fuel.
The fuel quality directive would make Alberta’s main export more expensive for European customers. Canada doesn’t export much oil to Europe, but could in the future.
When asked on Monday to comment on whether it would make a trade complaint over the EU policy, the Ministry of Natural Resources said that Canada would not “hesitate to defend our interests.”
“We oppose a fuel quality directive that discriminates against oilsands crude … without strong scientific basis. We want to ensure a transparent, unbiased, science-based approach is adopted,” the ministry said in a statement issued to CBC News on Monday.
“The oilsands are a proven strategic resource for Canada; we will continue to promote Canada’s oilsands as they are key to Canada’s economic prosperity and energy security. Canada will not hesitate to defend our interests.”
Antibiotics overuse in livestock creates MRSA for humans
Antibiotic-Resistant MRSA in Livestock May Spread to Humans
Livestock in the United States may be building resistance to deadly bacterial infections, and those superbugs may be easily transferrable to humans, according to a new study published in the journal, mBio.
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, is a strain of staph bacteria that does not respond to antibiotics used to treat staph infections. About two out of every 100 people carry this strain of staph, according to the National Institutes of Health, and infections can be minor to severe. The more severe infections occur most frequently in health care settings, according to the CDC, and they can quickly become life-threatening.
In 2003, scientists discovered a strain of the bacteria called ST398, and today, the strain can be found in pigs, turkeys, cattle and other livestock. The strain, which causes skin and respiratory infections, regularly infects people who handle the livestock.
Now the new genome analysis found that the MRSA strain found in livestock in 2003 likely came from an antibiotic sensitive strain of MRSA in humans.
“Most of the ancestral human strains were sensitive to antibiotics, whereas the livestock strains had acquired resistance on several independent occasions,” Ross Fitzgerald in Center for Infectious Diseases at the University of Edinburgh, who reviewed the research, said in a press release.
Once the strain infected livestock, the strain likely changed into several different types, some of which are resistant to various antibiotics, said Fitzgerald, and it is now a two-way street.
“The overuse of antibiotics in food animals for growth promotion allows for various strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria,” said Dr. Marcus Zervos, chief of infectious diseases at Henry Ford Health Systems in Detroit. “If we continue to use antibiotics in food animals, especially for unneeded reasons, the infections will become antibiotic resistant and make their way into people.”
Science is “under siege”
Agence France Presse
Stark warning emerges from science summit
A stark theme emerged from an annual scientific get-together in Vancouver: the world must be helped to believe in science again or it could be too late to save our planet.
Science is “under siege,” top academics and educators were warned repeatedly at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting as they were urged to better communicate their work to the public.
Scientific solutions are needed to solve global crises — from food and water shortages to environmental destruction — “but the public now does not understand science,” leading US climate change expert and NASA scientist James Hansen told the meeting.
“We have a planetary emergency, and very few people recognize that.”
The theme of the five-day meeting, attended by some 8,000 scientists from 50 countries, was “Flattening the world: Building a global knowledge society.”
“It’s about persuading people to believe in science, at a time when disturbing numbers don’t,” said meeting co-chair Andrew Petter, president of Simon Fraser University in this western Canadian city.
Experts wrangled with thorny issues such as censorship, opposition from religious groups in the United States to teaching evolution and climate change, and generally poor education standards.
“We have to plan for a future, considering the risk of climate change, with nine to 10 billion people,” said Hans Rosling, a Swedish public health expert famous for combating scientific ignorance with catchy YouTube videos.
Rosling, pointing to charts showing how human populations changed with technology and how without science the majority of a family’s children die, said it is naive to think that humanity can easily go backward in history.
“I get angry when I hear people say: ‘In the rainforest people live in ecological balance.’ They don’t. They die in ecological balance,” he said.
Outgoing AAAS president Nina Fedoroff, a renowned expert on life sciences and biotechnology, said a growing anti-science attitude “probably lies in our own psyche.”
“Belief systems, especially when tinged with fear, are not easily dispersed with facts,” she said, noting that in the United States “fewer people ‘believe’ in climate change each year.”
Her remarks held particular resonance for the scientific community, coming as US President Barack Obama faces a fierce attack from a potential Republican challenger for the allegedly “phony theology” behind his environmental policy.