Nine Circles of Hell!: Tuesday, November 8
The Nine Circles of Hell! – all the news that gives you fits in print – the nine most hellish news stories, including a bonus story on the Obama-Sarkozy tensions over Israel, for Tuesday, November 8, 2011, are:
Ohioans voting today on anti-collective bargaining law
Americans go to polls in last major elections before 2012
Ohio, a key swing state won by President Barack Obama in the 2008, has the most closely watched, vote over the power of organized labor, which suffered setbacks this year in Wisconsin and other states.
Voters in Ohio are asked whether to overturn a law that would severely restrict the collective bargaining power of public sector unions in the state.
“We are continuing to reach out to voters and we will do that up until the polls close on Tuesday evening,” said Jason Mauk, a spokesman for Building a Better Ohio, which is campaigning for the union restrictions.
He described the effort as a “good old-fashioned grass-roots turnout effort” like a presidential election contest.
The Ohio law, a centerpiece of Republican Governor John Kasich’s legislative agenda, passed the Republican-dominated assembly in the spring. But opponents were able to gather 1.3 million signatures to halt its enactment and put it on the ballot for repeal.
We Are Ohio, a group opposing the law, has raised $19 million, according to the Ohio Secretary of State, versus $7.6 million raised for supporters. Money has poured into television ads, and thousands of volunteers on both sides have worked phone banks and gone door to door to get out the vote.
“We’re asking each person whose door we knocked on to talk to their neighbors,” said Sue Taylor, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, who joined AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka for a rally in Cleveland on the issue Monday.
Taylor said she has never seen teachers so fired up about a political issue.
“There are teachers who are knocking on doors and (phoning) for the first time in their careers,” said Taylor. “People understand the stakes are very, very high and they don’t want to lose their voices.”
A Quinnipiac University poll showed that as of late October, nearly 6 out of 10 Ohio voters surveyed wanted the law repealed.
Mississippi amendment on ‘personhood’ divides Christians
In the Carpenter home, every meal begins with a prayer. Robin and his wife, Emily, are devout Christians. But they part ways with many other Christians over a measure that would expand the legal definition of human life.
Their son, Luke, now 4 years old, was born through in vitro fertilization.
The anti-abortion amendment being voted on this week in the state could restrict in vitro procedures, and the Carpenters are worried that if they wait too long to add to their family, they may end up breaking the law.
“I don’t really want or need anybody else getting involved in trying to limit how that works for us, or stopping it,” said Robin Carpenter. “We need to have the same rights to have a family as anybody else does.”
The Carpenters fear that if Mississippi Amendment 26 passes on Tuesday, their whole future will change.
The controversial measure, known as “Personhood,” will ask Mississippians to amend the state constitution to define life as beginning at conception, which would eliminate abortion, including in the cases of women who are the victims of rape and incest. The law would also outlaw certain forms of birth control and the destruction of embryos in laboratories — which puts in vitro fertilization procedures in question because it results in unused fertilized eggs.
“The amendment is simple,” said Dr. Freda Bush, a Mississippi obstetrician and strong supporter of the measure.
“I can’t imagine anyone who is truly pro-life not supporting or acknowledging the fact that the baby begins at conception, deserves life, has done nothing to deserve death, she told CNN.
“In rape and incest, the life that has been created during that process has done nothing to deserve death. The mother is a victim and there’s no reason to make a victim a murderer,” she said.
But while the Carpenters consider themselves pro-life, they say their personal situation can’t bring them to support this amendment. They’ve decided to move up their next In vitro fertilization procedure.
“We’re trying to hurry up and get it started before all of this takes place,” Emily Carpenter said.
In vitro fertilization has “helped our family grow, and that’s what we want as parents. We don’t want anybody to limit our ability to have children,” she said.
If it passes, the amendment would take effect before the end of the year.
And although the amendment’s wording is simple, what has the Carpenters and others worried is that it would compel the Mississippi legislature to develop the rules and laws to enforce the amendment.
“I think it’s the whole wording of the amendment. There’s too much gray area to vote for it, said Emily Carpenter. “You can’t trust what their intentions are if they don’t state it.”
Representatives in the Yes on 26 movement say that anyone who considers themselves to be pro-life should be supporting the amendment.
Chicago stock exchanges ask for over a billion in tax cuts or they’ll leave
CME, Sears tax break package expands
State legislators will begin deliberations today on a potentially costly tax-break bill that aims to keep CME Group Inc. and Sears Holdings Corp. from moving operations out of state but also includes a broad range of breaks for other businesses and for individuals.
House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, said she introduced the bill on behalf of Gov. Pat Quinn.
The package would carry an estimated annual cost of $506 million in its first year, which lawmakers intend to cover by pulling back an existing tax break. But its cost in the second year and beyond would rise to more than $700 million, and the offset would decline significantly over time, Currie said.
“There are many moving parts and this has a long way to go,” she said this morning. It will come up for consideration in committee this afternoon.
The bill would phase in tax cuts for financial exchanges over two years, ultimately cutting bills in half and costing the state an estimated $85 million annually when fully in place.
CME Group, owner of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Chicago Board of Trade, as well as the Chicago Board Options Exchange, would be among the beneficiaries. Both have threatened to move operations out of state.
The legislation also would renew a special taxing district for Sears for another 15 years, allowing it to retain a portion of its local property taxes. And it lays the groundwork for the retailer to receive an incentive package from the state to retain jobs here, to include tax credits worth $15 million a year for 10 years. The retailer would have the option to take those credits against corporate income tax liability or against employee income taxes due to the state.
Republicans have been pushing for to include broader tax relief for businesses of all sizes in the bill, and the proposed legislation would provide several measures along those lines.
US “social safety net is helping but not doing as much as we’d like”
New Census data raise number of poor to 49 million
The number of poor Americans hit a record 49 million in 2010, or 16 percent, according to new data released on Monday that showed poverty rates for the elderly, Asians and Hispanics higher than previously known.
The figures were calculated by the Census Bureau under a broad new measure intended to supplement the official standard with a fuller picture of poverty in the United States. Results contrast with official poverty data, released in September, that put the number of poor Americans at 46.2 million.
The biggest rise occurred among people aged 65 and older who are being driven into poverty by out-of-pocket medical expenses, including premiums and co-pays from the federal government’s Medicare program for the elderly.
The poverty rate for the elderly jumped to 15.9 percent, or a roughly 1 in 6 senior citizens, versus 9 percent under the official count.
The findings highlight the challenges facing Republicans and Democrats on a special congressional “super committee” charged with cutting at least $1.2 trillion from the federal budget over the next 10 years.
Both sides have proposed hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts to Medicare, which threatens to explode the U.S. debt burden, despite intensive lobbying against reductions by groups that represents beneficiaries and healthcare providers.
“People will say this shows how crucial it is not to cut a penny out of Medicare spending. And that’s unfortunate, because it’s an argument against solving the deficit,” said Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution.
Like the government’s Social Security pension system for the elderly, Medicare is also expected to be a hot-button issue in 2012 election politics for both parties as they vie for control of the White House and Congress.
Unlike the Census Bureau’s official poverty measure, which focuses on the food budgets and cash wages of the poor, the new calculation includes government benefits such as food stamps as well as household expenses like taxes, medical costs, housing and regional differences in the cost of living, the Census Bureau said in a report.
It will now supplement official poverty estimates, which have been used to determine eligibility for programs that help the poor since the mid-1960s.
The broader formula generates an overall U.S. poverty rate of 16 percent, versus an official 15.1 percent, with an annual poverty income threshold of $24,343 for a family of four, compared with $22,113 under the official measure.
“This shows that the social safety net is helping but not doing as much as we’d like to see,” said Dave Cooper of the Economic Policy Institute. “The programs we have right now are, if anything, inadequate.”
Obama-Sarkozy tensions over Israel caught on microphone
Sarkozy tells Obama Netanyahu is a “liar”
French President Nicolas Sarkozy branded Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “a liar” in a private conversation with President Barack Obama that was accidentally broadcast to journalists during last week’s G20 summit in Cannes.
“I cannot bear Netanyahu, he’s a liar,” Sarkozy told Obama, unaware that the microphones in their meeting room had been switched on, enabling reporters in a separate location to listen in to a simultaneous translation.
“You’re fed up with him, but I have to deal with him even more often than you,” Obama replied, according to the French interpreter.
The technical gaffe is likely to cause great embarrassment to all three leaders as they look to work together to intensify international pressure on Iran over its nuclear ambitions.
The conversation was not initially reported by the small group of journalists who overheard it because it was considered private and off-the-record. But the comments have since emerged on French websites and can be confirmed by Reuters …
It was unclear why exactly Sarkozy had criticized Netanyahu. However, European diplomats have largely blamed Israel for the breakdown in peace talks and have expressed anger over Netanyahu’s approval of large-scale settlement building.
During their bilateral meeting on November 3, on the sidelines of the Cannes summit, Obama criticized Sarkozy’s surprise decision to vote in favor of a Palestinian request for membership of the U.N. cultural heritage agency UNESCO.
“I didn’t appreciate your way of presenting things over the Palestinian membership of UNESCO. It weakened us. You should have consulted us, but that is now behind us,” Obama was quoted as saying.
The October 31 UNESCO vote marked a success for the Palestinians in their broader thrust for recognition as a sovereign state in the U.N. system — a unilateral initiative fiercely opposed by Israel and the United States.
As a result of the vote, Washington was compelled to halt its funding for UNESCO under a 1990s law that prohibits Washington from giving money to any U.N. body that grants membership to groups that do not have full, legal statehood.
Obama told Sarkozy that he was worried about the impact if Washington had to pull funding from other U.N. bodies such as the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and the IAEA nuclear watchdog if the Palestinians gained membership there.
“You have to pass the message along to the Palestinians that they must stop this immediately,” Obama said.
The day the conversation took place, the Palestinians announced that they would not seek membership of any other U.N. agency.
Sarkozy confirmed that France would not take any unilateral decisions when the U.N. Security Council discusses a Palestinian membership request, a debate expected later this month.
“I am with you on that,” Obama replied.
- The Guardian story, “Sarkozy and Obama’s Netanyahu gaffe broadcast via microphones,” gives more details:
Arrêt Sur Images reported that while the two presidents were in private discussions in a closed room before their press conference, Élysée staff handed out translation sets to waiting journalists.
A staff member reportedly explained that the headphones to go with the translation sets were not yet being handed out because this would have allowed journalists to listen in on the private conversation still going on. Half a dozen journalists immediately plugged in their own headphones and caught three minutes of the private exchange.
The conversation apparently began with Obama criticising Sarkozy for not warning the US that France would vote in favour of the Palestinians’ application to join Unesco, the United Nations agency for culture and education.
One French journalist told Arrêt Sur Images that the conversation was broadcast for around three minutes before officials realised the mistake. Another told the website that the reporters agreed not to publicise the remarks because of their sensitive nature.
The exchange was mentioned on a blog by Le Monde’s political correspondent Arnaud Leparmentier, who said the two presidents had discussed their “difficult” relationship with Netanyahu behind closed doors.
Israel’s new reality: growing gender segregation
The Associated Press
Gender Segregation on Rise in Israel
Posters depicting women have become rare in the streets of Israel’s capital. In some areas women have been shunted onto separate sidewalks, and buses and health clinics have been gender-segregated. The military has considered reassigning some female combat soldiers because religious men don’t want to serve with them.
This is the new reality in parts of 21st-century Israel, where ultra-Orthodox rabbis are trying to contain the encroachment of secular values on their cloistered society through a fierce backlash against the mixing of the sexes in public.
On the surface, Israel’s gender equality bona fides seem strong, with the late Golda Meir as a former prime minister, Tzipi Livni as the current opposition leader, and its women soldiers famed around the world.
Reality is not so shiny. The World Economic Forum recently released an unfavorable image of women’s earning power in Israel, and in 2009, the last year for which data are available, Israeli women earned two-thirds what men did.
The newly enforced separation is felt most strongly in Jerusalem, where ultra-Orthodox Jews are growing in numbers and strength. The phenomenon is starting to be seen elsewhere, though in the Tel Aviv region, Israel’s largest metropolis, secular Jews are the vast majority, and life there resembles most Western cities.
Still, secular Jews there and elsewhere in Israel worry that their lifestyles could be targeted, too, because the ultra-Orthodox population, while still relatively small, is growing significantly. Their high birthrate of about seven children per family is forecast to send their proportion of the population, now estimated at 9 percent, to 15 percent by 2025.
Though categorizing is difficult, it is estimated that about one-quarter of Israel’s 6 million Jews are modern Orthodox, another quarter are traditional and the rest secular.
Numbers aside, the ultra-Orthodox wield disproportionate power in Israel’s fragmented political system.
“The stronger the ultra-Orthodox and religious community grows, the greater its attempt to impose its norms,” said Hannah Kehat, the founder of the religious women’s forum Kolech. Their norms, she said, are “segregation of women and discrimination against them.”
Ultra-Orthodox Jews around the world have long frowned upon the mixing of the sexes in their communities, but the attempt to apply this prohibition in public spaces is relatively new in Israel.
Plastic bullets, armored vehicles standby for tomorrow’s UK student rally
Police will have the right to fire rubber bullets on student protesters as they prepare for huge London demonstration
Police are prepared to use plastic bullets for the first time on the British mainland if student protests planned for tomorrow erupt into violence.
Scotland Yard revealed yesterday that the baton rounds have been authorised for a student fees march in London amid fears it could be hijacked by anarchists and troublemakers.
Baton gun rounds have never been used on the British mainland, but they have been linked to deaths in Northern Ireland.
Commander Simon Pountain, who is in charge of the police operation, said armoured vehicles, known as Jankels, would also be on standby if the protests saw a repeat of this summer riots or the chaos last year during the student fees demonstrations.
Baton rounds were pre-authorised during August’s riots but were not used. This is the first time they have been pre-authorised for a planned protest march on the mainland.
The march, organised by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, is due to go from Bloomsbury in Central London to the City. It is being kept away from the St Paul’s anti-capitalism protest but activists from the cathedral camp are expected to join in.
Last year, the then Met Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson was criticised for only sending out 225 officers who were overwhelmed by hordes of rampaging student protesters smashing into the Conservative Party headquarters on November 10.
And on December 9, during another student protest, Prince Charles’s limousine was besieged in the worst royal security breach in a decade.
The Duchess of Cornwall’s face was a mask of terror as rioters swarmed around their Rolls-Royce Phantom VI, kicking, hitting and rocking the car. One managed to poke her with a stick through a window.
By contrast, more than 4,000 police will oversee tomorrow’s march, which is expected to attract crowds of 10,000. Police leave has been cancelled and 550 officers have drafted in from outside forces in.
Keystone oil sands pipeline construction in doubt
Twenty thousand construction jobs. $5 billion in tax revenue. 700,000 barrels of additional oil a day.
All these things are now in doubt as opposition mounts to the expansion of the Keystone pipeline, a 1,700-mile long conduit that would carry crude from Canada’s Alberta oil sands region to the U.S. Gulf Coast.
Just a few weeks ago analysts thought the jobs and economic benefits would easily outweigh environmental concerns and push the Obama administration to approve the $7 billion project.
But now Nebraska is balking at the pipeline’s route, and rumblings of discontent are being heard from South Dakota as well.
The public pressure is being turned up too.
Protestors, concerned about green house gas emissions associated with Canada’s oil sands and doubtful of its promised benefits, have been rallying against the project all summer. On Sunday, thousands joined hands and literally encircled the White House.
“Once thought to be a shoo-in, a near-term presidential approval of the pipeline looks less secure as opposition and headlines mount,” Whitney Stanco, an energy analyst at the Washington Research Group, wrote in a note Monday. “We continue to believe the odds favor approval, but an extended delay is looking more and more possible.”
Last week the state of Nebraska, through which the pipeline would pass, convened a special legislation to address the issue.
This week several bills are expected out of the state legislator. Those bills could require stricter construction standards where the pipeline would pass close to water resources.
They could also attempt to alter the course of the pipeline, directing it away from the Sand Hills region. The Sand Hills sit atop the massive Ogallala Aquifer, sacred to farming interests in the state.
“Nebraskans are concerned, and so am I, on why would you put a pipeline over the Ogallala Aquifer and risk an oil spill or leak,” Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, a Republican, recently told a local paper.
The concern from Nebraska is causing analysts to rethink their position on the pipeline …
Pipeline critics were heartened last week when President Obama indicated he’d take a direct role in the approval process. Obama had previously maintained a low profile on the issue.
Critics say building the pipeline not only risks spills but would lock the U.S. into dependency on a particularly dirty form of oil.
Oil sands are just that — oil mixed with sand. To get a useful type of crude, heat is used to separate the oil from the sand. The process results in anywhere from 5% to 30% more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional oil would generate.
There are additional concerns over the effects on the land. Oil sands are often mined like coal, in huge open pits that destroy the forest and can contaminate the nearby rivers.
The companies that operate in the region, including the world’s largest oil companies like ExxonMobil (XOM, Fortune 500), Royal Dutch Shell (RDSA) and BP (BP), have gotten better at mitigating the impacts, but concerns remain.
Pipeline opponents also allege the approval process at the Sate Department has been tainted by lobbyists for TransCanada that have close ties to the administration. On Monday the State Department’s inspector general’s office said it is conducting a review of the process.
Critics also dispute the benefits the pipeline would bring, pointing to a study from Cornell that said the pipeline could actually cost jobs by hurting the development of alternative energy and allowing for the export of oil from the Midwest and driving up the cost of gasoline in that region.
- Notice how this article reports the pipeline’s benefits – including job creation – unchallenged in the opening paragraphs, especially the lead? The reporter – and editor – wait until the very last paragraph of the entire story before they give you a link to a new study that reveals the misleading nature of any job creation claim associated with the pipeline. – Chuck
US says they don’t know of any extraterrestrials or alien cover-ups
The Washington Post
White House denies aliens exist on Earth
E.T. has not landed — yet. That’s the latest message from the White House in an amusing answer to an online petition on the “We the People” government site.
The site launched at the end of September in a play off the popular social media petition sites, such as Change.org. It allows anyone to create a petition, or sign an existing one. The site first said that if a petition reached 5,000 signatures within 30 days, it would be reviewed by policy officials in the administration. It has since moved the threshold back to 25,000 signatures.
Before it did, though, it addressed a question asked on two separate, but similar petitions: “Immediately disclose the government’s knowledge of and communications with extraterrestrial beings.” More than 17,000 people signed that petition and a similarly worded one.
One of the group’s behind the petition, the Paradigm Research Group has been working for years to get the government to fess up to alien life. In May 2001, The Post’s Joel Achenbach attended the group’s press conference where he came to this conclusion: “A group of people who believe in UFOs held a news conference yesterday morning that established beyond the shadow of a doubt — that reached levels of credibility so high as to constitute actual proof — that there really do exist people who believe in UFOs.”
Ten years later, the group had little luck with the official response from the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy. Our government is no better acquainted with aliens than we are.
The U.S. government has no evidence that any life exists outside our planet, or that an extraterrestrial presence has contacted or engaged any member of the human race. In addition, there is no credible information to suggest that any evidence is being hidden from the public’s eye.”
However, the response does recommend a number of projects working toward better understanding extraterrestrial life: SETI, Kepler, and the Mars Science Laboratory.
The answer likely won’t end any conspiracy theories any time soon. In the comments at the Village Voice blog, readers are already finding problems with the response: “You have to look at the wording carefully, they don’t see a “sign” of a cover up … I’m sure there are many secret government programs that the president doesn’t know exist and if asked about them they would say there is no “sign.”
Others have taken issue with the general tone of all the responses — not just the ones related to extraterrestrial life. A new petition started on the site on Friday demands “a vapid, condescending, meaningless, politically safe response to this petition.” It has more than 3,000 signatures so far.