1 week ago
Thursday, June 2 Nine Circles of Hell!
The Nine Circles of Hell! – all the news that gives you fits in print – for Thursday, June 2, 2011, are:
Google says hack attack on US officials came from China
U.S. weighs security after “serious” Google allegation
Washington scrambled on Thursday to assess whether security had been compromised after Google Inc revealed a major hacker attack targeting U.S. officials that the Internet giant pegged to China.
“These allegations are very serious,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.
“We take them seriously; we’re looking into them,” Clinton told reporters a day after the Internet giant said it had disrupted a campaign aimed at stealing passwords of hundreds of Google email account holders, including senior U.S. government officials, Chinese activists and journalists.
Google’s announcement fuels debate in Washington over China’s intentions in cyberspace, which the United States has identified as a potential flashpoint for future conflict.
Blackberry maker Research In Motion and Microsoft Corp. could get a boost from the Google hacking incident. The companies have been fending off competitive challenges from Google’s Android software and cloud computing services, as the corporate sector and the federal government explore whether Google is a secure alternative for email.
Neither Google nor the U.S. government has said the Chinese government was behind the attacks, and the U.S. State Department said it had not raised the issue with Beijing.
Google only said the attack appeared to originate in China.
Beijing nevertheless reacted angrily to Google’s charge, saying it was “unacceptable” to blame Beijing and allegations that China supports hacking “have ulterior motives”.
Clinton said Google told the State Department before it made its public announcement on Wednesday, and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation was investigating, with Google.
The White House said it had no reason to believe official government emails were hacked in the Google incident, and officials at many agencies stressed that government employees were directed not to use private accounts to discuss sensitive issues.
“Rule number one is: don’t do anything stupid,” one national security official said.
Moody’s banks credit ratings will drop if no more ‘too big to fail’
Moody’s warns big banks of possible downgrades
Moody’s Investors Service said Thursday that it was reviewing the ratings of Bank of America Corp. Citigroup Inc. and Wells Fargo & Co. for possible downgrades.
The rating agency gives the three banks fairly strong investment-grade credit ratings. But those grades are based on Moody’s assumption that the federal government would prevent them from failing in a crisis. Moody’s said Thursday that this “too big to fail” presumption may no longer be true.
In a statement accompanying the announcement, Moody’s senior vice president Sean Jones said the Dodd-Frank Act makes clear the government “does not want to bail out even large, systemically important banking groups.” One provision of the Dodd-Frank Act, signed into law last July, aims to make it easier to break up large financial institutions instead of bailing them out …
The rating agency signaled a year ago that new federal rules, which became Dodd-Frank, could mean the end of banks being too big to fail.
Goldman Sachs subpoenaed over role in causing recession
Goldman Sachs receives subpoena over financial crisis
Goldman Sachs has received a subpoena from the Manhattan District Attorney as part of an investigation into the bank’s role in the financial crisis.
The group, which is the fifth biggest U.S. bank by assets, received the request for information as part of a broad investigation into the mortgage crisis that fuelled the recession.
It stems from a 650-page Senate report from the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in April, that indicated Goldman had misled clients and Congress about its mortgage-linked securities and investments.
The fight over speculation’s role on world food prices heats up
Global food crisis: the US speculators playing with our daily bread
With food prices reaching record highs again this year, what goes on inside a 650ft Chicago skyscraper topped by a statue of the goddess Ceres is coming under intense scrutiny.
It is here that the world’s oldest futures and options exchange, the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT), was established in 1848 to serve the great grain belt that had opened up in the American midwest. And it is here that the international price of agricultural commodities is set to this day …
Dan Basse, president of AgResource, one of Chicago’s most respected commodity analyst companies, Basse is one of those who thinks underlying fundamentals – a serious mismatch between supply and rapidly growing global demand – are behind this year’s price rises.
“Speculation is the easy thing to point the finger at and it’s easy to fix. Back in 2008, when prices were up and there was lots of money pouring in, that may have pushed prices up, but today we don’t see that as having a significant effect,” Basse said.
“Look at growth in world livestock demand and in biofuels demand, and you can see what’s been driving the agricultural bull market.”
He painted a troubling picture of what is likely to come. He estimates the world needs to bring around 10.3m hectares of new land a year into food production “just to keep stocks steady”, but he says that will be increasingly hard to do as the land that remains available is reduced to what is environmentally fragile.
A “weekend” farmer of GM crops himself, Basse admits the promise that biotech seeds would deliver big increases in yields has turned out to be illusory. He also fears that “superweeds are coming on so fast with GM that US farmers are going to have to go back to more traditional cultivation methods [as opposed to the practice with GM seeds of not tilling the soil and simply spraying to control pests] – but they don’t have the capacity to do that.”
Europe, Basse said, will soon have no choice but to lift its ban on imports of GM crops for animal feed. With its own crops suffering drought, it will have to turn to Brazil, the only major supplier of non-GM imports. However, the Chinese have already bought up large chunks of the Brazilian crop. The policies in the US and the EU of promoting biofuels will be unsustainable.
The company that owns CBOT, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange group (CME), also rejects the notion that the enormous rise in speculation in agricultural commodities in recent years has caused food price rises.
Farmers and processors of physical goods have long used commodities exchanges such as Chicago’s to hedge against risks such as bad harvests. Speculators willing to take the risk perform a useful role in providing liquidity. But much of the recent growth in speculation has been through new “structured” products invented by banks and sold to investors.
After intense lobbying, banks won deregulation of commodities markets in the US in 2000, allowing them to develop these new products. Goldman Sachs pioneered commodity index funds, which offer investors a chance to track changes in a spread of commodity prices including key agricultural commodities …
CME argues that the volume of speculation is not a problem, because the overall composition of the agricultural commodities market has not changed; the increase in activity by index funds has been matched by an increase in trading by those who are commercial participants, that is those who have a direct interest in the physical goods.
“That’s an indefensible position,” Chicago–based hedge fund manager Mark Newell of Quiddity retorted. He and another hedge fund manager, Mike Masters, prepared testimony to the US Senate when it was looking into the effect of speculation on food prices in 2008.
“When billions of dollars of capital is put to work in small markets like agricultural commodities, it inevitably increases volatility and amplifies prices – and if financial flows amplify prices of food stuffs and energy, it’s not like real estate and stocks. When food prices double, people starve ,” Masters said.
The UN rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier de Schutter, added his weight to Masters’ side of the debate at the end of last year when he concluded a speculative bubble was responsible for a significant part of the food price rises.
An OECD study, however, did not find a link. Aid agencies such as Oxfam and Christian Aid are calling for reregulation.
In the US, the regulator – the Commodities Futures Trading Commission – has until July to produce a new framework for the commodities markets for Congress. It has been looking at imposing limits on the size of positions that traders can take, and at regulating the commodity index fund trades that are currently unregulated because they take place “over the counter”; that is, between investors and banks. But the financial industry has proved resistant to reforms. G20 ministers will have to decide their own position soon, too.
Newell, meanwhile, remains convinced that without action prices will continue to go up, partly because of underlying fundamentals, but also because, just like in 2008, “the game’s afoot again”.
Food price explosion; “We are sleepwalking towards an avoidable crisis”
Food prices to double by 2030, Oxfam warns
The average price of staple foods will more than double in the next 20 years, leading to an unprecedented reversal in human development, Oxfam has warned.
The world’s poorest people, who spend up to 80% of their income of food, will be hit hardest according to the charity. It said the world is entering an era of permanent food crisis, which is likely to be accompanied by political unrest and will require radical reform of the international food system.
Research to be published on Wednesday forecasts international prices of staples such as maize could rise by as much as 180% by 2030, with half of that rise due to the impacts of climate change.
After decades of steady decline in the number of hungry people around the world, the numbers are rapidly increasing as demand outpaces food production. The average growth rate in agricultural yields has almost halved since 1990 and is set to decline to a fraction of 1% in the next decade.
A devastating combination of factors – climate change, depleting natural resources, a global scramble for land and water, the rush to turn food into biofuels, a growing global population, and changing diets – have created the conditions for an increase in deep poverty.
“We are sleepwalking towards an age of avoidable crisis,” Oxfam’s chief executive, Barbara Stocking, said. “One in seven people on the planet go hungry every day despite the fact that the world is capable of feeding everyone. The food system must be overhauled.”
Another Arizona man goes on killing spree
Police: 5 killed, 1 wounded in Arizona shootings
A 73-year-old man shot and killed the attorney who represented his ex-wife in their divorce and four others in multiple locations in a rampage that rattled an Arizona border town.
He also wounded one person before being found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound roughly two after the first shots were fired in Yuma, a city of about 200,000. The lawyer was killed while packing up his office on his last day of work.
Yuma police identified the suspected shooter as Carey Hal Dyess of Yuma.
The timeline of events wasn’t immediately clear, but police said they responded to the first call at about 9:30 a.m.
Victim Jerrold Shelley was a prominent attorney who represented Dyess’ ex-wife in their divorce. He was found dead in his downtown law office, Yuma Police Chief Jerry Geier said.
Shelley was one of the lawyers representing seven young men — three sets of brothers — who sued the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson after accusing a priest of repeatedly raping them when they were children.
Authorities say Dyess killed four other people elsewhere in Yuma County. An adult man and woman were found dead inside a small farm house outside the town of Wellton, said Yuma police Sgt. John Otero, who was helping the sheriff’s office process the scene. The tree-shaded home was set back about 100 feet from a highway, with a cow pasture out front.
The suspect was found dead in another location near Wellton, about 25 miles east of Yuma.
It’s unclear who the other victims were or where they were killed. The wounded person was flown to a Phoenix-area hospital.
The downtown-area shooting forced officials to block off a city street and lock down the nearby Yuma County Courthouse and some schools. No one was injured at the courthouse or schools, and the buildings were later reopened.
Court records show Dyess was involved in two civil court cases, one in Yuma and one in nearby Wellton.
A judge issued an order of protection against Dyess in one of the cases in 2006, and a court clerk said it stemmed from Dyess’ wife divorcing him.
“Audacity of Hope” launches to break Israel’s Gaza blockade
New York Times
Americans Are Joining Flotilla to Protest Israeli Blockade
When an international flotilla sails for Gaza this month to challenge Israel’s naval blockade of the Palestinian territory, among the boats will be an American ship with 34 passengers, including the writer Alice Walker and an 86-year-old whose parents died in the Holocaust.
A year ago, nine people in a flotilla of six boats were killed when Israeli commandos boarded a Turkish boat in international waters off the coast of Gaza. The Israelis said their commandos were attacked and struck back in self-defense, but the Turks blamed the Israelis for using live ammunition. The raid soured relations between Israel and Turkey and intensified pressure on Israel to end the naval blockade.
Organizers said the new flotilla, scheduled to leave in late June from a port they would not identify, had at least 1,000 passengers on about 10 boats. One boat will carry Spaniards, another Canadians, another Swiss and another Irish.
The Americans have named their boat “The Audacity of Hope,” lifting the title of a book by President Obama to make a point, said Leslie Cagan, a political organizer who is the coordinator of the American boat.
“We’re sending a message to our own government that we think it could play a much more positive role in not only ending the siege of Gaza, but also ending the whole occupation” of Palestinian land, she said. “The phrase does capture what we believe, which is that it is possible to make change in a positive way, and that’s a very hopeful stance” …
Gabriel Schivone, a student at the University of Arizona who is joining the flotilla, said, “It’s in the tradition of Dr. King’s direct-action principles, to create a situation so tension-packed that it forces the world to look and see what’s happening to the Palestinians.”
To explain why she was joining the flotilla, Hedy Epstein, the 86-year-old, said, “The American Jewish community and Israel both say that they speak for all Jews. They don’t speak for me. They don’t speak for the Jews in this country who are going to be on the U.S. boat, and the many others standing behind us.”
The American boat is owned by a Greek company and registered in Delaware, Ms. Cagan said. It will carry letters from Americans to Palestinians, not aid. About a quarter of the passengers are Jewish. Among the crew is a former captain in the Israeli Air Force who refused to fly missions in Gaza.
Alleged Libyan rape victim deported from Qatar back to Libya
Eman al-Obeidy, who grabbed the world’s attention this spring when she accused Moammar Gadhafi’s security forces of gang raping her, has been forced back to Libya, which she had fled in fear.
Qatari authorities took her and her parents from a hotel in Doha, the capital, and forced them onto a military plane that left Qatar early Thursday and landed in rebel-held Benghazi. Al-Obeidy, who has gone into hiding in the city, said the Qataris beat and handcuffed her before forcing her onto the plane.
Al-Obeidy told a journalist that officials in the Transitional National Council had pressured the Qataris to expel her.
Hours before her deportation, Obeidy told CNN that armed guards had been posted outside her room, preventing the UNHCR representative from assisting her.
The Qataris deported her despite repeated requests from U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and unnamed third parties, a UNHCR official told CNN.
“Forcibly returning a refugee who survived gang rape not only violates international law, but is cruel and could trigger further trauma,” said Bill Frelick, refugee program director at Human Rights Watch. “All eyes are now on the authorities in eastern Libya, who should allow al-Obeidy to leave the country.”
Human Rights Watch called on the Transitional National Council to allow al-Obeidy to leave the country immediately. HRW added that an NTC spokesman had told the group that she was free to travel domestically and abroad.
Al-Obeidy received worldwide attention on March 26 when she burst into the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli while international journalists staying there were having breakfast. She told reporters she had been taken from a checkpoint east of Tripoli and held against her will for two days while being beaten and raped by 15 men.
She later fled Libya to Tunisia with the help of two defecting Gadhafi army officers and their families. French diplomats drove her from the border and handed her off to rebel officials — members of the Transitional National Council — who organized her flight to Qatar. She was in Qatar awaiting resettlement as a refugee when she was deported.
The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees had prepared papers for her departure from Qatar to begin a new life.
But her deportation to Benghazi puts her in a city that remains unstable. A bomb detonated Wednesday night outside the Tibesti Hotel in Benghazi, which has housed foreign journalists, aid workers and foreign officials since the Libyan conflict began.
Assange awarded for telling “truth that exposes ‘official drivel’”
Julian Assange wins Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been awarded the 2011 Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism.
The prize is awarded annually to a journalist whose work has “penetrated the established version of events and told and unpalatable truth that exposes establishment propaganda, or ‘official drivel’, as Martha Gellhorn called it.”
Gellhorn, who died in 1998, was a well-known war correspondent and author.
The judges voted unanimously for Assange, claiming that he “represents that which journalists once prided themselves”.
“WikiLeaks has been portrayed as a phenomenon of the hi-tech age, which it is. But it’s much more. Its goal of justice through transparency is in the oldest and finest tradition of journalism.
“WikiLeaks has given the public more scoops than most journalists can imagine: a truth-telling that has empowered people all over the world.
“As publisher and editor, Julian Assange represents that which journalists once prided themselves in – he’s brave, determined, independent: a true agent of people not of power.”
This year’s judges were: Dr Alexander Matthews, (past This is Hell! guest) John Pilger, James Fox, Shirlee Matthews, Cynthia Kee and Jeremy Harding.