Nine Circles of Hell!: Wednesday, February 1, 2012 Nine Circles of Hell!

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Today’s Nine Circles of Hell! – all the news that gives you fits in print – the nine most hellish news stories, including two extra stories on Mitt Romney and an additional ‘bad weather’ article, for Wednesday, February 1, 2012, are:

Romney: “I’m not concerned about the very poor”

Judge stops another BP attempt to shift responsibility for Gulf spill

Canadian Gadhafi smuggling suspect claims torture in Mexico

Nobel Prize investigated for drifting from original mission

Netanyahu won’t stop settlements to start peace talks

Breast cancer pink ribbons now stand for anti-choice

Europe’s deadly freeze could get worse

180 million kids’ bodies, minds limited by ‘stunting’

Fearing ‘bad actors’ researchers censor bird flu findings

Romney: “I’m not concerned about the very poor”
Reuters
(2/1/12)

After Florida win, Romney stumbles in comments on poor

Mitt Romney regained the lead in the Republican presidential nomination race with a big win in Florida, but drew criticism on Wednesday in what should have been his victory lap with remarks suggesting he was indifferent to America’s poor …

In an interview on CNN, Romney said he was not concerned about the poorest Americans, but that his primary focus was on the middle class.

“I’m not concerned about the very poor, we have a safety net there,” he said, adding, “If it needs repair, I’ll fix it.”

Romney also said he would leave concern for the poor to the Democratic party.

“We will hear from the Democrat party the plight of the poor,” Romney said. “And there’s no question it’s not good being poor and we have a safety net to help those that are very poor. But my campaign is focused on middle Americans.

“You can choose where to focus, you can focus on the rich, that’s not my focus. You can focus on the very poor, that’s not my focus. My focus is on middle income Americans, retirees living on Social Security, people who can’t find work.”

Opponents seized on his remarks. Democratic National Committee spokesman Brad Woodhouse emailed them to journalists, with the introduction, “I’m glad he cleared that up.”

U.S. voters have said the sputtering economy is their main concern for the 2012 elections.

  • While the rich may not be Mitt’s focus, the rich are focused on Mitt, according to the Reuters story, “Analysis: Financial titans rally to Romney’s cause“:
    Whenever Republican U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney has been down and in need of an enforcer, one has been there.
    Restore Our Future, the independent “Super PAC” that supports Romney’s campaign, has been a machine of destruction in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, swamping Republican rival Newt Gingrich with attack ads each time he has seemed to threaten Romney’s frontrunner status.
    Until late on Tuesday, the engines behind the PAC – its donors – were largely secret.
    But the group’s financial reports to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) reveal that private equity executives, hedge fund managers and other financial heavyweights are key contributors to the fundraising juggernaut that Restore Our Future has become.
    Political action committees (PACs) are groups with great clout in U.S. politics that are legally separate from candidates. In this campaign, they have unleashed negative advertising against the rival of the candidate they favor.
    The filings reveal that Restore Our Future had $23.6 million in the bank as of December 31 – more than the Romney campaign itself. The PAC has spent $17.4 million in support of Romney, including nearly $11 million in Florida before Romney’s decisive victory in the Republican primary there on Tuesday.
    The group’s filings reveal a broad base of donors who have given $100,000 or more, taking advantage of the lack of limits on donations to such groups. Campaigns are limited to $2,500 donations per donor.
    Among the most generous contributors to Romney’s cause have been people who share Romney’s investment background. Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, co-founded Bain Capital, a private equity firm, and has emphasized his business experience in touting his ability to create jobs and improve the economy.
    Three hedge fund managers pitched in $1 million to the pro-Romney PAC: Tiger Management’s Julian Robertson, Elliot Management’s Paul Singer and Renaissance Technology’s Robert Mercer.
    Miguel Fernandez, chairman of a healthcare private equity firm, gave $500,000. MBF Family Investments, which shares an address with Fernandez’s investment company, gave another $500,000.
    The list of major donors to Restore Our Future is studded with other veterans of Wall Street and the investment community.
  • The super-rich aren’t just backing Mitt, according to the Reuters story, “Records show how wealthy shape presidential race“:
    Super PACs were forged from the 2010 Supreme Court ruling that erased longstanding limits on corporate and union money in federal elections as an unconstitutional restriction of free speech.
    The ruling unleashed a flood of money into a political system coming off the most expensive presidential election in U.S. history in 2008, when candidates spent more than $1 billion. It also opened the door for wealthy individuals to prop up candidates by writing a check.
    “Super PACs have fundamentally changed the way campaigns are run, and it’s had a huge effect on the race,” former Michigan Republican Party chairman Saul Anuzis said. “If you can find one donor who is willing to play in a big way, it can have an unbelievable impact.”
    For the first time, the FEC reports revealed many of the wealthy donors behind the Super PACs.
    Harold Simmons, a billionaire Dallas banker and chairman of Contran Corp, gave American Crossroads $5 million and Gingrich’s group $500,000. Contran gave another $2 million to the Crossroads group.
    Peter Thiel, billionaire co-founder of the payment service PayPal, gave the Super PAC backing Texas congressman Ron Paul $900,000. Foster Freiss, a billionaire investor from Wyoming, founded the Red, White and Blue Fund that backs former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum and donated $331,000.
    The reports did not include the donations by billionaire casino owner Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, who poured a combined $10 million – $5 million each – into the pro-Gingrich group in January, after the period covered in Tuesday’s reports.
    One of Adelson’s step-daughters gave Gingrich’s group $500,000 in 2011, and another gave $250,000, the reports showed.
    The first check from the Adelsons came as Gingrich headed into a critical showdown with Romney in South Carolina. It helped pay for a movie and ads criticizing Romney’s work as head of the private equity firm Bain Capital – an issue that helped propel Gingrich to a big South Carolina upset victory.
    By last weekend, the pro-Gingrich PAC had spent a total of $8.5 million – much of it, it appears, from the Adelson family.
    “Super PACs are allowing a relative handful of super-rich people to have a disproportionate and magnified influence on elections,” said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a watchdog group dedicated to reducing the influence of money in politics.

Judge stops another BP attempt to shift responsibility for Gulf spill
The Guardian
(1/31/12)

BP cannot hand share of clean-up costs to Halliburton, rules judge

BP will not be able to hand off a share of the $40bn (£25.3bn) in clean-up costs and economic losses from the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster to Halliburton, a judge in New Orleans has ruled.

The decision, from US district judge Carl Barbier who will hear the main case for damages against BP next month, quashes the oil company’s hopes of collecting a share of the clean-up costs from Halliburton.

A White House investigation found Halliburton had used flawed cement in constructing the BP well, leading to the April 2010 blow-out which killed 11 men on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig and spewed 4.9m barrels of crude into the Gulf.

However, Barbier wrote in his decision that BP must indemnify Halliburton from damage claims under the terms of its drilling contract. Halliburton is still on the hook for fines, however.

“BP is required to indemnify Halliburton for third-party compensatory claims that arise from pollution or contamination that did not originate from the property or equipment of Halliburton located above the surface of the land or water, even if Halliburton’s gross negligence caused the pollution,” Barbier wrote.

The decision on Tuesday was the second blow to BP’s efforts to spread the financial burden of the oil spill clean-up to other partners in the Macondo well. A ruling from Barbier last Thursday also blocked the oil company from trying to collect from Transocean, owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig.

However, as he did last Thursday, Barbier did go on to insulate BP from any punitive damages or fines under the clean water act levied against Halliburton, saying those would not have to be covered by BP.

BP, responding in a company statement, claimed its efforts to collect a share of the costs from Halliburton had been vindicated, choosing to focus on the court’s decision to continue holding the company accountable under the Clean Water act. “Today’s ruling … is a strong signal that contractors involved in critical well operations will be held accountable for their actions under the law,” the statement from BP said.

The decisions represent only the most preliminary stages of the long legal saga ahead for BP, Halliburton and Transocean. The main event, the trial to determine how BP and the other companies will share the blame for the oil spill, is scheduled to get underway in New Orleans on 27 February.

In addition to the wrangling over economic losses and clean-up costs – which BP estimates at $42bn – the companies face civil penalties under environmental regulations.

The justice department is seeking penalties under the clean water act that could reach as high as $4,300 a barrel – if gross negligence is proven. That could potentially put the companies on the hook for close to $19bn.

The companies involved in the disaster are also fighting among themselves.

Meanwhile, BP has been accused of trying to scrub evidence from the record ahead of the trial – including information from disasters, such as the fatal 2005 explosion at the company’s refinery in Texas City.

BP has argued in court that the companies are trying to smear its reputation. The other companies have also tried to exclude evidence.

However, BP did reach a $250m settlement with another contractor, Cameron International, which built the rig’s failed blow-out preventer, and has achieved settlements with other smaller partners.

Canadian Gaddhafi smuggling suspect claims torture in Mexico
CBC News
(2/1/12)

Canadian jailed in Mexico claims ‘abuse and torture’

A Canadian woman jailed in Mexico on suspicion of leading a conspiracy to smuggle members of slain Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s family into the country says she has been tortured and abused during nearly three months in custody.

In a six-page letter obtained by CBC News, Cyndy Vanier documents a string of alleged abuses she claims she has endured since Nov. 10 while being detained in Mexico City’s Centro de Arraigos detention centre.

A Mexican judge Tuesday night ordered Vanier and three co-accused remain in jail for up to 10 more days while authorities decide whether they should be charged. The group has already been held for more than 80 days under Mexico’s “preventive arrest” laws while authorities investigate what they have called an international plot to forge travel documents and smuggle surviving members of the Gadhafi family to a home on Mexico’s Pacific coast.

Nobel Prize investigated for drifting from original mission
The Associated Press
(2/1/12)

Nobel peace prize jury under investigation

Nobel Peace Prize officials were facing a formal inquiry over accusations they have drifted away from the prize’s original selection criteria by choosing such winners as President Barack Obama, as the nomination deadline for the 2012 awards closed Wednesday.

The investigation comes after persistent complaints by a Norwegian peace researcher that the original purpose of the prize was to diminish the role of military power in international relations.

If the Stockholm County Administrative Board, which supervises foundations in Sweden’s capital, finds that prize founder Alfred Nobel’s will is not being honored, it has the authority to suspend award decisions going back three years – though that would be unlikely and unprecedented, said Mikael Wiman, a legal expert working for the county.

Obama won in 2009, Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo won in 2010, and last year the award was split between Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman of Yemen.

For this year’s award, Russian human rights activist Svetlana Gannushkina, jailed former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and Cuban rights activists Oswaldo Paya and Yoani Sanchez are among the candidates who have been publicly announced by those who nominated them.

The secretive prize committee doesn’t discuss nominations – which have to be postmarked by Feb. 1 to be valid – but stresses that being nominated doesn’t say anything about a candidate’s chances.

Fredrik Heffermehl, a prominent researcher and critic of the selection process, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that “Nobel called it a prize for the champions of peace.”

“And it’s indisputable that he had in mind the peace movement, i.e. the active development of international law and institutions, a new global order where nations safely can drop national armaments,” he said

Especially after World War II, the prize committee, which is appointed by the Norwegian Parliament, has widened the scope of the prize to include environmental, humanitarian and other efforts, he said.

For example, in 2007 the prize went to climate activist Al Gore and the U.N.’s panel on climate change, and in 2009 the committee cited Obama for “extraordinary efforts” to boost international diplomacy.

“Do you see Obama as a promoter of abolishing the military as a tool of international affairs?” Heffermehl asked rhetorically …

… the County Administrative Board decided to sent a letter to the Stockholm-based Nobel Foundation, which manages the prize assets, requesting a formal response to the allegations.

“We have no basis to suggest that they haven’t managed it properly. But we want to investigate it,” Wiman said.

“The prize committee must always adjust its rules to today’s society,” he said. “But peace work has to be at the core – it can’t deviate too much from that,” Wiman said.

The peace prize and the Nobel awards in chemistry, physics, medicine, literature and economics are always handed out Dec. 10, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death.

Netanyahu won’t stop settlements to start peace talks
Agence France Presse
(2/1/12)

UN’s Ban urges Israel settlement freeze

UN chief Ban Ki-moon called on Israel on Wednesday to halt settlement activity and offer the Palestinians a “goodwill gesture” as the top diplomat sought to kick-start stalled peace talks.

But he appeared to be rebuffed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said he considered the issue of Israel’s settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem something to be discussed during negotiations, not before.

“I have told clearly to President (Shimon) Peres this morning and this afternoon to the prime minister that they should refrain from further settlement,” Ban told a news conference after talks with Netanyahu.

“This can be one of the ways of expressing a goodwill gesture,” he said.

But Netanyahu appeared to reject taking such a measure.

“I think the question of settlements should be part of the final peace talks. It can’t be a precondition,” he said.

Ban is visiting Israel and the Palestinian territories for a series of meetings intended to convince both sides to continue so-called exploratory talks they started last month in Amman.

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, where he held talks with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, the UN chief warned “these negotiations should not lose momentum.”

The Palestinians have accused Israel of failing to present proposals on borders and security called for by the Quartet, and say they cannot continue talks unless Israel freezes settlements and agrees to parameters for discussions.

In Jerusalem, after meeting Peres, Ban made clear he wanted to see Israeli action to lure the Palestinians back to the table.

Breast cancer pink ribbons now stand for anti-choice
The Associated Press
(2/1/12)

Susan G. Komen charity ends funding for Planned Parenthood

The nation’s leading breast-cancer charity, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, is halting its partnerships with Planned Parenthood affiliates — creating a bitter rift, linked to the abortion debate, between two iconic organizations that have assisted millions of women.

The change will mean a cutoff of hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants, mainly for breast exams.

Planned Parenthood says the move results from Komen bowing to pressure from anti-abortion activists. Komen says the key reason is that Planned Parenthood is under investigation in Congress — a probe launched by a conservative Republican who was urged to act by anti-abortion groups.

The rupture, which has not been publicly announced as it unfolded, is wrenching for some of those who’ve learned about it and admire both organizations.

“We’re kind of reeling,” said Patrick Hurd, who is CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Virginia — recipient of a 2010 grant from Komen — and whose wife, Betsi, is a veteran of several Komen fundraising races and is currently battling breast cancer.

“It sounds almost trite, going through this with Betsi, but cancer doesn’t care if you’re pro-choice, anti-choice, progressive, conservative,” Hurd said. “Victims of cancer could care less about people’s politics.”

Planned Parenthood said the Komen grants totaled roughly $680,000 last year and $580,000 the year before, going to at least 19 of its affiliates for breast-cancer screening and other breast-health services.

Komen spokeswoman Leslie Aun said the cutoff results from the charity’s newly adopted criteria barring grants to organizations that are under investigation by local, state or federal authorities. According to Komen, this applies to Planned Parenthood because it’s the focus of an inquiry launched by Rep. Cliff Stearns, R-Fla., seeking to determine whether public money was improperly spent on abortions.

Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, has depicted Stearns’ probe as politically motivated and said she was dismayed that it had contributed to Komen’s decision to halt the grants to PPFA affiliates.

“It’s hard to understand how an organization with whom we share a mission of saving women’s lives could have bowed to this kind of bullying,” Richards told The Associated Press. “It’s really hurtful.”

Reaction to the news was swift and passionate. On Twitter, it was one of the most discussed topics Tuesday evening, with some tweets praising Komen’s decision and others angrily vowing never to give to it again.

Two Democrats in Congress — Sen. Patty Murray of Washington and Rep. Michael Honda of California — issued statements denouncing Komen’s action.

“I am stunned and saddened,” said Honda, whose longtime chief of staff, Jennifer VanderHeide, had breast cancer last year. “I call on Komen to reconsider this decision, stand strong in the face of political pressure and do the right thing for the health of millions of women everywhere.”

Europe’s deadly freeze could get worse
Reuters
(2/1/12)

Europe freeze kills 89, fears rise over Russian gas

Record-low temperatures in parts of Eastern Europe pushed the death toll from Arctic conditions to at least 89 people on Wednesday, and have forced Russian gas provider Gazprom to warn over supplies to Europe …

A source at Russian gas export monopoly, which supplies a quarter of Europe’s gas imports, said it was getting more requests from export markets than it could physically accommodate as demand from Russia spikes.

The company however sought to reassure clients on Wednesday. “Despite increasing gas consumption in Russia due to heavy frosts, Gazprom continues implementing its contractual obligations to European clients,” it said in e-mailed comments.

In Ukraine, 43 people have died in the past five days, its emergency ministry said, as the former Soviet republic shivered through its coldest winter in six years. Overnight temperatures sank as low as minus 33 degrees Celsius (minus 27 Fahrenheit) and hundreds of heated tents have been put up to shelter the homeless …

European weather alert network Meteoalarm (www.meteoalarm.eu) warned of “extremely dangerous” conditions in several parts of eastern Europe, including Serbia, where a fourth person was found dead overnight in the southwestern Suvobor mountains.

Security forces there, and in neighboring Bosnia, have used helicopters to ferry supplies to areas cut off by deep snow and to evacuate the elderly. The forecast across the Balkans is for conditions to worsen through the week.

Meteoalarm said severe cold was likely to persist in many parts of continental Europe including Germany and especially in southeastern Europe.

In Moscow, where daytime temperatures fell as low as minus 22C (minus 8F) Celsius, opponents of Vladimir Putin worried that the cold could reduce attendance at a rally against the prime minister on Saturday, one month before he stands in presidential elections.

Thermometers in parts of Bulgaria plunged to record lows just shy of minus 30C (minus 22F), freezing ATM cash machines in Sofia, the daily newspaper Trud reported. Eight people in Bulgaria and 14 in neighboring Romania have now died in the cold snap.

Poland said five more people died overnight, two of them from carbon monoxide poisoning as people turned to risky heating to battle temperatures likely to remain as low at minus 26C (minus 15F) for several more days. The country’s gas monopoly PGNiG said on Wednesday it was restricted industrial deliveries to meet increased heating demand.

Meanwhile in Slovenia, winds of up to 180 kph (112 mph) blew off roofs and prompted authorities to close some schools, authorities said.

  • In other deadly weather stories, ABC News reports, “Japan Snowstorm Kills 52, Crushes Steel Bridge“:
    Heavy snowfall has crippled much of Japan’s western coast, killing more than 50 people and injuring nearly 600. The worst snowstorm in six years has dumped more than 10 feet of snow in the hardest-hit regions, causing at least one bridge to collapse and forcing school closures across the region.
    An avalanche today buried three people for more than an hour near a hot springs in Akita Prefecture in northwest Japan. The women were later found unconscious but survived.
    Western Japan has been battered by one snowstorm after another since the beginning of the year, overwhelming cash-strapped cities struggling to keep up with cleanup efforts. In the Niigata Prefecture, officials said nearly half of their 30 cities had run out of funds set aside snow removal. Further north in the Aomori Prefecture, the government had already applied for additional funds from Tokyo, after draining its budget.
    Residents, frustrated by the slow response, have taken it upon themselves to clean up the winter mess, resulting in deadly consequences. Nearly all the storm-related deaths have been a direct result of snow removal.

180 million kids’ bodies, minds limited by ‘stunting’
TIME
(1/31/12)

The Global Crisis You’ve Never Heard Of: Stunting

Suppose I asked you to imagine a courtroom in which a stern judge peers with indifference at a baby — and off-handedly condemns the infant either to death or a life shorter than her peers, with poorer cognitive capacity, more likelihood of disease and less ability to learn at school and earn as an adult.

Of course, you would say this is unimaginable. What judge, or human being, would do such a thing? But this is what is happening to an estimated 180 million children under the age of 5, children whose bodies and minds are limited by stunting. Stunting, or stunted growth, is the result of chronic nutritional deficiencies. A stunted 5-year-old is four to six inches shorter than a non-stunted peer. But lost height is the least of concerns: a stunted child, for instance, is nearly five times more likely to die from diarrhea than a non-stunted child because of the physiological changes in a stunted body. Stunting is also associated with impaired brain development. A typical stunted brain has fewer cells. The cells themselves are somewhat smaller, and the interconnection between them is more limited. This means lasting impaired functioning, which leads in turn to significantly reduced learning. Considering the severe effects, stunting has received far too little attention for far too long.

But if you haven’t heard of it, you’re not alone. When I recently mentioned stunting at a meeting of hundreds of medical experts, I could see a large number of puzzled faces in the audience. To my astonishment, less than half the audience, in a show of hands, had even heard of it. The physical and cognitive damage caused by not receiving enough of the right type of nutrients, especially in the first two years of life and also in utero, is permanent. It cannot be treated. But it can be prevented — and at relatively little cost.

Stunting is so common in some areas that it is sometimes mistaken for a genetic heritage, rather than a preventable condition. Just 21 countries straddling the globe account for more than 80% of the problem around the globe. In six countries — Afghanistan, Burundi, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Timor-Leste and Yemen — 50% or more of all children under age 5 suffer from this condition. In Afghanistan, a staggering 59% of children under age 5 are stunted.

How can a community, a nation or a continent ever hope to develop to its full capacity if its children cannot? In all conscience, how can those of us in societies not so afflicted withhold our help to combat stunting in the developing world? We know how to address the problem by providing expectant mothers, newborns and very young children nutrients such as proteins, fat and vitamins and minerals such as vitamin A, iron and zinc.

Fearing ‘bad actors’ researchers censor bird flu findings
The Washington Post
(1/31/12)

Recommendation to censor bird flu research driven by fears of terrorism

Citing fears of an “unimaginable catastrophe,” a government-appointed board on Tuesday explained why it recently recommended censoring details of new research on deadly bird flu virus.

“Our concern is that publishing these experiments in detail would provide information to some person, organization, or government that would help them to develop similar … viruses for harmful purposes,” the 23 voting members of the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity wrote in a statement published jointly Tuesday by the journals Science and Nature.

The potential harm of publishing the research on H5N1, or avian, influenza in full exceeded the potential benefits, the board wrote, adding its decision was unanimous.

“We do not believe that widespread dissemination of the methodology in this case is a responsible action,” they wrote.

Fears of bad actors spreading a mutant, highly transmissible virus suffuse the three-page note published by the board.

“The details of the research … could enable someone to replicate the work in a short period of time,” wrote the chairman of the NSABB, Paul Keim, in a separate note published by the journal mBio.

In the experiments in question, university-based scientists in the Netherlands and Wisconsin created a version of the H5N1 virus that is highly lethal and easily transmissible between ferrets, the lab animals that most closely mirror human beings in flu research.

That work led to fears that the modified virus could also easily jump from person to person. Such transmissibility, which the board said could significantly raise the odds of a pandemic, has only rarely been seen in natural H5N1.

“If influenza A/H5N1 virus acquired the capacity for human-to-human spread … we could face an epidemic of substantial proportions,” the board wrote …

The board cannot prohibit publication of the research. But in December, Science and Nature agreed to at least temporarily abide by the board’s recommendation and delay publication.

On Jan. 20, the world’s top influenza researchers agreed to a self-imposed 60-day moratorium on new research on H5N1 to give the scientific and public health communities time to sort through the thorny issues raised by the request to withhold publication …

The high virulence of the virus makes it the most feared of any type of influenza. Since the virus surfaced, public health officials have worried that the virus might naturally mutate into a highly transmissible form that can quickly spread around the world.

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Nine Circles of Hell!: Wednesday, February 1, 2012
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  • Amy Goodman

    Bird flu? Really?