Thursday, January 20 Nine Circles of Hell!


The Nine Circles of Hell! – all the news that gives you fits in print – for Thursday, January 20, 2011, plus a bonus story on US labor, are:

Weak US labor behind ‘jobless recovery’

Americans increasingly care less about other’s feelings

Canadian soldier says leadership “encouraged” war crimes

Nigerian soldiers ordered to ‘shoot-to-kill’; “it is OK”

Third consecutive day of Iraqi violence kills dozens

Israel divided as right calls inquiry into left

Northern Africa in upheaval geologically, too

Child abuse victims see “smoking gun” in Vatican letter

Tap water better for your teeth than bottled

Weak US labor behind ‘jobless recovery’
The New York Times

In Wreckage of Lost Jobs, Lost Power

The gross domestic product here — the total value of all goods and services — has recovered from the recession better than in Britain, Germany, Japan or Russia. Yet a greatly shrunken group of American workers, working harder and more efficiently, is producing these goods and services.

The unemployment rate is higher in this country than in Britain or Russia and much higher than in Germany or Japan, according to a study of worldwide job markets that Gallup will release on Wednesday. The American jobless rate is also higher than China’s, Gallup found. The European countries with worse unemployment than the United States tend to be those still mired in crisis, like Greece, Ireland and Spain.

Economists are now engaged in a spirited debate, much of it conducted on popular blogs like Marginal Revolution, about the causes of the American jobs slump. Lawrence Katz, a Harvard labor economist, calls the full picture “genuinely puzzling.”

That the financial crisis originated here, and was so severe here, surely plays some role. The United States had a bigger housing bubble than most other countries, leaving a large group of idle construction workers who can’t easily switch industries. Many businesses, meanwhile, are reluctant to commit to hiring workers out of a fear that heavily indebted households won’t spend much in coming years.

But beyond these immediate causes, the basic structure of the American economy also seems to be an important factor. This jobless recovery, after all, is the third straight recovery since 1991 to begin with months and months of little job growth.

Why? One obvious possibility is the balance of power between employers and employees.

Relative to the situation in most other countries — or in this country for most of the last century — American employers operate with few restraints. Unions have withered, at least in the private sector, and courts have grown friendlier to business. Many companies can now come much closer to setting the terms of their relationship with employees, letting them go when they become a drag on profits and relying on remaining workers or temporary ones when business picks up.

Just consider the main measure of corporate health: profits. In Canada, Japan and most of Europe, corporate profits have still not recovered to precrisis levels. In the United States, profits have more than recovered, rising 12 percent since late 2007.

For corporate America, the Great Recession is over. For the American work force, it’s not.

Unfortunately, fixing the job market will take years. Even if job growth accelerated to the rapid pace of the late 1990s and remained there, the unemployment rate would not fall below 6 percent (which some economists consider full employment) until 2016. We could now be in only the first half of the longest stretch of high unemployment since World War II.

  • Check out the amazing New York Times Magazine, “Portraits From a Job-Starved City,” interactive presentation on Rockford, Illinois. As NYTM describes their work:
    Few American cities have suffered as acutely as Rockford, Ill., where unemployment reached nearly 16 percent last summer. A photographic tour (with audio interviews) through its stores, factories and offices.

Americans increasingly care less about other’s feelings
Scientific American

What, Me Care? Young Are Less Empathetic

Humans are unlikely to win the animal kingdom’s prize for fastest, strongest or largest, but we are world champions at understanding one another. This interpersonal prowess is fueled, at least in part, by empathy: our tendency to care about and share other people’s emotional experiences. Empathy is a cornerstone of human behavior and has long been considered innate. A forthcoming study, however, challenges this assumption by demonstrating that empathy levels have been declining over the past 30 years.

The research, led by Sara H. Konrath of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and published online in August in Personality and Social Psychology Review, found that college students’ self-reported empathy has declined since 1980, with an especially steep drop in the past 10 years. To make matters worse, during this same period students’ self-reported narcissism has reached new heights, according to research by Jean M. Twenge, a psychologist at San Diego State University.

An individual’s empathy can be assessed in many ways, but one of the most popular is simply asking people what they think of themselves. The Interpersonal Reactivity Index, a well-known questionnaire, taps empathy by asking whether responders agree to statements such as “I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me” and “I try to look at everybody’s side of a disagreement before I make a decision.” People vary a great deal in how empathic they consider themselves. Moreover, research confirms that the people who say they are empathic actually demonstrate empathy in discernible ways, ranging from mimicking others’ postures to helping people in need (for example, offering to take notes for a sick fellow student).

Since the creation of the Interpersonal Reactivity Index in 1979, tens of thousands of students have filled out this questionnaire while participating in studies examining everything from neural responses to others’ pain to levels of social conservatism. Konrath and her colleagues took advantage of this wealth of data by collating self-reported empathy scores of nearly 14,000 students. She then used a technique known as cross-temporal meta-analysis to measure whether scores have changed over the years. The results were startling: almost 75 percent of students today rate themselves as less empathic than the average student 30 years ago.

Canadian soldier says leadership “encouraged” war crimes
CBC News

JTF2 command ‘encouraged’ war crimes, soldier alleges

A member of Canada’s elite special forces unit says he felt his peers were being “encouraged” by the Canadian Forces chain of command to commit war crimes in Afghanistan, according to new documents obtained by CBC News.

The documents from the military ombudsman’s office show the member of the covert unit Joint Task Force 2, or JTF2, approached the watchdog in June 2008 to report the allegations of wrongdoing he had first made to his superior officers in 2006.

The soldier told the ombudsman’s office “that although he reported what he witnessed to his chain of command, he does not believe they are investigating, and are being ‘very nice to him,’ ” according to the documents, which CBC News obtained through access to information.

As such, the soldier alleged, the chain of command helped create an atmosphere that tolerated war crimes.

The ombudsman’s documents state the soldier was subsequently directed to the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service, CFNIS, which in turn launched its own investigation.

The CFNIS told the ombudsman the investigation was “now their No. 1 priority.”

The member alleged that a fellow JTF2 member was involved in the 2006 shooting death of an Afghan who had his hands up in the act of surrender. That CFNIS probe ended without any charges.

The soldier who raised those allegations also claimed that in January 2008, his team was sent to conduct a mission alongside an American special operations team. He said he witnessed the U.S. forces kill a man who was wounded and unarmed.

The documents make clear that the soldier didn’t believe the military was taking his allegations seriously and that he had lost faith in the forces’ leadership.

He told the ombudsman’s office in one of many telephone conversations he felt “more and more of his peers are being encouraged to commit war crimes by the chain of command … which they may be held accountable for one day as superiors walk away.”

The soldier said he wasn’t coming forward to have “the guys who pull the trigger” investigated, who he said were “being incited to do those things” by their superiors.

“This is done by promoting those who do, and not promoting those who don’t,” the ombudsman’s office staffer handling the file wrote in the document.

The soldier also claimed the “vision of the southern friends is being pushed” — an apparent reference to the more aggressive reputation of the American soldiers.

The soldier told the ombudsman in September 2008 of his concern that “similar acts may be ongoing while his allegations are being investigated,” the documents said.

Nigerian soldiers ordered ‘shoot-to-kill’; “it is OK”
The Associated Press

Shoot-to-kill orders issued in Nigeria after riot

Soldiers patrolling Nigeria’s volatile central region received shoot-to-kill orders after a Christian mob killed a Muslim election worker and set his body on fire, an army spokesman said Tuesday.

The death Monday in Jos, a flashpoint of religious tension between Nigeria’s two dominant religions, comes as technical problems continue to plague the nation’s effort to register 70 million eligible voters before a crucial April presidential election.

The new orders in Jos allow soldiers to kill anyone trying to hurt another person or destroy a home, church or mosque in the city and surrounding areas, Capt. Charles Ekeocha said. The military has been a dominant presence in the city since violence began there last year that has left more than 500 dead.

“The best option is to make sure you stop the person,” Ekeocha told The Associated Press. “Even if it means taking the person’s life, it is OK.”

The attack Monday began after election workers decided to move a registration point without informing the joint military and police task force in the city, the captain said. A Christian mob gathered, upset by the fact that workers handling the registration were Muslims.

Witnesses to the attack said another two people died when soldiers opened fire to try and protect the other election workers nearby. The military has denied shooting into the mob, though soldiers have shot and killed civilians before over the past year.

The worker was a member of the Nigeria’s National Youth Service Corps, a required yearlong program for university graduates in the oil-rich nation. The government created the program in 1973 as a means to bridge the religious, regional and ethnic divisions in Nigeria after its brutal civil war ended in 1970. Those divisions persist today.

Many university students in Nigeria find few job opportunities after graduation. Staffing the two-week voter registration offers the youths a guaranteed payout of $200 for 14 days of work, said Kayode Idowu, a spokesman for the nation’s electoral commission. World Bank statistics suggest more than 80 percent of people in Nigeria, a country of 150 million people, earn less than $2 a day.

Third consecutive day of Iraqi violence kills dozens
The New York Times

Suicide Attacks on Pilgrims in Iraq Kill Dozens

Suicide bombers launched a series of deadly assaults on Thursday against pilgrims marching toward a shrine sacred to Shiite Muslims, the police said, and dozens were killed in a third straight day of attacks against an array of targets.

The pilgrimage, which was banned under Saddam Hussein, is expected to draw as many as 10 million people to the city of Karbala over 10 days. It has been an annual flash point for sectarian violence. Until this week, the holiday had been free of major bloodshed, and Iraqi security forces had claimed progress in their ability to protect the populace from violent extremist groups.

That progress evaporated on Thursday, as three car bombs along the roads leading to Karbala, some 60 miles south of Baghdad, killed at least 52 people and wounded 150, according to an official with the Iraqi police.

The three cars were parked near police checkpoints and exploded at roughly the same time, despite heightened security along the route. No group claimed responsibility for the attacks, which resembled previous assaults attributed to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia or an affiliated group, the Islamic State of Iraq.

“The attacks were expected, because this is the biggest annual commemoration, with the highest number of pilgrims,” said Hussein Sadhan, a member of Karbala’s provincial council. “We are expecting more attacks by Al Qaeda because the pilgrims are open and easy to target and while Al Qaeda is invisible.”

In Diyala province, a roadside bomb killed one marcher and injured three, and another bomb in Dora killed one and injured nine.

Over all, violence in Iraq is down from previous years, but this week saw three consecutive days of major attacks on both Iraq security forces and Shiite pilgrims, raising fears that extremist groups were regaining some of the deadly capabilities that terrorized the country in 2006 and 2007.

Israel divided as right calls inquiry into left
BBC News

Row as Israeli Knesset plans inquiry into leftist NGOs

Israeli President Shimon Peres is the latest political figure to weigh into the heated row over a parliamentary inquiry into non-governmental organisations.

He called on the Knesset to reject the plan, stating that such investigations should be left to “law enforcement authorities”.

On Saturday, several thousand Israelis took to the streets of downtown Tel Aviv to show their opposition to the inquiry and a whole series of laws proposed by the governing right-wing coalition.

They blew whistles, beat drums and chanted pro-democracy slogans. Many waved the Israeli flag and a few carried Palestinian ones.

“We came to protest against the government’s policies and the lack of democracy in our country,” said Tal, a demonstrator in his twenties. “We’re also showing that we support the peace process.”

“I think that Israeli society is going to very dark places because of our foreign minister and prime minister,” added a local woman, Karen.

“People who aren’t Jewish and aren’t on the extreme right are facing political delegitimisation” …

The Yisrael Beitenu party, led by the ultra-conservative Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, wants to set up a commission of inquiry to examine the funding of leftist groups.

It claims they work under the guise of human rights advocacy to encourage draft dodging and accuse Israeli soldiers of war crimes.

Some organisations are accused of providing material to the unpopular Goldstone Commission established by the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate the military offensive in Gaza two years ago …

The mainly right-wing governing coalition denies there are political motivations behind the planned inquiry, but as Saturday’s rally showed, few on the left accept that.

Banners accused it of racism, persecution and McCarthyism – a reference to the political witch-hunts seen in the United States in the 1950s …

The head of the centrist opposition Kadima party, Tzipi Livni, described how “an evil wave” was sweeping the nation.

“The Netanyahu-Lieberman government fans the flame of fire,” she recently remarked …

So divisive has the NGO inquiry proven that it prompted Mr Netanyahu to publicly rebuke his outspoken foreign minister after Mr Lieberman criticised some senior members of the prime minister’s Likud faction who opposed it.

Mr Lieberman is himself under long-term investigation for corruption. This could force him to resign from the government in the coming weeks to face charges.

Northern Africa in upheaval geologically, too
Der Spiegel

Violent Seismic Activity Tearing Africa in Two

The earth is in upheaval in northeastern Africa, and the region is changing quickly. The desert floor is quaking and splitting open, volcanoes are boiling over, and seawaters are encroaching upon the land. Africa, researchers are certain, is splitting apart at a rate rarely seen in geology.

The first fracture appeared millions of years ago, resulting in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. The second fracture, stretching south from Ethiopia to Mozambique, is known as the Great Rift Valley, and it is lined with several volcanoes. Millions of years from now, it too will be filled with seawater.

But in the Danakil Depression, in the northern part of the valley, the ocean could arrive much sooner. There, low, 25 meter (82 foot) hills are the only thing holding back the waters of the Red Sea. The land behind them has already dropped dozens of meters from previous levels and white salt deposits on the desert floor testify to past encroachments of the sea. But lava soon choked off its access.

For now, no one can really say when the sea will finally flood the desert. But when it does, it could go quickly. “The hills could sink in a matter of days,” Tim Wright, a fellow at the University of Leeds’ School of Earth and Environment, said at a recent conference hosted by the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco.

In the last five years, the geologic transformation of northeastern Africa has “accelerated dramatically,” says Wright. Indeed, the process is going much faster than many had anticipated. In recent years, geologists had measured just a few millimeters of movement each year. “But now the earth is opening up by the meter,” says Loraine Field, a scholar at the University of Bristol who also attended the conference.

Earth tremors cause deep fissures to form in the desert floor and the ground in East Africa is shattering like broken glass …

From a geological perspective, the speed with which the magma is pushing forth is astonishing. It has been channeling its way through the rock below the earth’s surface at speeds of up to 30 meters per minute, reports Eric Jacques from the Institute of Earth Physics of Paris. Satellite measurements attest to the consequences: In one 200-kilometer stretch welling up with magma, the ground looks like asphalt on a hot summer day. Magma is also pooling up under the Dabbahu Volcano in northern Ethiopia, Lorraine Field reported in San Francisco …

Oxford University’s David Ferguson predicts a considerable increase in volcanic eruptions and earthquakes in the region over the next decade. They will, he says, “become of increasingly large magnitude.”

Child abuse victims see “smoking gun” in Vatican letter
The Associated Press

Vatican Warned Irish Bishops Not to Report Abuse

A 1997 letter from the Vatican warned Ireland’s Catholic bishops not to report all suspected child-abuse cases to police — a disclosure that victims’ groups described as “the smoking gun” needed to show that the church enforced a worldwide culture of covering up crimes by pedophile priests.

The newly revealed letter, obtained by Irish broadcasters RTE and provided to The Associated Press, documents the Vatican’s rejection of a 1996 Irish church initiative to begin helping police identify pedophile priests following Ireland’s first wave of publicly disclosed lawsuits.

The letter undermines persistent Vatican claims, particularly when seeking to defend itself in U.S. lawsuits, that Rome never instructed local bishops to withhold evidence or suspicion of crimes from police. It instead emphasizes the church’s right to handle all child-abuse allegations and determine punishments in house rather than give that power to civil authorities.

The Vatican early Wednesday insisted that its response to the Irish bishops was designed to ensure that guilty priests not avoid punishment and that all possible canonical crimes were also dealt with.

Tap water better for your teeth than bottled
The Washington Post

Filtered and bottled water consumption could increase tooth decay risk

As Americans’ consumption of bottled water has risen – it has doubled over the past decade – it is reducing the daily exposure Americans get to the mineral that helps prevent tooth decay. And while researchers have yet to do a comprehensive study of what impact this is having, especially on children, many dentists and pediatricians believe the issue deserves serious examination.

“I think it would be good to look at,” said Howard Pollick, a clinical professor in the Department of Preventive and Restorative Dental Sciences at the University of California at San Francisco and a spokesman for the American Dental Association.

Prodded by studies showing that fluoride significantly reduced tooth decay, U.S. municipalities began adding it to public drinking water systems in the 1940s. Today, about 65 percent of Americans get fluoridated tap water, including 95 percent of people in Virginia, 99 percent in Maryland and 100 percent in the District.

While a vocal minority of Americans remain skeptical, the ADA and most other health authorities remain convinced that fluoridation benefits the general population.