Nine Circles of Hell!: Tuesday, January 17, 2012
The Nine Circles of Hell! – all the news that gives you fits in print – the nine most hellish news stories, including a bonus story ‘scary’ gas and an extra article on the frightening new online-piracy bill, for Tuesday, January 17, 2012, are:
Americans savings at lowest level since recession began
Insight: Recovery at risk as Americans raid savings
More than four years after the United States fell into recession, many Americans have resorted to raiding their savings to get them through the stop-start economic recovery.
In an ominous sign for America’s economic growth prospects, workers are paring back contributions to college funds and growing numbers are borrowing from their retirement accounts.
Some policymakers worry that a recent spike in credit card usage could mean that people, many of whom are struggling on incomes that have lagged inflation, are taking out new debt just to meet the costs of day-to-day living.
American households “have been spending recently in a way that did not seem in line with income growth. So somehow they’ve been doing that through perhaps additional credit card usage,” Chicago Federal Reserve President Charles Evans said on Friday.
“If they saw future income and employment increasing strongly then that would be reasonable. But I don’t see that. So I’ve been puzzled by this,” he said.
After a few years of relative frugality, the amount of money that Americans are saving has fallen back to its lowest level since December 2007 when the recession began. The personal saving rate dipped in November to 3.5 percent, down from 5.1 percent a year earlier, according to the U.S. Commerce Department.
Obama to accept nomination at Bank of America Stadium
Obama Convention Speech Moved to Stadium
President Barack Obama will deliver his party’s acceptance speech at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina, moving venues for the final night of the Democratic National Convention, the party announced.
“President Obama will take the stage in the Bank of America Stadium, home of the Carolina Panthers, to accept the nomination of the Democratic Party as president with tens of thousands more people by his side” Steve Kerrigan, the chief executive officer of the party’s convention committee, said in an e-mail today to supporters.
Democrats also are trimming the convention program from four days to three “to make room for a day to organize and celebrate the Carolinas, Virginia and the South,” he said. The rest of the convention, now scheduled to begin Sept. 4, will be conducted at the Time Warner Cable Arena.
The almost 74,000-seat home of the Panthers, Charlotte’s professional football team, would make more skyboxes available for wealthy donors, as the committee strives to meet its $36.6 million fundraising goal.
The Obama administration has had a mixed relationship with Charlotte-based Bank of America Corp. (BAC)
In May 2010, Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to Obama, praised Chief Executive Officer Brian Moynihan for having a “level of corporate responsibility beyond the bank.”
Last October, Obama criticized a planned $5 dollar monthly fee that Bank of America was going to charge its debit card users. He said that while banks have a right to set fees, he questioned the bank’s explanation for the new charge.
Old wells bring risks, opportunities for franking
Old gas wells bring risks of chemicals
Almost all of the 20 homeowners in Belmar pay to run a water chlorination system to replace what was free well water from an Allegheny River aquifer. In the 1980s, an oil driller polluted the water, in part, they believe, by dumping waste brine into abandoned oil wells that could date to the 1800s, when Edwin L. Drake set off the boom by tapping his famous well in Titusville.
Today the latest gas-drilling rush in the Marcellus Shale may bring an opportunity to plug many of those old wells, but it also brings the risk that old wells could create a path for gas and chemicals to migrate into soil and water.
“The whole area up here is like Swiss cheese,” said Howard Weltner, 80, secretary-treasurer of Belmar Association Inc., which operates the treatment system. “It just has holes through all the different strata in the ground, so there’s an awful lot of opportunities for contamination of the groundwater. And I think a lot of people are concerned about it, and a lot more communities are getting a public system” to replace water wells.
Most of the state’s abandoned wells are in western Pennsylvania. They arc though McKean, Venango and Butler counties and, in smaller clusters, around the Pittsburgh area.
Unplugged wells pose risks of illegal dumping, water pollution, cave-ins, gas seepage and even explosions, but the state can afford to plug only about 130 a year. At that rate, it could take the state more than 61 years to plug the 8,262 remaining wells that officials know about, and more than 1,350 years to plug the rest — if crews could find them.
In the past, drillers abandoned wells because there was no rule that said they couldn’t. Companies that no longer exist cannot be held liable.
The rejuvenation of the fuel-drilling industry in Pennsylvania could provide a chance to deal with abandoned wells, officials say. With the backing of Gov. Tom Corbett, the Senate and House in November passed preliminary bills that would establish “impact fees” on the industry, and some of that money would be put toward plugging old wells.
- In other frightening gas news, The StarPhoenix reports, “Exposed gas lines ‘scary’“:
SaskEnergy isn’t doing enough to protect exposed gas lines and risks a repeat of the fatal Nipawin explosion several years ago, said a Saskatoon safety inspector.
“This is scary as heck,” workplace safety manager David Newton said during a tour Monday morning. “We just haven’t had a big one (explosion) yet, but it could come any time. They’ve become complacent.”
A SaskEnergy official disagreed, saying he’s confident adequate safety measures are in place.
Newton drove through the Nutana and downtown areas Monday morning, although he said there are risky exposed gas lines in many other neighbourhoods.
Driving his half-tonne truck in the narrow service alley behind the businesses along Broadway Avenue, he pointed to several good examples of gas meters protected by sturdy metal barriers, or “guards.”
However, on the same block, a similarly exposed meter and attached gas lines sit unprotected in confined, low-visibility areas where frequent large vehicle traffic passes or unloads its cargo. Behind other businesses, unprotected meters sit at arm’s length from an industrial garbage bin, picked up regularly by heavy equipment operators.
“There’s one protected there, that’s good,” he said, pointing. “But then these ones are not. Most don’t even have a curb in front of them.”
More than two dozen meters beside or behind churches, apartment buildings, office towers and other locations sat in high-traffic areas or busy parking lots with no protection, a situation that cannot continue, he said.
Newton did laud SaskEnergy for its “dial before you dig” education campaign, which has led to greater awareness of gas dangers in the construction industry and among private citizens.
He said the same diligence and safety mentality should be applied to the issue of exposed lines.
Opposition split over suspending Nigerian oil strike
Uncertainty troubles Nigeria after oil strike is halted
An uneasy calm returned to Nigeria’s cities Tuesday, a day after two Nigerian labor groups suspended their nationwide strike over the elimination of the country’s fuel subsidy.
The Nigeria Labour Congress and the Trade Union Congress cited successes gained by demonstrators, including an announcement Monday by President Goodluck Jonathan slashing fuel prices, as they suspended the strikes.
In Lagos, the country’s commercial center, vehicles thronged the streets Tuesday but traffic was still at lower than normal levels.
Many gas stations displayed a price of 97 naira (60 cents) per liter, the new price announced by the government Monday. The protests began earlier this month after fuel that had cost about 65 naira (40 cents) shot up to 141 naira (86 cents) when the subsidy was removed.
Announcing the revised price Monday, Jonathan cited “the hardships being suffered by Nigerians.”
And in a signal that the government has listened to public complaints about widespread corruption, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission was also tasked Tuesday with investigating fraud over fuel imports and sales.
But while the NLC and TUC urged demonstrators to go home as they suspended their industrial action, it remains unclear whether they will accept the fuel-price cut and call for a permanent end to the strikes and protests.
A third organization, the Joint Action Front, issued a statement deploring the suspension and urging continued strikes and protests until the government agrees to restore gas prices to what they were before the subsidy ended.
In another statement Tuesday, the JAF criticized the inspector general of police, Hafiz Ringim, over his warning that any Nigerians taking part in protests would be arrested and charged, and that anyone calling for a change of government would be prosecuted for treason.
JAF Secretary Abiodun Aremu condemned Ringim’s statement as “uncivilized and provocative” and accused him of seeking to “repress the legitimate expression and freedom of assembly of Nigerians.”
EU sets July 1 as first day of Iranian oil import ban
EU discussing plan to start Iran oil ban on July 1
The European Union would ban the import of Iranian oil from July 1, giving member states nearly six months to wind up existing contracts, under a proposal by rotating EU presidency holder Denmark, EU diplomats said on Tuesday.
EU governments have already agreed in principle to impose a ban on Iranian crude as part of Western efforts to ratchet up pressure on Tehran over its nuclear program. Details of how and when the ban will be implemented are still being ironed out and are being watched closely by edgy oil markets.
The compromise proposal aims to ease concerns among some of the EU’s 27 governments about the economic impact of a ban on their economies, suffering from two years of debt turmoil.
The EU bought about a fifth of Iranian oil last year, collectively rivaling China as the main buyer. Italy, Spain and Greece have been big buyers, with debt-hit Athens relying on easier credit terms from Tehran to finance its purchases.
The EU embargo follows stringent new U.S. sanctions signed into law by President Barack Obama on New Year’s Eve, which are being gradually implemented but if fully enforced would make it impossible for most countries to pay for Iranian oil.
The unprecedented effort to take Iran’s 2.6 million barrels of oil per day off of international markets has kept global prices higher and helped cause a sharp fall in Iran’s rial currency and a surge in the cost of basic goods for Iranians.
Western countries say the sanctions have been imposed to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful.
Peace Corps recalling volunteers from world murder capital
The Associated Press
158 Peace Corps volunteers leave Honduras
All 158 Peace Corps volunteers in Honduras left the country on Monday, weeks after the United States announced that it would pull them out for safety reasons.
The U.S. group said in late December that it was bringing home volunteers from Honduras and suspending training for new volunteers in El Salvador and Guatemala, though existing volunteers would remain in the latter two countries.
The region is plagued by gang violence and Honduras is considered to have the highest murder rate in the world. Honduras President Porfirio Lobo said Monday that the Peace Corps volunteers had been affected by rising crime, but neither he nor U.S. officials have cited specific attacks as reasons for the withdrawal.
U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Ledy Pacheco said instructions for the withdrawal came from Washington, where the group’s head office is located.
The Peace Corps had operated in Honduras since 1963.
The three countries make up the so-called northern triangle of Central America, a region plagued by drug trafficking and gang violence.
A recent U.N. report said Honduras and El Salvador have the highest homicide rates in the world with 82.1 and 66 per 100,000 inhabitants, respectively, in 2010. Guatemala had a rate of 41 per 100,000 last year. All three are more than double the homicide rate of 18 per 100,000 in Mexico, where drug violence has drawn world attention.
‘Occupy the Courts’ v. Citizens United this Friday
Occupy Movement Organizes Protest at 80 Courthouses On Anniversary of ‘Citizens United v. FEC’
Members of the Occupy Wall Street movement will turn their attention to the legal system on Friday. They plan to gather at the Prince Kuhio Federal Building in Honolulu and 79 other court houses across the country to rally against the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision by the U.S. Supreme Court issued two years ago on January 21, 2010.
According to Scotusblog.com, the controversial 5-4 decision determined “Political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment, and the government may not keep corporations or unions from spending money to support or denounce individual candidates in elections. While corporations or unions may not give money directly to campaigns, they may seek to persuade the voting public through other means, including ads, especially where these ads were not broadcast.”
In a statement issued January 16, the Occupy Wall Street movement said: “Neither the Declaration of Independence nor the Constitution mentions corporations, which were rare entities at our nation’s founding. But thanks to decades of rulings by Justices who molded the law to favor elite interests, corporations today are granted privileges that empower them to deny citizens the right to full self-governance. Armed with these rights, corporations wield ever-increasing control over jobs, natural assets, elected officials, judges and the law.
“We believe corporations are not persons and possess only the privileges citizens and their elected representatives willfully grant them. Organizers of OCCUPY THE COURTS propose a Constitutional Amendment that will overturn the Court-created legal doctrines of corporate personhood and ‘Money Equals Speech.’”
Not everyone was displeased with the ruling. In fact, many conservatives and libertarians around the country agreed with the decision, saying it would be a violation of the First Amendment to rule otherwise.
Lawmakers feel heat over controversial online-piracy bill
The Washington Post
SOPA: Lawmakers backing away from online-piracy bills
It looks like the uproar over Congress’s online-piracy bills is having a real impact. This weekend, the White House strongly hinted that it would oppose the current legislation. And key sponsors are edging away from the bills’ most controversial features.
Late on Friday night, the White House released a statement announcing that it “will not support legislation that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk, or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.” That’s a huge shift, and it came in response to a petition asking President Obama to veto the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House, which would give content providers sweeping new tools to crack down on copyright infringement. True, the White House statement doesn’t oppose SOPA directly, but it’s a fairly clear condemnation of the flaws critics have pointed to in the bill. (See here for a basic rundown of what SOPA is, and why it’s generated so much controversy.)
It’s also a sign that momentum on online-piracy legislation is shifting dramatically. Just six months ago, these bills seemed all but inevitable. The Senate version of SOPA, the Protect IP Act, was being held up by one lonely senator, Ron Wyden, and most of the bill’s backers were confident of eventual passage. But critics and tech exports started pointing out that these bills could impinge on free speech and disrupt the workings of the Internet. Online communities like Tumblr and Reddit organized loud, boisterous, and often clever campaigns — the document-sharing site Scribd, for instance, made a billion pages vanish to protest the bill — and public opinion swung sharply. A Reddit campaign managed to persuade Paul Ryan to oppose the bill, for instance.
As a result, even the most ardent backers of the bill are now softening their support. Sen. Pat Leahy, a key sponsor of the Protect IP Act, has conceded that more study is needed for the provisions that would allow rogue sites to be delisted from the Domain Name Service (basically the Internet’s phone directory). Critics have warned that mucking with DNS could splinter the architecture of the Internet.
In the House, meanwhile, SOPA sponsor Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) has said he’d remove the DNS-blocking provisions from his bill outright, pending further review. And last week, six Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee also wrote a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid asking for more time to study the Protect IP Act. (It’s currently slated for consideration Jan. 24.)
Now, that doesn’t mean these bills, or their most controversial features, are dead and buried. Leahy, for one, was pretty clear that still supports passing a bill with DNS-blocking — he just thinks that feature should be studied carefully before it actually gets implemented. (As TechDirt’s Michael Masnick points out, that sounds like a compelling reason to slow down and reconsider before passing the bill, rather than enacting a provision that lawmakers don’t fully understand.)
- Everyone will know about the opposition to SOPA tomorrow, as Al Jazeera reports, “Wikipedia to black out site in protest“:
Wikipedia, the popular community-edited online encyclopedia, will black out its English-language site for 24 hours to seek support against proposed US anti-piracy legislation that Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales said threatens the future of the internet.
The service will be the highest profile name to join a growing campaign starting at midnight Eastern Time on Wednesday that will see it black out its page so that visitors will only see information about the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA).
The information will urge Wikipedia readers in the US to contact their local congressman to vote against the bills. Other smaller sites leading the campaign include Reddit.com and Cheezeburger.
“This is a quite clumsily drafted legislation which is dangerous for an open internet,” said Wales in an interview.
The decision to black out the site was decided by voting within the Wikipedia community of writers and editors who manage the free service, Wales said. The English language Wikipedia receives more than 25 million average daily visitors from around the world, according to comScore data.
The bills pit technology companies like Google and Facebook against the bill’s supporters, including Hollywood studios and music labels, which say the legislation is needed to protect intellectual property and jobs.
The SOPA legislation under consideration in the House of Representatives aims to crack down on online sales of pirated American movies, music or other goods by forcing internet companies to block access to foreign sites offering material that violates US copyright laws.
Supporters argue the bill is unlikely to have an impact on US-based websites.
US advertising networks could also be required to stop online ads, and search engines would be barred from directly linking to websites found to be distributing pirated goods.
Google has repeatedly said the bill goes too far and could hurt investment. Along with other Internet companies such as Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter and eBay, it has run advertisements in major newspapers urging Washington lawmakers to rethink their approach.
Army wants shrinks to take the ‘disorder’ out of PTSD
Idea to take the ‘D’ out of PTSD studied
The president of the American Psychiatric Association says he is “very open” to a request from the Army to come up with an alternative name for post-traumatic stress disorder so that troops returning from combat will feel less stigmatized and more encouraged to seek treatment.
Dr. John Oldham, who serves as senior vice president and chief of staff at the Houston-based Menninger Clinic, said he is looking into the possibility of updating the association’s diagnostic manual with a new subcategory for PTSD. The subcategory could be “combat post-traumatic stress injury,” or a similar term, he said.
“It would link it clearly to the impact and the injury of the combat situation and the deployment experience, rather than what people somewhat inaccurately but often assume, which is that you got it because you weren’t strong enough,” Oldham said.
The potential change was prompted by a request from Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the Army’s vice chief of staff, who wrote to Oldham last year, suggesting APA drop the world “disorder” from PTSD.
“Calling it a disorder contributes to the stigma and makes it so some folks – not all, but some folks – don’t get the help they need,” Chiarelli said.
The general doesn’t like to use the word disorder. “It’s not a dirty word, but I think it’s misused here,” he said. “I don’t think that the post-traumatic stress that soldiers experience is a disorder. It’s not something that happens just to weak people or people that are somehow inclined to be affected by horrible things that they see or are required to do. I think it causes an actual injury to the brain and how the brain works.”
After receiving Chiarelli’s letter, Oldham wrote back to say he appreciated his concern, but dropping the word disorder might not be the best way to go. He said he was eager to work with Chiarelli to see what APA could do.